The Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana announcesthe 2016 winners in the annual Letters About Literature contest. This year, 378 fourth through twelfth grade Louisiana students wrote personal letters to authors, whether living or dead, to thank them and to explain how their works in various genres changed the students’ way of thinking about the world or themselves. The Louisiana winners of the competition, students from throughout the state, are listed below.
Level I (grades 4 – 6)
1st Place: Danielle Thai, Copper Mill Elementary, Zachary
2nd Place: Lauren Perkins, Copper Mill Elementary, Zachary
3rd Place: Cooper Ackman, Copper Mill Elementary, Zachary
Level II (grades 7 – 8)
1st Place: Amaya Williams, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans
2nd Place: Hannah Jabaley, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans
3rd Place: Bahiy Watson, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans
Honorable Mention: Brody Green, Sterlington Middle School, Sterlington
Honorable Mention: David Zhang, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans
Level III (grades 9 – 12)
1st Place: Catelyn Errington, Hahnville High School, Boutte
2nd Place: Bria Burrell, West St. Mary High School, Baldwin
3rd Place: Mya Leake, St. Charles Catholic High School, LaPlace
State winners will be recognized at the Louisiana Book Festival on Sat., Oct. 29. Winners will be awarded $100 for first place, $75 for second place, and $50 for third place. Louisiana’s first place winners’ entries have been submitted to the Library of Congress for the national competition. To read the winners’ letters and see the names of the state finalists, visit www.state.lib.la.us.
Letters About Literature is made possible by a generous grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, with additional support from gifts to the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, which promotes the contest through its affiliate state centers for the book, state libraries, and other organizations.
In Louisiana, the contest is made possible by the Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana with the additional assistance from the Louisiana Writing Project and the Louisiana Library and Book Festival Foundation. Funding for prizes is provided by the Library of Congress grant.
– www.LouisianaTravel.com –
List of Finalists
Letters About Literature
2016 Winning Letters
Copper Mill Elementary
Dear Katherine Paterson,
Your book, Bridge to Terabithia, has changed my view on how I treat, respect, and cherish the people in my life. It has really reminded me that anyone I have a good relationship with could be gone in a blink of an eye. Bridge to Terabithia is so powerful because Jess has feelings and likes Leslie very much, and they love playing together. They had Terabithia, where they could go into their own world and do whatever they wanted together. But the view of Jess changed when he was told that Leslie had died swinging on a rope to Terabithia, and Jess really didn’t believe his own father because it seemed like one day she was just talking and playing with him, and the next she was gone, without a notice. You might think that the strongest people wouldn’t die first, but it really doesn’t matter. Sometimes weak people are taken; sometimes the strongest of the strong are taken. The odds are not always in your favor like Leslie’s scenario. She knew how to swim, very well. But when she fell into the creek, she hit her head, wasn’t able to swim, and drowned.
I can relate to this because the strong relationship I had with my grandpa was taken quickly when he was diagnosed with cancer. We didn’t realize that the symptoms that he was having were of liver cancer, but they were. When we finally found out that he had liver cancer, it was a little late. He had already had Stage C cancer, which is the worst stage most of the time. But we still had hope. Time flew, and one month later, he was gone. I never got to say my goodbyes or anything because he lived in Florida and I had school. Everything was so fast and unexpected. When my mom told me that he passed, I was in shock. I honestly didn’t believe it. I knew it was coming, but I couldn’t believe it. He was just there, and now, gone.
So every day, I try to forgive people that have upset me because the last thing that I want is to leave off on a bad note. If I did, every time I think of that person I would think about what happened, and how I was so dumb to let something simple make me upset, and how I let it get between the person and me. For all I know, I don’t want to leave someone on a bad note. Jess had the feeling of losing a loved one. Who knows who will be the next one to feel that feeling? You showed this very well. I am very thankful for this book because it reminded me how blessed I am for the time with my Grandpa.
Copper Mill Elementary
Dear Mr. Rick Riordan,
Your publication, The Lightning Thief, has changed the way I think about a person on this earth, powerless but powerful. At times it can seem as if we have little importance or purpose, but in reality we as people have much power to thrive to change the world for the better, one person at a time. One time I decided to participate in a fundraiser at my church to raise money for starving children around the world. Another time I donated clothes to a clothing drive to people that are less fortunate. This reflects the idea that even though I could be viewed as just a powerless kid, I am powerful because I am changing my community for the better.
