Annie Murrell's emotional portrayal of a young girl dealing with her mother dying and Ashley Panduro's humorous transformation into a catfish spared from the frying pan were just two of several top performances honored Saturday at the 40th annual Kern County Oral Language Festival, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office said in a release.

Close to 300 students competed in the event held at Norris Middle School in northwest Bakersfield. They represented some 66,000 fourth- through eighth-grade students countywide, according to the release.

Educators says students who participate in oral language activities learn to delve deeply into literature, its characters and its meaning. They also bolster their confidence and poise as they must perform under pressure in front of an audience.

Each performance must be an original interpretation of a published literary work available to all students. Participants compete in one of five interpretive categories: serious solo and duo, humorous solo and duo and verse choir.

Murrell, from Chipman Junior High, earned first-place honors in the seventh-eighth-grade serious solo category with her presentation of "You Shouldn't Have to Say Goodbye."

Panduro, from Washington Middle School, took solo honors for her seventh-eighth-grade humorous interpretation selection, "The Walkin' Catfish."