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Letters About Literature Contest Winners Announced

The Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana announces the 2017 winners of the annual Letters About Literature contest. This year, 670 fourth through twelfth grade Louisiana students wrote personal letters to authors, 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 winners of the competition, students from throughout the state, are listed below.

Level I (grades 4 – 6)

1st Place:                             Zelia Lerch, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans

2nd Place:                           Fletcher Reed, Cathedral-Carmel School, Lafayette

3rd Place:                            Christina You, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans

Level II (grades 7 – 8)

1st Place:                             Olivia Bell, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans

2nd Place:                           Taylor Allen, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans

3rd Place:                            Nia Talbott, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans

Level III (grades 9 – 12)

1st Place:                             Jessica Xu, Independent Submission, Metairie

2nd Place (Tied):                 Joseph Ernest Giberga, St. Paul’s School, Covington

2nd Place (Tied):                 Isabella Redman, Bolton High School, Alexandria              

Winners receive $100 for first place, $75 for second place, and $50 for third place, and they will be recognized at the Louisiana Book Festival on Sat., Oct. 28, in Baton Rouge, with the first place winners reading their letters there.

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 all the state finalists, visit www.state.lib.la.us.

Letters About Literature is made possible by a grant from the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, which promotes and administers 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 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 –

Winning Letters

List Of Finalists

Letter About Literature

2017 Winning Letters

Levels 1-3

First Place

Zelia Lerch

Lusher Charter School

New Orleans, LA
Dear Mr. Spinelli,
I cannot explain how much your book “Stargirl” changed me. Your writing was amazing, the cover is adorable, and even though the book is fiction, I could relate to Stargirl.
When I was in first grade, I moved from Germany to New Orleans. It was really hard, because I had lived in Berlin for almost my whole life, and now I was leaving all my friends and moving an ocean away to a country that I barely knew that language of. 
In New Orleans, I was the weird new kid. I had a strange name (just like Stargirl), Zelia. I had strange clothes and strange hair and strange glasses. The only difference between Stargirl and me is that I didn’t like it. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter what people think of you, just as long as you’re happy. I also think that that is what Stargirl and Leo realized toward the end of your novel.
I wish that I didn’t let people change who I was back then, but a little while ago I learned to embrace my differences and not care “how popular I was” or “how many friends I had” or “if people thought that I was weird or not.”
I learned that it doesn’t matter how popular you are, just that the people you surround yourself with make you happy. I learned that it doesn’t matter how many friends you have, just as long as they’re all worth keeping. I learned that it doesn’t matter if people think that you’re weird, because in my opinion, it’s a lot better to be weird than to be like everybody else. That is what’s important in life. 
So I thank you ever so much, for writing this masterpiece of a book. Because of your writing, I have a different perspective of my peers. Although they may be crazy or weird, that is what makes us special. Our eccentric personalities are what make us worth being friends with. 

I now realize that Stargirl isn’t just fictional, she’s real. Everyone should encounter a Stargirl in their lives, whether meeting or becoming. And every day after that, the thought of her should stay in their minds forever. 

Thank you again, 

Zelia Lerch

Second Place

Fletcher Reed

Cathedral-Carmel School

Lafayette, LA      
Dear Barbara Robinson,

Hi, I am Fletcher Reed. I would like to start off by telling you that this is more of a thank you letter than a fan mail letter. I have never been a second chance kind of guy, well, at least not before this book. Now, I know what you are thinking…can he not just move on already!!! So, here is my story.

There were a lot of people who did bad things to me. I just let them go, some even moved away. I never tried to forgive them. I didn’t try to see their change or the good things they did for me. I only saw the bad. 

Now, on to the way you helped me. You made me realize that not forgiving was worse than the things they did to me. I was like Alice. She was being mean to the Herdmans because she would not accept that they were good. I also realized that those who hurt me are good and now they are my friends again. All of this because of you!

This book has had such a great impact on me. I just need to say a huge thank you for all of your inspiration and help.
Fletcher Reed  