In The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson, the main character in the novel does not know his importance or his purpose. He does not know why he is needed or what his duty is. I can relate to him because sometimes I do not know what my importance and intention is on earth. Percy Jackson and I both feel powerless at times, like life is taking its own course. In hindsight though, we are both powerful, we can change the world by spreading the word of happiness, or like the time I picked up trash in the neighborhood park and donated to the local canned food drive. You do not have to be the world’s keenest and strongest superhero to make a difference. The book, The Lightning Thief, helped me to understand this concept that even though we may feel powerless, we are powerful.
Percy Jackson and his friends save the world on countless occasions, so can anyone else on earth, maybe in a different way, though. You can promote the word of peace or even stand up for someone who is getting bullied. You might not be able to defeat a monster like Percy Jackson, but you can make a positive change in your community. “Absolute terror ran through my body. I did the only thing that came naturally: I swung the sword,” (Riordan 15). Sometimes I do not know how I can make a difference or how I can positively impact the world. As the text states, Percy uncaps his mighty ballpoint pen Riptide which turns in to a mighty sword. His natural reflex is to swing the sword, and once again he saves the day. My natural instinct might not always be to do what’s best for the environment or community, but reading this book has helped me to understand that I can start to make a change one small step at a time. “What was so great about me? A dyslexic, hyperactive boy with a D+ report card, kicked out of school for the sixth time in six years,” (Riordan 42). Percy feels like he is not special in the beginning of the book. As the book goes on though, he starts to realize his importance to saving the world on his quest. I felt just like Percy at one point. Now thanks to The Lightning Thief I can apply what Percy was feeling to how I felt. I felt unimportant and as if I had not an important role on earth. I now know that is false. Everyone on earth has an important role in the positive changing of the world. We must find our role and execute and succeed. We can then make the world a better place.
If you read past all of the amazing stories where Percy Jackson and his friends save the world, you will find that there is a much deeper meaning. No matter how small and powerless you feel, you are very powerful. You hold the power to change the world just like Percy Jackson.
Empowered to make a difference,
Copper Mill Elementary
Dear John Flanagan,
Your novel, Ranger’s Apprentice, has changed the way I understand the abstract ideas of love and determination. Will is determined to be in the army but is not selected so he keeps trying. He also loves Alyss, and when she is captured, Will keeps on trying to get her back, which shows love and determination at the same time. I love his character, and it taught me a lot, especially through his actions.
Will’s determination is shown in all of your books. He never gives up, and I admire that. He is always determined, and this determination includes when he is captured by the Skandians. He never stops trying to break out and get out of slavery. He gets out eventually only because of his determination. He is also determined when Alyss is captured by Lord Syron. He never stops trying to break her out. The reason he keeps on trying is because of the fact that it is Alyss that was captured and he loves her. This shows that love drives determination.
Will’s love for Alyss is good for him because it drives him to be who he is. Love is good for him, but it can also distract him from his work as a ranger when something happens to her. Love can drive determination, but it can also drive recklessness. However, Will doesn’t let it drive recklessness but lets it drive his limitless determination. I love how Will does it, and I love how you show how love drives you.
All of these show me advice on how to live my life. I use Will’s actions as almost a role model, and it helps me in emotional situations and in hard times. It makes me determined to make things right. It taught me to know what to fight for in bad times. It taught me to fight for the ones I love. Will’s determination shows me how to fight for the ones I love. I love how you do your work, and I personally think that it will inspire lots of people and that you will have a great future as an author and you will be very successful.
Your biggest fan,
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Dear Ms. Harper Lee:
I read To Kill a Mockingbird in 7th grade. It was a book that I was required to read by my teacher, and I must admit that I was not delighted at the idea of reading the book. Day one, when my teacher told me to read the first chapter, I went home in a daze trying to cheer myself up knowing I had to read a book that I didn’t have a natural attraction to. I asked my dad about the book, and his eyes lit up in excitement. I asked him to tell me about the characters and what they were like. He rambled on about the adventures of Scout and Jem and how unique their characters were. After speaking with my dad I sat down and began to read your book. I ended up stopping myself way past the one chapter I was meant to read. I began to ask myself questions. Was it weird that I felt such an immediate connection to these characters? Was it normal to feel that this book was written just for me? I didn’t have answers for these questions quite yet, but I knew I would get them. Although, I couldn’t help thinking that my questions were overdramatic, and I also felt that there was no way words written 55 years ago about a 6 year old girl from Alabama in the early 1930s could have any relations to a 12 year old girl from New Orleans in 2014. After finishing the book I stood corrected!
