The content of the submissions stays constant: Every year, the essays, poems, videos and songs cover “grief and loss and young people falling in love,” she says. “And every year there’s some sort of horror story that involves zombies.”
The 2020 Teen Media Awards drew more than 200 entries from young writers, musicians, videographers, poets and inventors in Allegheny County.
Here are the first-place winners. Click here to see other winners.
Music: “Cool” by Sloane Simon, Fox Chapel Area High School, Grade 9. Listen here.
Filmmaking: “Smash Virus” by Oday Abushaban, Pittsburgh Sci-Tech, Grade 11. Click here to watch.
Ralph Munn Cover Art Design: “Captured” by Gianna DiGiacomo, Keystone Oaks High School, Grade 10.
Invention: “Attaché Adagio “by Graciela Leon, Pittsburgh CAPA, Grade 9. Watch the video here.
Photography: “Overcast” by Delia Brown, Falk Laboratory School, Grade 7.
2D Art: “Fed Up” by Anzu Sekikawa, Fox Chapel Area High School, Grade 12.
Fashion: “Against the Algorithm” by Amital Leibovich, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, Grade 12.
Poetry: “All Unknown” by Aliya Pimental, Westinghouse Arts Academy, Grade 12.
Delicate hands trace
A bare back
Soft lips whisper
Words of warm honey
Speckled green eyes
Seem to see something
A suave smile
Laughs into dimples
Silly tones describe
Sweetness in another
Through this fog of
Lovely tones of lavender
Are rough hands
Hitting a porcelain face
Rushed lips placed
On those unready
Speckled green eyes
Selfish with desire
A disconnected smile
Doesn’t sense the discomfort
The expression of others needs
Leading to abandonment in
Lovely tones of lavender
Prose: “Hip Hop Science” by Ariella Riccobon, Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, Grade 9
“I’m telling you man,” my dad says, “It’s science!”
I look up from my Earth Science homework and raise an eyebrow. “Hip hop on the radio plus batter in the oven does not equal a perfect cake.” I turn my brain back to plate tectonics and try to block out my dad raving about hip hop and pastries. I’ve got to do well on this assignment. I’ve got to pass this year, because I don’t want to end up like my dad.
My dad wanted to be a pro baker, with his own little bakery where he could share his “tarts with heart” and his famous “lov’n lava cakes.” He bussed tables at a cafe for years, trying to save up to get his dream place. His boss was literally about to give him a raise when a customer came to him with a complaint about my dad. Apparently my dad had been caught goofing off and dancing with a mop when he was supposed to be waiting tables.
Needless to say, he got fired.
I’m not gonna end up like that. I’m not gonna let myself get distracted. Which is why I am currently trying to block out my dad talking about how hip hop makes great cakes and my sister’s blaring headphones–turn it down already, Phillipa!
“Sure it does.” my dad is saying. “C’mon, I’ll show you!” Dad drags me to the kitchen.
“Hey.” I groan.
“Pretty please with a cherry on top?” Dad nudges me to the fridge. “C’mon! You get the eggs and milk.”
I sigh and open the refrigerator.
Dad tunes the radio to the hip hop station. The best music in the world begins to blast from its speakers. I smile as I hear a familiar beat. Maybe homework can wait.
The ingredients are spread out before us. Dad cracks his neck. I crack my knuckles. Then we start cracking eggs. I beat batter to Will Smith’s “Just the Two of Us.” Dad dances with the broom to “Sunflower” while he sweeps up the flour we spilled. Dad and I sing along with “Lots of Lovin” at the top of our lungs while Phillipa groans and turns up her headphones. We add sugar, and the sounds of Queen Latifah and LL Cool J fill the air while we sweeten the mix.
Then Dad reaches for the yeast.
“What are you doing?” I grab his hand. “There’s no yeast in cake.”
Dad checks the recipe. “Oh, so there’s not!” He reaches for the cocoa instead.
We sprinkle salt in the batter. Dad accidentally dumps in more than a dash.
