Ohio’s Original Interscholastic Creative Writing Program for Middle Schools
More than 10,000 stories are produced during a single Power of the Pen season, and fewer than 100 of these are selected for publication in the annual Book of Winners. The Powerful Pen Award is reserved for the rare writers who have had at least four pieces published in the Book of Winners over a two-year time span. Two students are being recognized in 2020 for achieving this honor during the 2018-2019 season. Powerful Pen Award winner Annie Johnson displays deep insight into human nature, writing with sensitivity about issues ranging from child abuse to revealing a "forbidden" relationship to a beloved grandmother. Her story "Changes" examines hidden reasons behind a sibling fight. Powerful Pen Award winner Marie Kanzinger evokes emotions with her vivid portraits of characters facing loss and family rifts. In her story "Mother and Daughter," Marie poignantly draws a connection between two young girls who long to see their mothers again.
Annie Johnson is a freshman at Dublin Coffman High School. She enjoys playing clarinet in the school marching band, volunteering at the zoo in summer, and hanging out with her friends.
She has always loved writing and has been in her school's Power of the Pen program since 6th grade.
She would like to thank her family, friends, and coaches for always supporting her.
Illustration by Annie Johnson
“I…I’m sorry.” The words barely crawled off my lips. I stared at my shaking hands, unable to meet her eye. Her ruined, crumpled letter remained clutched in my left palm, phantom words left unsaid, escaping into the air, specks of gold glitter dotting my fingernails. “Lanie, I’m sorry.”
I reached out to comfort her, to help her. But she flinched away. “No, Natasha!” I drew back as if she had poked me with a hot cattle prod. She never called me by my real name, not ever. “Sorry is not enough! She sprinted from her room and glared at me from the doorway. “You’re the worst sister ever!” And she slammed the door, the sound reverberating through my body like a thunderclap.
I retreated into my room, still shaking. What just happened? And why? One minute the speech was in her hand, her little voice begging me to “Listen to me read it, Tasha, pleeease? I gotta practice! Fifth grade graduation is in less than a week!” And the next minute, it was in mine, crushing the paper between my fingers and destroying the loopy, glitter-pen writing with my fingernails.
I tried to smooth it out, desperately pressing out the creases, but it was no use. It was gone. I swept the mess of glitter off my desk. Why did I do it? Why did I hurt my sister?
I knew how much it meant to her when it was announced that she was chosen to be a Peer Speaker at graduation. She was ecstatic, “Oh, Tasha!” she had screamed when she came home that day. “It’s a dream come true! They chose me! Out of everyone, they chose me!” She had started working on her speech that night. Why would I destroy something so special to her?
I heard Lanie’s sobs echo faintly around the room. I wanted more than anything to run to her, to hug her until she felt better, like I did every time she was upset. I wanted to protect her. But now, I couldn’t. Who would I even be protecting her from? Myself? Instead, I could only listen helplessly to her cries.
I clenched my fists and cursed my own stupidity. I knew full well that Lanie never deserved to be hurt. She was just a little girl who liked barbeque potato chips and braiding hair, who needed me to push her on the swing. She would never, ever hurt me on purpose. So why did I do it to her?
Deep down, I knew…
Pretty soon, she would be eleven. Pretty soon, she would be too big to be tucked in. Pretty soon, she would start shopping for herself. Pretty soon, she would stop liking barbeque potato chips and braiding hair. Pretty soon, she would get up on that stage and deliver a speech all by herself, without needing me to hold her hand. Pretty soon, she’d be in middle school, where girls gawk and gossip and plot to destroy each other from within. Middle school, where girls like Lanie go to die and be reborn into girls who care about what other girls think. Pretty soon, she wouldn’t need me at all.
I couldn’t take it.
I couldn’t take elementary school graduation, a sure sign that “pretty soon” was coming on fast. I couldn’t take her moving on. I couldn’t take her growing up and leaving me behind, so I destroyed the speech.
But that wouldn’t stop it. I grabbed the crumpled speech off my desk. That wouldn’t stop any of it. Lanie would still grow up, still move on, still deliver that speech. Nothing could stop that. Not even me. But if I stuck by her side, helped her out, maybe she wouldn’t leave me behind.
I grabbed a fresh sheet of paper, three glitter pens, and gently pushed open the door to Lanie’s room. She would change later on, no stopping it. But maybe I could change with her.
“Hey.” She looked at me. I sat down beside her, smoothing down her hair. “We’re gonna write a new speech, even better than the last one. And I’m gonna help you.”
Lanie blinked. Contemplated. Debated. And began to write.
My name is Marie Kanzinger and I just finished my freshman year at Chagrin Falls HS.
I’ve loved to write since I was young with the support of my teachers and family. I remember the first story I ever wrote was when I was pulled aside in preschool and decided to write about a runaway horse who missed his home. Ever since then, I’ve loved to write anything from short stories, novels, poems, and more.
Competing in POP was a great experience for me as I improved my writing with the help of my coach and friends while making some great memories along the way.
Besides writing, I enjoy reading, drawing, and playing piano. I have two dogs, Luke and Sirius, that I love to play with every day. My favorite books include Percy Jackson, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and The Hate U Give.
My hands grasp the library’s cold door handle. As always, I’m hit with the smell of books, fresh cinnamon, late autumn leaves, and the ocean breeze as the wind sparkles on its surface. Here, anything is possible.
“Hello, Mira,” Mrs. M., the librarian, says, my name familiar on her lips from countless weekends spent between pages.
“Hi,” I smile, making sure to wave as my pink bracelet rattles against my arm, showing off my new birthday present.
And then I head toward my section. The one my legs always seem to naturally gravitate toward. Where the pages begin to thin out and the bindings become merely threads. They may seem forgotten, lost for others, but for me, there’s one book that stands out.
Now, I’ve memorized every word on the pages of the picture book. Every phrase, smile, rhyme and color are mine to keep. Mine to soak in on days when I want to know what could’ve been. The beaches we could’ve explored, the tears we could’ve shed, and the smiles we could’ve shared. All as Mother and Daughter.
But today, something is different. As I reach the dusty shelf that I usually clean off before breathing in the pages, the book is gone. My heart races, warmth reaching my cheeks as I frantically search for it.
“It’s just misplaced,” I whisper to myself between jagged breaths. “She can’t leave me…not again…”
“Mira, are you okay?” Mrs. M. slowly approaches me, her brows furrowed.
“The book…the one I always read…it’s…”
“I know, Mira. I know. I was meaning to tell you. Someone checked it out today. I’m sorry, but it’ll come back,” Mrs. M. said, lowering herself to my blue, watery eyes.
“Mira, in the end, it’s just a book. And this is just a library. In two weeks you can have it back in your hands.” Her voice is soft now, barely a whisper as she rests her hand on my shoulder.
“But…I want to see her.”
“I know, sweetie. I know.” She wraps me in a hug as I lay my head on her shoulder.
“You know,” she begins, “a young girl, very much like you, came for the book. Very much like you,” she repeats as she slowly edges away, looking at me directly in the eyes. “All books need to be shared, Mira. Some more than others.” And with a smile, she walks away.
I’m left on the floor, staring at the ceiling fan whirring gently.
I picture a girl, not much younger than I am, her recently washed-out eyes finding the book. The pages rich between her fingertips as she recounts days when her mother was by her side.
Maybe…maybe I could wait. For two weeks or two months. However long it takes to heal.
I could wait, if only to make one little girl smile.
Illustration by Marie Kanzinger