Scout Finch is the most strong-minded individual that a reader can imagine. She saw the world from a unique point of view. She had a straightforward mindset and saw every situation she was put in as either black or white, no gray. Her being six was probably a contributing factor to that, but the way she saw life left an imprint on the way that I would forever see the world. Scout was not afraid to be herself. Even if she was not the ideal for a child in the 1930s, she would be a role model to everyone who would read the book because deep down we all knew that Scout was what we all aspired to be. As the book goes along and we see Scout grow as a character, we see that she never loses her spark and ambition. When Scout was faced with a problem, like when kids at school made fun of her because her father was a lawyer for an African American man, she took it with a grain of salt; we saw how special she was because she made the best of that situation and didn’t let it influence her positive attitude towards her father’s case. She didn’t have the same opinions that the other kids had, and she didn’t try to pretend that she did. She saw the glass half full instead of half empty. She represents a certain quality in everyone because, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.” That is what made her stand out from all fictional characters of the time. She stood out, because she was somewhere in everybody.
Scout was what the reader could always imagine themselves being, but her brother Jem was an accurate representation of what happens when you grow up. He was just like Scout in the beginning of the book. He was a child who had a free imagination and saw everything just as it was, but as the book went on we saw him lose that innocent quality. Jem Finch was a symbol of change. He was beginning to care about what other people thought of him and began to form his judgement based on other people’s opinions. He originally thought his father had the correct concept on the case against Tom Robinson, but as soon as he started to grow up and hear everyone else’s option he changed his mind. He tells Atticus,
“Atticus, you must be wrong…”
“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…” He lost his sense of judgment and justice. The fact that he lost this childish quality is what gives him such an amazing relationship with the reader. They are able to see themselves in him, and that is what makes him such a reliable character.
After I read this book I did not cry, I did not laugh, I did not feel anything. I had a moment of surreal realism. I was lying outside on a blanket with the most verdant grass surrounding me. I felt the sun beam on my face in heavy rays that gave me chills throughout my body. I lay there, watching the clouds slowly glide across the sky and form new shapes with different clouds. I closed my eyes to see the dark shadows behind my lids become radiant shades of blue… then my eyes opened. In that moment, everything was clear in my head. For once I didn’t have a jumble of thoughts trying to find new places to escape. I lay there with the incapability to move until the feeling had passed. The feeling that I felt was the realization that I am here. I am the person that was put on this earth to make a change. I will not forever be a child. I will not forever have my youthful ignorance to fall back on. I made an agreement to myself that when I was older and I am wherever I end up, I will look back on this very moment and ask myself, “Did I make a change?”, but that was not all I was meant to take from this book. I still didn’t have an answer to why I was able to connect to this book quicker than any other book that I’ve read. I wondered why I was able to relate these characters’ situation to my own. I figured that the book didn’t need to happen in the same time period for me to relate. I realized that it’s not the problems that I was intended to relate to. It was how the problems were managed, and once I realized that all my questions had been answered.
The next day I went back to scan the notes I had made, and I saw one quote that stood out, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” In order for me to make progress in life, I would have to understand everyone’s perspective. I came to the final conclusion that Scout and Jem are in me. Scout was my youth; who I was right at that moment, and I knew that she would forever be there. Jem was change; Jem was the reality that I would have to grow up. I figured that in order for me to make a change in the world I would have to embody both.
This book changed me… for the better. I learned to appreciate the beauty in life, even if it’s just a simple mockingbird. I learned that change is inevitable, and that it will affect us all. I also learned that in order to make a change I need to understand myself and then try to understand others, and for that I thank you. You Harper Lee, who were able to completely change my state of mind with two fictional characters. I thank you for showing me a real connection with your words, thoughts, and ideas. You showed me that it is okay to have fears and doubts, but you also showed me that it is important to overcome those fears and use them as ammunition towards whatever I may face, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Dear Ms. J. K. Rowling:
The holiday season just ended, and it’s that point in time when we all need to write thank you notes. I’ve written all the ones I need to write to my family and friends, and I think that it’s about time that I wrote one to you. I want to say thank you for showing me that there is a world beyond what we know and for showing me that no matter how strong an evil power is, there will always be people who will stand up for what is right. Thank you for opening my world up to countless hours of playing in backyards with my friends and family where we would defeat Voldemort millions of times. Thank you for giving me a magical world to go to when it seemed as if there was nothing magical in the one that I was living in. Thank you for bringing people together in ways that no one else could, and thank you for transforming my world into a place where magic really can be real.