“Hey! Mom said to go easy on the salt.”
“Oh well, it’ll still taste good.” My dad pours the milk, which sloshes into the bowl and onto the counter.
“Wait, we almost forgot the most important ingredient!” Dad snatches the batter bowl before I can pour the mixture into the pan. Smooth as butterscotch pudding, Dad mimes taking out his heart and putting it in the batter. “Can’t forget to add your love’n.” He winks at me. “It’s gonna be the Sunflour Bakery house recipe.”
I smile. Maybe Dad could have been a baker like he wanted, if it weren’t for the singing and the dancing. And the bad jokes. I shake my head. Good thing Dad didn’t want to be a comedian.
Dad sloshes the batter into the pan. I hum along with the radio and wash the spoon by licking it clean. Dad plonks the pan on the oven rack, sets the timer, and takes a bow.
“Just you wait, Jules! When that cake is done you’ll never doubt me again.” I smile and roll my eyes. Dad spins me around the kitchen while the timer ticks down. The radio plays on.
“It’s science.” The doctor says to Phillipa, our mother, and me. He points to a diagram of the human body. He tells us how too much salt can cause pressure on the heart and blood vessels. He tells us how too much stress or excitement can make the pressure get very high.
How high blood pressure can cause strokes.
He probably says more, but all I can think is: This is not science.
Science is a cake in the oven. Science is my dad singing along with “Lots of Lovin” and making a mess of the kitchen. Science is dancing with my dad as the timer ticks down.
Science is NOT my dad doubling over coughing while the timer dings cheerfully. Science is NOT sirens blaring, the radio sputtering out, and the smell of burnt cake. Science is NOT my dad lying in a hospital bed, a broken radio without even a buzz of static.
I can’t stand it anymore. As the doctor drones on, I slip out the door.
I gaze down at my dad. He is lying quietly in bed, wires leading from him to a blinking machine. Every now and then it gives off a faint beep, the ghost of a beat. The table next to his bed is covered with flowers and cards. A wilting sunflower sits next to a misshapen cupcake. Another cake ruined.
“You said it would be a perfect cake,” I whisper to the man in the bed. “But it burnt. I ruined it.”
The machine answers me with a beep. I whip around and glare at the machine.
“I wasn’t talking to you!” I growl at it. I turn away from the machine that has replaced my father. I pick up the cupcake from the bedside table and wonder where this cake went wrong. Did someone add yeast? Did they forget the sugar? Maybe they put in too much salt. I plunk the lump of cake back on the table.
I turn back to my dad. “You said the extra salt wouldn’t hurt. Look what it did to you.” I blink away salty tears. Saltier than the recipe calls for.
“You were wrong.”
Back at the house.
The rooms feel empty, a tart without a heart.
I sit at my desk and try to focus on my homework. My pencil taps. I try to find something to say about plate tectonics when my heart is a convergent boundary, crumpling from the pressure. Like the pressure that caused Dad’s stroke. I throw down my pencil and stand up.
Somehow I find myself in the kitchen. Dad’s boss from the cafe stopped by earlier, with a tray of lava cakes. Each cake had an identical plastic sign that read, “Sorry for your loss.”
Now the tray is sitting on the counter, half-empty because my sister went and ate three whole cakes. The remaining cakes sag on the counter, looking a little lonely.
Phillipa picks at the last bit of cake on her plate, her brow furrowed. “I think he forgot the salt.”
The radio’s antenna twitches. I head for the cabinet.
“You get the eggs and milk.”
Phillipa looks up, startled. She brushes the crumbs off the counter and stands up.
Five minutes later, all the ingredients are spread out before us. Well, almost all. We still need a song. The broken radio sits on the windowsill, its speakers listening expectantly.
“Ready?” I ask. Phillipa nods.
I press “preheat,” and the oven begins to warm up.
Preheat to 350.
Turn the knob and preheat to 350.
So, bro, you want to be a pro baker?
No skimping on the salt from the shaker.