Third Place
Christina You
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Dear Mr. Jerry Spinelli,
Hello Mr. Spinelli. Your book, Stargirl, has strongly affected my life and how I see it. It is priceless to me on a whole new level. It made me rethink how I live this world.
Stargirl has greatly influenced me. I think that by looking at the world from Stargirl’s point of view just made me feel how much happiness someone can feel just by one simple act of kindness. By reading this book, it made me feel that before, I was living in a world of shadows and ordinary living. It has made me feel that even though other people at my school, at home, or just in public, might not help others when they are in need, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t help them. I’ve seen so many people suffering on the streets of the city where I live in, and I just feel bad about not doing anything to help them. Kindness is meant to be shared, and by sharing it, others feel happiness too. Just like how Stargirl spreads happiness to all the people around her. Stargirl, and Stargirl herself, has also taught me to be unique, to be different from those around me, not just some typical school-girl. You have Stargirl here, being the girl that everyone knows in a way that sets her apart from the other high-schoolers. Stargirl is the girl who stands out from the rest of the people (with her dresses, ukulele, sunflower bag, and Cinnamon), yet she doesn’t even try to fit in with her classmates when she first comes to Mica High School. Yet I’m just that random girl who goes to some school, learning some class, writing some letter to you, out of the many letters you probably get, Mr. Spinelli. Your book tells all your readers, including myself, about the importance of being different. It makes me want to actually make a difference in the world. You have one life, and it’s not for eternity. We shouldn’t be trying to be ordinary; aim to be extraordinary. And Stargirl taught me one last thing: the power of friendship and companionship. The bond that Leo and Stargirl share is incredible; both would have been a lot different if neither had met the other. And when Stargirl was rejected by everyone in the entire school, besides Dory. That event in your flawless book just made me feel how lucky I am to even have friends who care for me when I’m feeling down. It makes me feel that friends shouldn’t be taken for granted. I have friends in my class who help me in every which way, whether on homework or just to cheer me up, and it now makes me feel that all these things are just priceless. Friendship is something that is just so incredible, something that human civilization would not function without. This book written by you, Stargirl, brings alive friendship, and what it means to be a true friend even in doubt.
Your book in general just makes me feel, makes me feel like I’m looking at the world in a whole new perspective. Being kind and original, just like the characters that are in your novel, has just changed me, just those four words. This book, Stargirl, is amazing; your writing is amazing. I really want to thank you for bringing your readers into the light. Thank you, Mr. Spinelli, for creating this amazing novel that brings out the wonderful aspects of human life, both the good and bad, sad and happy. 
Thank you for everything you have created.
Christina You

First Place
Olivia Bell
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Dear Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire:
Sitting down in front of the fireplace, the TV off, and sinking into the couch against my mother was a nightly tradition when I was younger, but the tradition could never have been complete if your book D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths wasn’t in my mother’s hands, and the stories weren’t rolling off her tongue as perfectly as if she had written the book herself. Every night, stories of all Greek gods entered my world and shaped my view. It was the thing that I looked forward to each day, and when my mother got home I was ready to listen. But the year I turned six, we moved to Maine, and the tradition did not follow us. Half a year later, I was seven years old and we moved back home. When we arrived back at our house for the first time in six months, I searched everywhere for the stories, but after a few days, it became clear that while the nightly readings did not come with us to Maine, they didn’t stay at home either. The tradition was long gone, but the way it had affected me, the view it had given me, the way it had changed my heart? That would stay with me my entire life. True, you did not write the stories yourself, but instead, you took the stories of a past culture and created a book that many would read, and yes, my mother could have picked up any other Greek mythology book and read it to me, and I probably would be writing this letter to that person, instead of you. But the way I like to look at it is that it’s the memories you created that matter. It wasn’t any other book that my mom read to me. It was this one. This is the book that I remember when I think about my childhood. And it was this book, not another, that taught me that women are not lesser than men, and it showed me that magic, or something greater than us, does exist, even if it’s not God per se.
In today’s world, once you reach a certain age, all you hear when you speak of fairies, nymphs, or magic in general, is that none of it is real. If it wasn’t for all the books I read, I probably would have fallen in line with that idea. But I didn’t. D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is one of the main reasons why. The stories of the Greek myths are full of magic. Nymphs raised Zeus. The main gods, (Poseidon-god of the sea. Zeus- god of the sky. And Hades- god of the underworld), all carry magical weapons, such as the cap of invisibility, a powerful trident, and fearsome lightning bolts. Even the gods themselves, powerful beings who each represented an entire element, hold magic within them. They lived forever for they had something other than blood running through their veins. Every time I hear someone saying that magic is not real, I always think back to these stories, sometimes without even realizing it. I hear the words roll through my mind, and the characters come alive in my head. Once this was the same for an entire country of people who saw no impossibility in it, so why should I?
Women play a powerful role in the Greek myths. They are not there only to bring kids to gods, but instead, they have their own stories and own powers. In our world, not too long ago, the talk of women having anything to do with fighting, or working, or the thought that maybe a woman didn’t want to get married was preposterous to many men. Not only that, but many men also considered their wives almost their property. A woman was never smarter than a man. A woman could not be stronger than a man. And if a woman was to not listen to a man, it would cause outrage. At the same time, men were seen as the ones doing the hard work. Sports, to many people, were considered a manly thing. So was working out. Even colors were touched by gender stereotypes. Blue was meant to be manly, while pink was supposed to appeal to girls. 
I have no doubt that without these stories I would have grown up thinking differently. Knowing that I can like the color blue, and I can like sports. Understanding that even if I didn’t like those things, it was ok, because the option would always be there. But that’s not to say that the goddesses such as Artemis and Athena didn’t play any role in my mind’s development. If I had to pick one of these two characters in the Greek mythology stories to set as my role model, I would never be able to choose.
Artemis is the goddess of many things, her main two being the hunt and the moon. Artemis didn’t love anyone, and she was happier for it. She was a woman, but at the same time represented many qualities that were considered manly, like owning weapons, hunting, and surviving. Artemis is the number one reason for my love of camping. When you look at me, my girl figure and black skirt trick many into believing that camping would be the last thing I would ever do, but it’s a priority for me that when I get older, me and my family will go at least once a month. 
Athena was the goddess of wisdom and of war. She was the smartest goddess there ever was, but at the same time, she had a warrior spirit like no other. She was strategic and strong, and could win almost any fight. She was considered more powerful than many other gods, despite her female status. It’s because of her tale that more than once I have thought about doing something with the military for a few years, when I get older. And not only that, but being a medic, using both strategic thinking and brains to survive and save others. 
My belief in magic and my defying of gender stereotypes are only two of the ways these stories shaped my world, but there are many more. Artemis is the reason for my love of nature, animals, and the night. I like to think of Athena as my role model when it comes to fighting for what I believe in. And also Athena is partly the reason I think a little too deeply about the world at times. Aphrodite let me know true love is real, and Mother Earth made sure I learned that every living creature in the world is equal. Hephaestus showed me that a disability doesn’t make you any less loved. And Achilles gave me the knowledge that everyone has a weakness.
In the end, despite the fact that the nightly readings were gone, the book’s messages and tales stayed with me forever. I will hold them close to my heart till death greets me, and I will make sure the rest of my family knows them too. If it wasn’t for this book teaching all about the Greek myths, I would be a completely different person than I am today.
Olivia Bell