My parents tried to read me the first Harry Potter book when I was five. I had no idea what was going on, and I asked them to read The Princesses Have a Ball to me, because it was simple and I know how it ended and I loved it. At the end of first grade, I discovered the Harry Potter books on the third shelf of the red bookshelf in our living room. They were really big, but the covers were pretty, and I needed something to do for the rest of the day. I opened the books and saw, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Those were the first words that greeted me when I first opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and for the rest of the afternoon, I read a book that introduced me to a small boy with messy hair and round wire glasses who was beginning to discover a magical world.
I finished the first book within the next week, and I had finished the first three by the time summer came. We went to Jackson to visit our family, and my cousin and I spent the whole time in her backyard playing Harry Potter. She always got to be Hermione because her hair was longer, and I started to grow mine out. I asked my parents, “Why does she get to read all the books? Theresa has read ALL the books and seen ALL the movies, and you only let me read the first three.” They told me that I wasn’t old enough, and that we would talk about it later. When I got home, I got the fourth book down from the shelf and started reading it. My mom found me, and she took it away and said I was too young to read it. The next morning, the books were on the top shelf of the bookshelf, and I couldn’t reach them. We went to New Orleans over spring break in order for my brother and I to take a test for a school that our parents wanted us to go to the next year. One day, it was rainy, and we had nothing to do; my mom bought me a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I finished it that afternoon. We moved to New Orleans, and I had nothing to do in the summer, which led me to read the first four books of the Harry Potter series for the gazillionth time. I went to camp with my cousins, and when I got back there was a chart. It was one “galleon,” and I had to earn 493 knuts to read the fifth Harry Potter book. The rules were simple: do chores, you get knuts, get in trouble, and you lose some.
The chart became my life. I would do as many chores as I could, and I would be the best person I could be in order to keep all the knuts I had earned. When I got close to finishing the chart, I reread the first four books again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. They were still magical. Hogwarts was still the most amazing place in the world, and Voldemort was still the most evil person to ever live. The Weasley twins were still hilarious, and Hermione was still the smartest witch in their year (of course). Professor Dumbledore was a wise old man who always did the right thing, and Harry was still the bravest boy in the castle. Ron was still awkward and funny (but only sometimes), and Draco Malfoy was still the meanest boy in the castle. Time went on, I finished all the books, I’d seen all the movies. The world I was living in seemed less magical. My school looked more like a jail than a castle, and I didn’t get a letter asking me if I wanted to go to Hogwarts when I was eleven. I knew that magic wasn’t real, that owls don’t actually deliver mail, and that you can’t split your soul into pieces in order to live forever. But suddenly the magic is back. There are flying brooms, really cute house elves with big ears, moments that make you cry no matter how many times you’re read them, and countless memories that are all connected to these seven extraordinary books.
You and your books have created many wonderful moments in my life, and this is my final thank you. Thank you for opening up my world to a magical place where anything is possible. Thank you for showing me that you should always stand up for what is right even when it seems as if the whole world is against you. Thank you for giving me millions of memories of playing Harry Potter in backyards with people I love. Thank you for writing books that make my days better even when it seems as if nothing’s going my way. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Dumbledore says, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” This excerpt inspires many people. Whenever I’m in a tough situation, I remember that there is always a light switch, a way to keep moving forward. The Harry Potter books showed that to me, you showed that to me. For the last time, thank you with all my heart for transforming my world into a magical place when anything is possible, no matter how hard it seems.
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Dear Carter G. Woodson,
Throughout my life, I have always been praised for being a bright child. I looked up to my mother and father because they are both engineers. However, when I looked for scientific role models of my own race that were outside of my family, I could not find any. The only somewhat positive profession adults of my race were involved in was music. I always wondered why this was so, but I got my answer when I read your book The Mis-Education of the Negro. It educated me, inspired me and made me think about my own black race as a whole.
