One hundred fifty young readers across the country have been honored with state and national awards for their achievements in this year’s Letters About Literature writing contest, sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress in association with Target.
Six national winners received cash awards and also earned for their community or school library a $10,000 Letters About Literature reading-promotion grant. Twelve national honorable mention winners were also chosen, receiving cash awards and earning for their community or school library a $1,000 reading-promotion grant.
With funding provided by Target, the national reading-promotion program challenges young readers to write a personal letter to an author, describing how that author’s work has changed their view of the world or of themselves.
More than 70,000 children in grades four through 12 participated this year. Students compete in one of three competition levels: elementary school, grades four through six; middle school, grades seven and eight; and high school, grades nine through 12. On the state level, the program is sponsored by affiliate state centers for the book. State and national judges include published authors, editors, publishers, librarians and teachers.
Level 1 (Grades 4-6)
Taylor Mathews, Searcy, Ark.,
Erin Hunter, “Into the Wild”
Maryam Salah, Shrewsbury, Mass., Jerry Spinelli, “Maniac Magee”
Level 2 (Grades 7-8)
Christian Lusardi, Ridgefield, Conn., George Selden, “The Cricket in Times Square”
Audrey Wood, Afton, Va., J.M. Barrie, “Peter Pan”
Level 3 (Grades 9-12)
Akash Kar, Saratoga, Calif., Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Namesake”
Ashli Bynum, Ada, Mich., Marge Piercy, “Barbie Doll”
Below are excerpts from letters written by the six national winners:
Written by Taylor Mathews to Erin Hunter, author of “Into the Wild”
“Before I read your book, I knew many kids who loved to read, but I was not one of them. My posse of friends and I often made fun of ‘the readers.’ We would tease them and call them names. … However, all that changed that fateful day my mom showed me your book, ‘Into the Wild.’ … Without your books, I might still be that ignorant bully, teasing kids and missing out on one of life’s greatest joys—reading.”
Written by Maryam Salah to Jerry Spinelli, author of “Maniac Magee”
“In your novel, ‘Maniac Magee,’ only a few had the courage to cross from one side [of Hector Street] to the other. Those were the characters that did not recognize or accept any difference between races … Many times I wished that my divide was invisible, but as I walk through the mall in my head cover (hijab), I sense the divide … Some people went from smiles to disapproval. Sadly, discrimination is real.”
Written by Christian Lusardi to George Selden, author of “The Cricket in Times Square”
“As if by fate, I read the book ‘The Cricket in Times Square’ at the beginning of fourth grade, right before I got sick. My [cancer] diagnosis in the middle of one scary Saturday night whisked me away from everything familiar to me without warning. Thoughts of Chester surviving in his new world inspired me to fight with all my strength and to keep fighting through the long haul. Chester and I not only survived, but thrived, despite the terrible odds against us. And, along the way, we both made some incredible new friends. Mine included a brave little cricket, and for that, I thank you.”
Written by Audrey Wood to J.M. Barrie, “Peter Pan”
“Some people lose touch with the magic in their lives as they get older. ‘Peter Pan’ reminds people of the magic in their lives. … Reading ‘Peter Pan’ when I was little is a part of what makes me, me. ‘Peter Pan’ taught my family to find the magic and adventure in life. Sometimes seeing the magic in life is almost as easy as swallowing candy and sometimes it’s much more difficult. … Of all the books, poems, plays, and speeches I have ever read or listened to, yours made the biggest impact on me and my family.”
Written by Akash Kar to Jhumpa Lahiri, author of “The Namesake”
“For a few magical hours, I had the opportunity to sit in front of a mirror and reflect on my past, my present, my future, my family and my heritage. No, I did not literally sit in the bathroom on a chair, but I read your personally touching novel ‘The Namesake.’ The book moved me to tears at points, thinking of how Gogol struggles to follow his culture over his own personal desires; how Ashima must keep her culture alive as she assimilates to life in the United States; and how Moushumi has to lie to her parents in order to study in the field she chooses. … I see these struggles happening on a day-to-day basis in my life, and reading this book gave me an opportunity to look at them from an outside perspective and allow me to reflect on what truly is important in life.”
Written by Ashli Bynum to Marge Piercy, author of “Barbie Doll”
“I want to thank you for educating the world about the effects social standards truly have on young girls today. Maybe one day, the girl on the cover of the magazines will be replaced by someone who has Down syndrome, uses a wheelchair, is full figured or even has albinism. Every person has something to offer this world, no matter who they are or what they look like. After all, even though a can is damaged, it still holds the same contents as an undamaged can.”