Second Place
Taylor Allen
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Dear Ms. Lysa TerKeurst,
When I first saw your book Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely I thought, “Why would I need this? I’m not lonely.” Then I stopped, and for a moment I truly thought about myself and more specifically my future. I asked myself, “Am I content with the way I am?” and this is how I started reading your book. In chapter one, you state, “honesty isn’t trying to hurt me. It’s trying to heal me.” From then on out I decided to be more honest with myself and more honest with others. So right now in this letter, I’m going to be honest about something. Are you ready? I liked it better when my father stayed away. Sounds bad right? Well, some things are meant to be said. Your book taught me that. It’s made me realize that holding onto false truths only hurt us more> My mother always said I sometimes talk a little more about my life than I should and there’s a chance that’s true, but it doesn’t matter in this moment. Right now I’m writing from my soul and that means I don’t care what comes out of my mouth, or rather fingertips, and onto this page. Right now I’m writing to you, Lysa Terkeurst, an author who has inspired me about why exactly you inspired me and from the bottom of my heart I hope you’ll listen.
I’m sitting in a chair now thinking about what I should write to you. Soft, melodious music is playing in the background and I have no clue how to explain what your book did for me, did to me. I guess it changed me. Your book has shown me that we all have those moments, or at least I certainly do. Moments where we just sit or stand or cry and maybe even laugh. Moments where we think about just how crazy life can be. In your novel, you tell of life experiences, more specifically of your own life experiences. This I admire and is one of the reasons you inspire me. You write about the negatives you’ve come across and turn them into positive things. I feel as though I can relate to stuff you’ve experienced like struggling to not feel left out or lonely. I can’t say much about my own life experiences, I have a long road ahead of me, but I can say this – after reading your book, I’ve found out that being alone can sure hit you hard. When you’re alone is when you have time to reflect on things, and more importantly reflect on yourself. Sure, actions may describe you, and your thoughts may influence you, but you never truly know yourself until you’re alone. Not only has your novel inspired me but it has also made me take a good look at myself and my life. 
Chapter 3: There’s a Lady at the Gym Who Hates Me. What I got from this chapter is not the fat that there may be a lady in the gym who hates you, but that it’s easy to assign thoughts to people they’re not even thinking. Have you ever done that? I’ll admit I have. I walk around my school and other settings thinking of each and every individual I come across. What do they think about me? I bet they think I’m weird. What’s their life like? When we assign negative thoughts to people they might not even be thinking, all it does is give us stress. You’ve taught me that to find the positives in our lives, we have to release the negatives that our holding us down.
Lastly, I want to say thank you for all that you have done for me. When you wrote this book you probably weren’t expecting to get a response from a 14-year-old girl, but your book has taught me to be myself and to reflect on the things I do. It’s also taught me that any negatives can be turned into positives and to have hope. You share your deepest experiences from the painful childhood abandonment by your father to the perceived judgment of the perfectly toned woman one elliptical over. This is what I believe affected me. I will now walk through life with a new purpose and I now believe I’m strengthened by my own truth. I don’t let the looks or thoughts of others bring me down and I accept the negatives that come with life. As I grow older, I will continue to read this book because I believe that with age comes new perspective and I hope to gain more knowledge from your novel. So when you read this letter, know that I’m glad to be someone you inspired. 
Thank you,
Taylor Allen 