I always looked up to someone of another race when it came to role models in science. There were never any black scientists that people were just talking about, or mentioning. All my friends had black role models, but they were always in music or sports. My father and I talked about this once, and he recommended me your book. Because of his recommendation, I read it and all of a sudden, everything made sense. Your book opened my eyes to see that there is a system to the way we live. “If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one” (Carter G Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro). Your words helped me realize that there is a reason why all my friends had sports and music role models. It also helped me understand why no one was ever talking about black scientists in this way because it showed that I had not fallen prey to the system that we are forced to live in.
When I realize why all my friends looked up to sports players and rappers and why no one was talking about black scientists, it made me want to look up some black scientists. As a result of my searches, I found some scientists such as Benjamin Banneker. He was not exactly a scientist, but he was still, in fact, a great mind. And it inspires me with the combination of black scientists that I have become familiar with and your great book, Mr. Woodson. It inspires me to work hard in school to get to college and get all the education I can to aid me in my ambitions to do great things in the world. I want to be someone when I am older that a small boy my color can look up to and aspire to reach my goals and someday for that little boy to do greater than things than I want to achieve in life.
I thought long and hard after reading this book. Words from your book such as, “History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning,” made me think about my people. I thought about all the crime that we have committed and wrongs that we do to each other. And from the information I learned in your book, I realized that there is a reason why that’s the first thing I thought about when I thought about black people. I realized that it is not a coincidence that so many kids my age want to be rappers or sports players. I realized that we were looking the wrong way and moving in the wrong direction as a race as a whole. Therefore, I thought about ways that we might be able to move in the right direction. I came up with some reasons and wrote them down, and I have found some people to discuss these ideas with, including my father. Because of your words, my father and I are trying to move our people in the right direction by building a school. I am alongside him helping wherever he needs me, whether it be teaching a small group of students myself or leading a large pilot class with my partner.
My life has been changed by your book. I would not have realized the true reasons behind the way that I would have grown up. Without your book, I may have become a victim of the system that has grabbed so many others of my young friends. Your book has led me to do positive things for my black community. I am doing things that would make those black scientists that your book led me to search for proud.
Sterlington Middle School
Dear Gary Paulson,
As an avid hunter and outdoorsman, the jacket of your novel, Hatchet, piqued my interest as it stood on the library shelf. This book changed my view of both the world and myself.
Your vivid description of the setting made me feel like I was on a personal journey with the main character, Brian. I was most influenced by Brian’s character. He was described as a skillful and determined boy with a vibrant will to survive. After his plane crash-landed in the remote Canadian wilderness, he used his skills and “grit to build shelter, make a bow to kill his food, and utilize the lake for his source of water.” I was impressed how this spoiled New Yorker surmounted his urban lifestyle to develop the fortitude to survive in the outdoors. He could have easily given up. Instead, he found strength and determination that surprised me along with himself.
Through this novel I experienced a self-awakening that made me determined to become more independent and self-reliant like Brian. I recognized my own tendencies to allow others to do things for me that I could otherwise do for myself. It was fascinating to watch Brian develop his survival skills during the three months he was alone in the wilderness. This reminded me of the time when my mother was out of town for three weeks and I had to do everything for myself. From this experience, along with Brian’s examples, I developed an attitude that refuses to allow myself to depend on others as I did prior to reading the book.
As I read the book, I began to notice the beauty of the wildlife and wilderness in the world. I was able to appreciate the tranquility of the environment as Brian learned how to use the wilderness to his advantage. Brian’s raw emotions when he killed his first deer showed his thankfulness for the food the deer provided. I could visualize Brian’s growth during his encounter with the wolves when he realized the reason they didn’t attack him was because they sensed he was trying to survive just as they were. The novel brought to life the inherent beauty of the world and the inner strength each of us possess.
During the months that have followed since I read your book, I have relived Brian’s experiences, especially as I have spent more time in the woods. Hatchet is by far one of my all-time favorites, and I eagerly look forward to your next novel.
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Dear Mr. David Shannon,
Not knowing how to speak English in the U.S. is scary. I have experienced that before. I had just left China and landed in the city of New Orleans in the year 2006, and for one year I barely spoke English at all. When I was at daycare, I was a helpless little crybaby. I was just adjusting to living in a different city, and I couldn’t communicate with my teachers at all. All of those disadvantages made me get scared and cry a great deal. Then came 2007. One day, my mom brought me to a bookstore, and I remember seeing a lot of picture books on the shelf. I think I looked at one book and pointed at it because it had my name on it. My mom bought the picture book for me, and I was very excited. No, David! was the picture book I saw. Mr. Shannon, I owe you a lot right now because with that book, you helped me improve my English by encouraging me to read more. You also helped me learn a huge lesson from your book, and you gave me joy when I needed it the most.
