"Once upon a time there was a 2-year-old panda named Bamboo. Bamboo's parents were very protective of her. One night Bamboo climbed out of her bed and set off on an adventure! Once Bamboo touched the forest ground, she was scared but she did it anyway. She kept walking until she got lost." -- From Rosalie Mujic's "Bamboo's First Friend"

To recognize and encourage the talents of literary artists, the Arts Council of Westerville, Westerville Public Library and ThisWeek Westerville News & Public Opinion invited writers of all ages to be a part of the Celebrate the Arts Writing Contest.

The contest, in addition to calling upon writers to share their works with us, was conceived as a new dimension to the month-long celebration of the arts in Westerville during April.

This marks the 11th year for the collaborative event.

The contest

Writers submitted their entries according to five categories arranged by age or grade in school.

All the Winners' Entries

The submissions were required to be original works of 800 words or less. Any genre was welcome: poetry, free verse, short story and others. First-place winners in each category have the honor of seeing their entry published in the ThisWeek Westerville News & Public Opinion, with first-, second-, third-place and honorable mention entries published within this story (See "All the Winners' Entries").

All approved entries are published in a book, Celebrate the Arts Writing Contest 2017.

The results

With great pleasure we present to you the creative works of the participating writers. We thank and acknowledge the work of our judges, Terry Hermsen, published poet and English and Creative Writing professor at Otterbein University; and Cheryl Ortlieb, retired teacher with the Westerville City School District who taught grades 4-6 for 30 years.

The celebration

Writers, along with their families and fans, gathered for congratulations, refreshments and the opportunity to read from their work at the Awards Reception for Writers held April 23.

Thanks and kudos

We extend our gratitude to the talented writers of every age and style who participated in the contest.The 2017 winners

Category: Grades K-2

First place -- Bamboo's First Friend, by Rosalie Mujic

Once upon a time there was a 2-year-old panda named Bamboo. Bamboo's parents were very protective of her. One night Bamboo climbed out of her bed and set off on an adventure! Once Bamboo touched the forest ground, she was scared but she did it anyway. She kept walking until she got lost. She was surrounded by trees and she didn't know which way was home. Suddenly Bamboo heard footsteps coming her way. A few seconds later a baby elephant appeared. Bamboo got a little scared but then she noticed that the baby elephant was as short as her. The elephant's name was Elizabeth but then she said that everyone called her Elle.

Elle and Bamboo played tag but of course Elle was faster. They played hide and seek and Bamboo won most of the games. Elle was too big. After they played 5 games of hopscotch, they had to make a bigger hopscotch for Elle. Then the sun rose and they had to go home. When Bamboo's parents got up Bamboo told all about her adventure in the forest. Then she wanted to show her parents Elle but she didn't know where she lived.

The next night they met up in the same spot. Bamboo asked Elle where she lived and Elle told her that she lived behind a big bush near there. They wanted to bring their parents to meet each other. So, Bamboo got her parents up and they went to meet Elle's parents. Elle asked her parents if they could have a sleepover and they said yes. Once Bamboo packed her stuff she went to their house.

They watched a movie and had bamboo-corn and then they had to go to bed. In the morning, Bamboo and Elle had bamboo-cakes. They played outside and then Bamboo went home. Bamboo's birthday was coming up and she wanted to invite Elle along with her neighbors. Her parents said yes. The next day Bamboo asked Elle if she could come to her birthday party and she said yes. Bamboo told Elle that they were going to do it in the same spot they met.

It was the day of the birthday party and Bamboo was waiting for everyone to come. Elle was the first to get there, her present for Bamboo was wrapped in golden wrapping paper and it had a silver bow. At the party, they played 3 games and they had cake and opened presents! Bamboo went to bed once all of her friends left.

In the morning, Bamboo woke up, but instead of hearing the swaying trees she heard something that sounded like a tractor?! She went down from her home and she saw a big machine about 20 feet tall!! It was cutting down the trees. Once her parents woke up she told them what she saw and then she told Elle too. Once Bamboo got home a girl appeared and Bamboo saw she had a blue truck with big bold letters on it that said JESSICA'S ANIMAL SHELTER.

Jessica Smith saved animals from the people cutting down the trees and put them in an animal shelter. Jessica went near the spot where Bamboo and Elle lived. She went to Bamboo's house and said to a guy helping her "It looks like there might be animals here."