If you wanna call yourself a cake-maker,
Flip it upside down and dribble it like the Lakers.
Dad would say,
Crack your knuckles then your eggs.
Your homework can wait until a later date,
‘Cause right now we’ve got eggs to break.
You’re gonna need to clean for sure:
The flour showered on the floor.
Sop it all up with a mop,
Pretty please, with a cherry on top.
When you bake a cake you ought to know,
The yeast is a no go, yo,
‘Cause there’s no dough to throw, bro,
You’re gonna need some cocoa though.
This won’t be
Written on the recipe:
You’re gonna need to part with your heart,
If you want to learn the art.
Blend your beater in the batter,
Doesn’t matter if it splatters.
You wanna get a baker’s dozen?
Put your lov’n in the oven.
The timer ticks, tickling my ears.
Spin my sister, shed salty tears.
Cake hip hop,
Hip hop science,
The timer dings.
We hold our breath as I pull out the cake.
I set it on the rack to cool and prepare the icing. I offer the spoon to Phillipa.
“Wait, you want me to do it?” She chews her lip and eyes the cake. Then she shoves the cake and spoon back to me. “You and Dad do it better.”
I scoop up the spoon and press it into her palm. Phillipa takes a deep breath and clutches the spoon with both hands. She dumps a glob of chocolate on the cake. She spreads it around, smearing icing all over her hands. The still warm cake crumbles and sticks to the chocolate blob.
“It’s horrible.” Phillipa’s eyes get salty. “I ruined it.”
‘Hey.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “It’ll still taste good.”
On the windowsill, the radio smiles.
The next week I turn in my science paper. I get an F for decorating my paper with little cupcakes and radios. Apparently my science teacher doesn’t agree that hip hop on the radio plus batter in the oven equals a perfect cake. That’s okay. I don’t need an A in Earth Science when I’ve got a degree in Hip Hop Science.
When I get home, Phillipa is already there, trying to jam new batteries into the radio’s rear. She looks up guiltily. “I just thought…” She sighs and looks at the floor.
I dump my books on the table. I reach over and turn one of the batteries around and the radio bursts to life. Phillipa jumps at the sound. Then Phillipa and I smile as we recognize the song. The sounds of “Just the Two of Us” fill the kitchen. I turn up the radio, and my sister and I sing along with the best music in the world.
Ring-ring! I pick up the wireless. “Hello?”
“Jules, is that you?” My mother’s voice is being drowned out by some annoying beeping sound.
“Yep.” I reach over my sister and turn down the radio. “Where are you, Mom? I can barely hear you.”
“I’m at the hospital.”
“The hospital?” I strangle the phone with both hands. I picture the cupcake lump and wilted sunflowers, and I glance over at Phillipa. “Is it Dad?”
For a moment all I hear is long distance breathing. Then I hear my mother’s voice loud and clear.
“Jules, your father is awake. He woke up and he said something!”
If she says more, I don’t hear it. I tackle Phillipa in a hug and spin her around the kitchen.
“He woke up!” I put the phone back to my ear. “What did he say?”
A new voice, cake fresh from the oven, responds: “What did I say? Hmm, let me think on that one.”
The radio winks.
“Told you it was science!”
About the Teen Media Awards:
The two categories of the Teen Media Awards include:
- The Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest, open to kids in grades 9-12, has a history that reaches back to the 1970s. Winning works will be published in an anthology to be distributed to area libraries, as well as the authors’ schools. Each teen will receive the book, too.
- The Labsy Awards, for kids in grades 6-12, were established in the 2000s to honor achievements in cover art, 2D art, 3D art, photography, filmmaking, fashion, music and invention. A panel of more than 30 library staff and Learn & Earn interns judged this year’s entries.
The awards not only highlight the amazing talents of the young artists, but they also showcase the library’s services to kids.
“In serving teens at the library,” Rottmund says, “our goal is communicating to them that the library is a space to be, that we are a welcoming community space where they can explore their interests and be supported by our staff. We want to support their interests and future success.”