I got this book because I saw a book with my name on it. Just imagine being a kid and finding something like a book that has your name on it, and the name is super big on the cover. Assuming that everyone has my reaction, I think anyone would get very delighted if they see that. When my mom and I got home, I was so eager to see what’s inside of the book. I had high expectations for the book, and the book didn’t disappoint me. The words and sentences might be a little short and simple, but for me, it was like reading Latin. Some lines such as “Don’t play with your food” and “Stop this instant” were very hard for me to read, so when I finally got it right, I was so proud of myself. My favorite parts were definitely the drawings in the book; I admired the drawings you had on every page as the childish but still pleasing paintings always delighted my eyes. It still delights me now when I open this book up again. The only flaw of your book, if you can call it a flaw, is that I always got sad when there were no more pages to turn, and the orange paper would appear which shows that the book is over. I always wanted more after seeing so many eye-pleasing drawings that you drew. Thank you very much for giving me such a pleasure when I read you award-winning book, Mr. Shannon.
No, David!has an amazing lesson, and I definitely learned it when I read this book. From your book, I have learned you should not do bad things that are both hazardous and disrespectful at the same time. Some examples that are from the book are not to be obscenely dirty, play with your food, pick your nose, and run butt-naked out on the streets. This lesson is very important for me as I actually kind of acted like the David in the book in my own home. When I was very young, I would mess around with my food, pick boogers, cause commotions, and do other bad things. After I read this amazing book, I learned the lesson and stopped doing these things as I learned that although I might get enjoyment from doing these things, it also annoys other people. When the book makes you stop doing something that you enjoy, it means that the book is very good at getting the lesson through. No, David! was like this. Thank you, Mr. Shannon, again for teaching me this lesson.
There is one final reason No, David! is the book that impacted my life the most. I think this is the biggest impact a book ever had on me. This book that you, Mr. David Shannon, wrote made me improve my English skills and encouraged me to read more books. If it wasn’t for this book, I might be in a different place right now. I said before that I arrived in America with no English speaking skills at all. Although my parents helped me learn English, I was reluctant, so my skills didn’t improve very quickly. However, when I read this book, I wanted to read more books because books can sometimes be awesome to read, as I learned from reading this book. Then, I tried to get better and better at reading with my parents’ help, and after a year or two, my English skills were way better than before. I could now read a lot more categories of books than before, and some books I read were actually masterpieces. This is a huge impact, and I am so happy that I found your book that you wrote.
David Shannon, you might not have known it, but you helped a person a lot. You made me have better English skills, encouraged me to keep reading, and gave me a lot of happiness from your amazing book called No, David! Again, I would like to thank you once more for helping me so much. I shall consider you one of my heros, and I will always cherish the book you wrote forever.
Hahnville High School
Dear Marcus Zusak,
There was once a time and place where I was at the top of the food chain. I was friends with the most popular kids in school. My best friend was the queen bee. Everyone loved me, I was a good student, and I wasn’t ugly. I’m not sure when the change took place, but it could be approximated to middle school. My best friend, too perfect and sweet for anyone to despise, had severed every connection. She stood on the track, cheering with my former clique, while I sat in the bleachers, producing barely passable toots on my oboe. She was making one-hundred A’s on every test, while I scraped by compared to her. My ninety-three A’s felt like F’s. There was also a time in which I was in denial. I tried to catch up, I really did. They sat at the table in the corner at lunch, so I sat a table away. If I listened closely, I could hear snippets of the conversation. I giggled silently. I made imaginary contributions to their discussion. I imagined them laughing at me, praising me, seeing me as the queen bee. However, my moment to shine had passed. So to be quite honest, I was a very lonely seventh grader.
In the midst of my pity party, I picked up I Am the Messenger and The Book Thief. Liesel was always my favorite character, but I related to Ed more than anyone. Ed was very plain, basically an underachiever. The fact that he became such an amazing person was shocking to me – I wanted to be just like him. Next, I read of Liesel and her willingness to go against the grain for what she knew in her heart was right. Liesel taught me that I can be good even if I do what everyone else thinks is wrong. It was at this time that I began my search for a different goal.