Jessica went back toward the truck and got out a very tall ladder. She went to Bamboo's house and started climbing. Once she got halfway to Bamboo and her family, she stopped and took a deep breath. Finally, she said "Can you get a cage" to the man. He got a big cage and he climbed up another ladder. Once he got up where she was he gave her the cage. She took 2 steps up and saw the pandas. She reached one hand in and grabbed Bamboo's dad, mother, and Bamboo. They went down the ladders and went in the truck and drove away.

Once they stopped, Bamboo found herself at a huge building. Jessica took them to a big place marked PANDAS. There were at least 12 more pandas in there! Bamboo was worried -- she thought she would never see Elle again. A few minutes later, the door opened. When Jessica walked past her, she heard her say "Where do we put this elephant?" Then they went back to the door and came back to the panda exhibit and said that "we'll just keep the elephant in the panda exhibit until we make an elephant exhibit." Suddenly Bamboo saw that the elephant Jessica brought was Elle! Bamboo was happy that Elle was staying with her! Once they got used to being there, they were very happy together and stayed friends forever. The End

Category: Grades 3-5

First place -- When I Wake Up This Morning, by Megan Stevens

When I wake up this morning I feel like I'm walking through a foggy heatwave. I am so not used to California. Still feeling like dozing off, I look at my clock ... It's 8:00! Suddenly I'm not so tired anymore. I hop out of my comfy bed, the only thing that is out of the moving van that is mine, and walk down the long hallway. I decide walking isn't the best when you're late.

I hurry down our new windy staircase and into the kitchen. I hear my parents downstairs working on making breakfast. As I rush into the kitchen, I see my parents are practically running through the kitchen like me. They must be late too, "Shawn, I am so not used to this time change!" My mom yells as she quickly stuffs my lunchbox with whatever she can find.

"I know Deanna, but it's for my job here," Dad replies.

"But I miss New York! I had to leave all my family!" My mom wines.

"Hi guys?" I say.

"Anna you're late!" Mom yells. She is so punctual.

"I know, Mom. Did you make my breakfast?" I ask. My parents look at each other, then at me. All of a sudden my awful little sister, Ella, comes downstairs and is singing the song, The Wheels on the bus. "Ella be quiet!" I yell.

"Oh, good morning Mom, Dad, and the Wicked Witch of the West," Ella says all snotty like. I honestly didn't appreciate that last comment about me.

"Ella," My mom says worried, "What is on your face?" I look down at Ella, how could I have missed it! Ella's outfit and hairstyle!

She has on striped leggings, one of her ballet skirts, her winter jacket, a I WOKE UP LIKE THIS shirt, and that's just her outfit. On her face it looks like mom's makeup bag blew up on it! Then her hairstyle, her hair has a hairbrush stuck in it, hair ties making little pony tails all over her head, and looks like it is sprayed down solid with hairspray. I start cracking up over the whole thing, totally forgetting I'm late. Mom gives me a steely look then demands, "Anna, you go get and eat your breakfast and quickly get dressed now! I'm going to help Ella. Shawn, you can packup the car. Now move!" All my family rush to their stations.

I look in the pantry to look for cereal ... Yuck! All we have is oat meal. I start to remember my old house. At my old house we always had good cereal, and I was never late for the bus because I never had to take the bus. I decide to skip breakfast. I rush upstairs and into the hallway, I walk over to look in Ella's room to see how it's going. I see Mom trying with all her might to get that hair brush out of Ella's hair. I'm wondering how she'll ever do it when I enter my new room. I look into my reflection in my mirror in my room and realize that for once I don't have a friend waiting for me at school, let alone the bus stop. I wonder if anyone will like me, I'm so different. I look at the clock, It looks back at me telling me to hurry up or I'll miss the bus.

I race to the closet then remember all my clothes are still in the moving van down the street. I smack my head with my tired hand. How could I be so dumb! I look down at what I'm wearing right now, I'm wearing my hot pink poodle pajamas. So much for looking normal as I walk down the street. I go downstairs and out the old, but new, creaking door. It is hot! I almost melt into my shoes. I walk down the driveway and onto the sidewalk of our street. I can see our moving van from the corner of the sidewalk. But I can also see my new neighbor Jessica.

She and her parents came to our new house to welcome us to the neighborhood. Her parents are nice but she didn't seem to friendly. I look again at Jessica and see her wearing normal California clothing, (a tanktop and shorts) and a big backpack swaying back and forth to the movement to her body. Oh no! I forgot to hurry! I run to the moving van get my clothes, rush back to my house, get my clothes on, get my backpack, and run to the bus stop in record time. I get on the bus right when it comes down the street and realize, I don't have a lunch box. Oh Well.