My heart was filled with a gut-wrenching fire, hungry to char any rumination that I was either popular or meaningless. Just as Liesel’s passion was reading, I immersed myself in music, the one place where I knew I could be the best. So I played oboe. Self-taught, I might add. I never told myself that I was good. I always told myself that there were millions of people ahead of me, learning music in a fraction of the time it would take me. I pushed myself harder and harder. I earned a solo in the end. I played it at state festival, where we earned a perfect score. At last, I had seen the world as more than a basic social hierarchy. More than the pangs of sorrow felt by being rejected by those that I thought were mine. More than my lack of an appealing visage that felt like the true cause of my social plunge. More than a childhood friendship toppled by the temptations of feeling worthwhile.
And so, Mr. Zusak, I will be frank. Your books were my saving grace when all I knew was that popularity was the only goal. You showed me that along my stolid sojourn, the path most traveled is not the only way to scale life’s staggering sierras. Thus, I end my story with today. Today, I am Ed. Today, I am Liesel. Today, I am not the person I wanted so desperately to be. But today, I am a better person that I ever expected to be. Now, I will part with the question that I asked myself the day I realized I was no longer on top: Who would ever believe that I am the person I am today because I was a reject?
With many thanks and admiration,
West St. Mary High School
Dear L. Divine,
The first time I read one of your books, I was in middle school. It just so happened that I mistakenly picked up Jayd’s Legacy, the third book in the Drama High series. Although I had no clue what had happened in the first two books, I decided to read it anyway. I do not believe I finished it. Now don’t get me wrong, I was definitely intrigued. Never had I read a book so raw, real, and relatable. Your voice and style had enraptured me. However, there was one element of the book that made me rather uncomfortable: voodoo.
As you very well-know, voodoo is not widely accepted in the African American community even though it is the religion of our ancestors and many of our people still practice it. As a child I never really thought of voodoo but always knew at the back of my mind that it was “evil” and “wicked.” I was still very closed-minded at the time of reading Jayd’s Legacy, and I could not be comfortable reading about a young voodoo priestess in training. It almost seemed blasphemous to me. Years later, when I was more mature and open-minded, I decided to give the series another try. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I have read approximately 400 books, and I have never come across another author who touched me so deeply. Jayd Jackson feels like a best friend to me. We are so much alike that one of my friends told me that Jayd reminded her of me. Jayd and I are both pro-black. We both have had to defend ourselves against self-righteous, uninformed bigots. Seeing how Jayd intelligently defended herself against those who tried to belittle her because of her race, gender, or beliefs inspired me to do the same. When I would engage in arguments or debates with pompous classmates who insulted me, I would think of how Jayd did not let her emotions get the best of her; she shut up the bigots with facts. Also, we are both 4.0 students, speak eloquently in appropriate settings, but go right back to AAVE around our family and friends. I really appreciated that you made Jayd the perfect example of a cultured, versatile black girl who still stays true to her roots. She is an ideal role model for all females, young and old. Figures like Jayd are not given much light in the media.
You managed to so gratefully and accurately capture the African-American community. Your voice perfectly mirrored how our people speak AAVE and how we interact with each other. Jayd’s relationships with her family, friends, and enemies were very realistic and relatable. Jayd and her grandmother’s loving relationship was so genuine it reminded me of my relationship with my grandmother, filled with love, food, and priceless advice. Jayd and her friends showed how difficult it is to keep relationships with your peers healthy and thriving. How Jayd dealt with her enemies revealed how sometimes a sister has to shut a hater down and how sometimes you have to “keep it movin’.” Her experiences with boys showed how beautiful and stressful romance could be. Jayd’s experiences really show what life is like as a young, Black female and have helped guide me in times when I was not sure what to do.
Because I felt so connected to Jayd, I found myself becoming very accepting of voodoo and extremely interested in the orishas. I began researching different orishas and became intrigued with Jayd’s mother, Oshun. Seeing how beautiful of a spirit she was, I realized how ignorant it was of me to be judgmental of a culture I knew nothing about except ugly stereotypes. I now use Oshun as a muse when writing poetry. I am so grateful that this book caused not only my mind but my heart to open to other’s cultures and beliefs no matter what preconceived notions I have about them.
Jayd’s Legacywas the start of a beautiful connection that cannot be broken. Jayd’s story is one that should be shared with everyone, especially young, black girls. If God leads me on the path of film and productions, I would love to work with you and make this book series a television series. I want to say thank you for being the mastermind who created my favorite book series in the world. Your work will forever be imprinted on my heart.