Category: Grades 6-8

First place -- Tokidoki, by Maeve O'Connell

Sometimes I feel numb.

Not like the kind of numb you get

When you've been in the cold too long.

The kind of numb that eats one alive,

From the inside out in complete disguise.

Numbness is a slow killer.

Once someone finds out,

It seems far too late to rid it of its toxicity.

Sometimes I feel like screeching,

Until my larynx ruptures and scolds me,

By making me mute.

I can see the irrationality surging through my veins,

In the form of adrenaline and other chemicals,

That are imbalanced within my brain.

It makes me want to tear apart trees,

Jump on people, from head to head,

Or rip shingles off of the school roof.

Sometimes I feel like serotonin

Is my only lifeline and I have to hoard

As much as I possibly can.

So I can manually weave it into my neurons,

Making sure every last molecule is detected.

It restores the harmony in my brain,

As if I was myself again.

Sometimes I feel like dulling

The overwhelming aspects of my life

By distracting myself.

I attack my knuckles mercilessly,

As if I were the lion and they were

The only nourishment around for miles.

My hair, thin from my attempts

to pull out the last sanity from my head,

I have killed with these hands.

Sometimes I feel like staring at my scar-riddled body,

As if my glare would make my skin envelop

Those nasty reminders of the pain I have caused myself.

Other times, I feel like ripping off my sleeves,

To let the world see my past mindset.

Sometimes I feel like I am too far gone,

To care about showering or changing. I

feel like I will cry myself into dehydration,

Or I will never eat again.

Never move out of my bed again.

Sometimes I have no motivation or energy.

I wait until drowsiness to approach,

Looking forward to skipping through time subconsciously.

Sometimes I feel that some days,

Are better-paced than others.

One day I would be at my mind's mercy;

Another I would feel that I could live forever.

Sometimes I wish I could build my mind,

like an assembly line -- many ingredients, one product.

That's just not how brains are wired, unfortunately.

Sometimes I can accept that some things,

That occur in my mind are not me.

Just disgusting merciless monsters,

Feeding off of my reaction,

as their sole purpose for existing being my misery.

I can now sit with my feelings.

Identify them, but not judge them.

Mindfulness is incredibly helpful.

Sometimes I feel like I want to glance

Back to these days.

The days that my demons had brought me,

To a seemingly bottomless pit.

I yell in attempts to point out the ladder,

That can lead one up the hole.

But she doesn't listen.

My past-self can't hear me now.

Always, I know I must understand

That the past is irreversible.

There are ways to prevent bad things,

From happening in the future,

By acting in the present.

Instead of reading this poem,

With sorrow and pity on your mind.

Please, reread it.

Understand that I have been through this.

I have moved on.

Category: Grades 9-12

First place -- Simply Music, by Nick Martz

For my experience in "simple living," I decided to go all the way and take away whatever electronic device that was closest to me. I figured that if I have to do this, why hold back? I thought that maybe I'd even get something spiritually redeeming out of it all. I knew right away what I spent the majority of my time on: TV and video games. These to take up at least half of the hours in my day. From whenever I get home to midnight, on a good day, I would immediately go to my room and watch or play whatever I felt like. I also made the decision that I would be going both days with I felt excited to be doing something out of my regular schedule, it was like I had been walking in a rut. I can honestly say that this project has actually done something for me. I have henceforth changed my regular schedule and I'm happy for that.

The first day I trudged home after a long emotional day of theatre rehearsal. I climbed the steps slowly remembering the commitment I had made and bitterly regretted it. I slumped into bed wondering what I would do to occupy myself. I looked across my room to see my beautiful acoustic guitar shimmering in the light. The dusty old thing had not been touched in nearly four years since I had quit taking lessons. I grabbed it and strummed a few chords, the untuned strings screamed with agony. I slowly got to work restoring its sound to it's former glory. Soon the sound was bearable and I began to play. I'm definitely no master but I began to remember more and more chords. I looked up progressions of various songs and played until my fingers were numb. There was something oddly satisfying about the encompassing sound the strings made. I felt a strange clarity and fullness to my mind. Never have I had a better night's sleep.

I returned home the second day just as I had the first. Only this time I rushed up the steps with a newfound enthusiasm as I picked up my guitar. I felt a similar clarity as I had the night before. I also sang. I sang with passion. The culmination of the two paring musical voices, the guitar's and mine, rang through me giving me chills. Sometimes a feeling would encompass me and I would play. I would also write. The music spawned a certain creativity within me that I had no idea existed. Not a single other problem concerned me. I didn't worry about homework or the One Acts.No, the only possible thing I could comprehend was the music. The feeling within the air was plain. Simply music.