St. Charles Catholic High School
Dear Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne,
I read so many books during my sophomore year of high school. The one that brought about the greatest impact in my life told the story of an adulteress, living in a Puritan settlement who was forced, first, to wear an outward sign of shame on her bosom and, second, to cope with the judgments and accusations of her fellow citizens. Your book, The Scarlet Letter, provided numerous moral lessons that encouraged me to become more cognizant of both the way I view people and the way I allow people to view me.
The scarlet letter brought extremely harsh and unreasonable judgments, as well as assumptions, upon Hester Prynne. These suppositions were also unfairly transferred to her innocent child. While reading about the extent of Hester’s sufferings, I began to wonder about the appropriate punishments for actions and about who has the ultimate authority of assigning them. I quickly discovered the answer. It is God. Your novel helped me to realize that I am in no position to judge or place blame or punishment on another person because I too am a sinner. From then on, I have intently watched how I treat others and how I influence others to do the same.
Expounding on the first lesson, I came across another dealing with guilt. Hester was exposed publicly and suffered outwardly. This directly parallels Dimmesdale’s internal exposure and inward suffering, which led to his feelings of immense guilt, as well as to the decline of his mental and physical health. Because you depicted Dimmesdale’s sufferings to the reader in such detail, I was alerted to the imperativeness of owning up to and being responsible for my actions. I also noticed that most people are harder on themselves and punish themselves more internally that outwardly. I know I judge, reprimand, and punish myself much more harshly than anyone else ever could. I have learned to reach out and console those who admit to and take credit for their sinful doings.
Growing up, I was always instructed “not to judge a book by its cover,” but I never fully understood what that meant. Although you created an inverse example of this common teaching with Dimmesdale’s deceptive and cowardly actions, after reading your work, I understood the intended message. This point provided me with a double-sided lesson: those who seem bad can be good, and those who seem good can be bad. You have taught me to become more cautious in how quick I am to judge someone. Since being influenced by this teaching in my life, I have created friendships with some unexpected people.
The Scarlet Letter opened my eyes to the pain and suffering that is attributed with any type of sin. It provided examples that helped encourage me to be more conscientious of both my actions and my assumptions, allowing me to catch a glimpse of how others may view me. I am extremely thankful for not only my 10th grade English teacher for introducing me to your inspirational work but also you for writing a work to which I was able to relate easily and learn a multitude of valuable lessons.
LAL 2016 Finalists
Caneview Elementary School, New Iberia
Teacher: Margaret Simon
Copper Mill Elementary, Zachary
Teacher: Margret Atkinson
Cooper Ackman, state winner, 3rd place
Lauren Perkins, state winner, 2nd place
Danielle Thai, state winner, 1st place
Teacher: Laura Grubb
Will Thomas Beasley
Lusher Charter School, New Orleans
Teacher: Katheryne Patterson
Tchefuncte Middle School, Mandeville
Teacher: Bonnie Stokes
Lusher Charter School, New Orleans
Teacher: Rebekah Bradshaw
Oriana Gandler Rodriguez
Amaya Williams, state winner, 1st place
David Zhang, state winner, honorable mention
Teacher: Erica Cross
Hannah Jabaley, state winner, 2nd place
Richard Thomas Kijko
Bahiy Watson, state winner, 3rd place
North Vermilion Middle School, Maurice
Teacher: Whitney Myers
Northwestern Middle School, Zachary
Teacher: Margret Atkinson
Raegan N. Douglas
John Thomas Hernandez
Sterlington Middle School, Sterlington
Teacher: Nelda Lawrence
Brody Green, state winner, honorable mention
Diya Desai, Shreveport
Cameron Smith, Winnsboro
Destrehan High School, Destrehan
Teacher: Leigh Baltazar
Hahnville High School, Boutte
Teacher: Deborah Unger
Catelyn Errington, state winner, 1st place
Mount Carmel Academy, New Orleans
Teacher: Gilly Jaunet
St. Charles Catholic High School, LaPlace
Teacher: Melanie Lohfink
Teacher: Peggy Bordelon
Mya Leake, state winner, 3rd place
Ashley St. Martin
St. Paul’s High School, Covington
School President: Brother Ray Bulliard
Bria Burrell, Franklin, state winner, 2nd place
Julia LeFort, Benton
Rayna Stehlik, Prairieville
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Library of Louisiana
Office of the Lieutenant Governor