This project has brought something I had never expected. Sometimes I didn't even know this event could occur within my life. Change. When I get home I no longer go straight to the TV but to my guitar. To my music. I've discovered something that I never would've known about had it not been for this project. Had it not been for Henry David Thoreau, that guitar would have stayed untouched. And unplayed. We sometimes forget to appreciate things in life. Especially music. Simply music.

Category: Adults

First place -- Virgin Pool, by Bryan Campbell

Adam and I gaze out his tall bay window, down the muddy hill to the pool at the bottom. Crystal water, surrounded by a bright band of fresh concrete and a proper fence, sits like a sparkling island in a sea of mud that will soon become lawn.

Just filled, we will be first. With shorts and towels, we are ready to conquer.

Jill comes in wearing a pink bikini and a sly smirk. "Dad wants you, Adam."

But it was supposed to be just us ...

Out in the garage, Adam's dad has us knee-deep in mud boots. I can tuck my shorts into the tops of mine. Adam looks as silly as I feel.

Jill actually looks good -- I must be crazy! Her dad is here and besides, she's Adam's annoying sister.

"I expect those boots to come off before you step onto my new pool deck." Adam's dad locks me with his gaze. "I won't have a nasty pool."

"I'll be careful, sir." I say "sir" because his house is like a castle and he has two Corvettes in the garage.

He's a smiler, a backslapper, a good fellow, but I also see predatory teeth and sense his gravitational will.

"I expect you to come up to the house if you have to go to the bathroom."

Awkward laughs.

He smiles. "If you go, I'll know. The pool is treated with a special dye that turns blue when there's urine."

"No way!" I say, disbelief overcoming careful deference.

Now his teeth are on full display. His gaze penetrates me, as if by his will alone he can cauterize my urinary functions. "Do not pee in my pool."

"Yes, sir. I never do, sir." I lie, because the truth is somewhat different. I believe shock at the idea of urinary banditry is feigned -- culturally expected -- something everyone does.

I think he knows. But I've said all the right things.

He releases us.

We slog down the hill, not waiting for Jill, mud sucking and clinging with each step. At the pool gate, we evacuate our boots, leaving them stuck in brown muck, and step onto the warm white concrete that surrounds the glistening oasis.

I glance down to check for errant mud -- success!

Adam is my first friend with a real, in-ground, pool. This afternoon promises to be only the first of many excellent days this summer.

The air is hot and still, the pool's surface smooth, like glass. I can read the logo emblazoned on the pool drain far below, as if the water isn't there.

Is it possible, in those perfect depths, a malignant trap is set?

"I think your dad is kidding about the dye."

"Daddy knows who invented the chemical," Jill says, stepping out of her boots.

We jump in to beat Jill -- glacial chill takes my breath away. Jill only sits and dangles her feet over the edge.

She is so distracting.

I dive off the board to one side. Adam dives the other way and drops a monster cannonball nearly on top of Jill, destroying her luxurious repose.

Sibling war ensues; pool noodles and strainer poles are used to great effect.

They reach a truce and now we are all in the water together. For a few magical minutes, everything is perfect. Jill smiles and laughs. I'm forgetting myself, lost in pure pleasure.

I have to pee.

I look at the stuck boots, the muddy hill, and contemplate the long slog to the house.

Adam and Jill resume the sibling war.

I'm no one's sucker.

Carefully, underwater, I pull the drawstring of my shorts and peek inside. What if ... just a tiny bit ... my heart races -- nothing. I jiggle my hips and try to stir it up, to activate it. Maybe it takes time ... nothing. Maybe a little more ... no blue.

I thought so.

"Your dad didn't put any dye in here," I announce, triumphant. "I just tested it!"

Jill stops beating Adam with the pool noodle -- they both look at me.

"Gross." Jill jumps out, like the pool is suddenly infested with piranhas. "I'm telling Daddy."

I watch her slog up the muddy slope, helpless to take back my triumphant discovery, to save a perfect summer.

Later, Adam told me his dad actually drained the pool and refilled it -- not that it matters to me.

"At least now you know." I said to Adam.

"Know what?"

"There isn't any magic dye."

"Yeah there is," Adam says. "Dad said he put some in when he refilled it."

"But ..."

Then I remember that smile -- those sharp teeth, the pull of dark gravity -- that oppressive will. It twists and bends his actual into something fantastical ... something false.

Over there, things are not clear. Not clean.

It's all illusion ... like the dye.