Third Place

Nia Talbott

Lusher Charter School

New Orleans, LA

Dear Ms. Maya Angelou,
Growing up as a young, black girl at a predominantly white school, we learned about the same civil rights activists every year. I could tell you Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream and his goals to change our country. I could recite Langston Hughes’ “Dreams” poem word for word. I could tell you Rosa Park’s whole story. I could show you the very school that Ruby Bridges attended. There are also a lot of people that were left out of the story of the Civil Rights Movement. I had never heard of Malcolm X. I had never heard of the 16th Street bombing. I was not aware of how severe the segregation laws and practices were. I was completely ignorant to all of the challenges that African Americans endured, or are still going through today. My eyes were never truly opened until I began reading your work. You touch on topics that I can relate to today. You also touch on topics that express a type of pain that seems to be unbearable. Your writing elegantly portrays stories of achievement, failure, rejection, and depression. Without reading your work, I would not have as good of an understanding of the pain that many women have gone through. I also would not have the confidence to walk with my head held high surrounded by people so different from me.
The only thing we have been taught in black history month is that there was segregation in the south and not the north. We were only taught that Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington and ended racism. We only knew that Rosa parks sat on the bus, that Ruby Bridges integrated a school, and that blacks were always inferior to whites. Your poetry taught me that there was much more to that struggle. You taught me that there weren’t only physical obstacles during that time, but also mental obstacles. I learned that the mentality of black women had to be a lot stronger than any man. These women were scared to walk alone in their home town. They were afraid of the white people around them that did not want them to exist. They were often the target and victims of close-minded, racist white people. In your poem “Equality” you say, “We have lived a painful history, we know the shameful past, but I keep on marching forward, and you keep on coming last.”

Your poetry not only taught me about the past, but it also inspired me to keep my head held high, to keep on moving, and to always believe in who I am. The first poem I read of yours was “Still I Rise.” The poem embodied the woman I would like to be when I grow up. I used to want to be seen as perfect. I wanted to fit in with everyone around me. This meaning, my hair had to be straight. I had to have brand new clothes. I always had to have good grades. After reading “Still I Rise,” I realized I didn’t have to be like everyone else to be perfect. If I embraced who I truly was, that was truly was, that was more than enough. While first starting to express my culture, I was questioned for being different. I was picked on for my big hair. I was pushed away for not shopping at the same stores. It was hard for me at first to not take in the hatred. It was hard to put a guard up and not let them get to me. The poem reads, “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.” This stanza showed me that I could truly overcome any and everything. I stopped worrying about what other people thought and just lived my life the way I wanted.

Without your work, I surely wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t express my feelings. I wouldn’t know how to address those who were against me. I wouldn’t have wanted to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. I would care what other people thought. I definitely wouldn’t have the leadership attitude in me, or the confidence to be in control. So, I would like to thank you. I want to thank you for being inspiration to not only me, but other young girls like me who need someone to show them there’s always a way to overcome your struggles. 


Nia Talbott

First Place
Jessica Xu

Independent Submission

Dear Daniel Keyes,
From a young age, I fell into words easily, fell into stories, and fell in love with books. It wasn't until my 6th grade year in middle school when I had a sudden blockage within me. Books became a chore, it became a rough journey to simply get through a couple of pages, a burden that fell heavily onto me. The pages became tasteless; Dystopian novels after dystopian novels with the stereotypical two dimensional love triangles. I was wiser beyond my years, deeply interested in philosophy, and sneered at those who gushed over what I saw as flat, meaningless young adult novels. 
My teacher gave us a packet of excerpts from your book, Flowers for Algernon, at the end of my 6th grade year. I read the packet like I'd read anything else given to me by a teacher; I did what I was told to do, I analyzed what I was told to analyze, and I answered the questions I was told to answer. But even at that time, I felt a slight churning in me, like the gears of a broken, old machine had finally started to move again. The excerpts from the book had snapped me open, put in something vital that I had lost, and put me back together. I remember asking the teacher why she had not let us read the whole book, only to be met with the answer, "Maybe when you're older." Naturally, I urged my parents to buy the book, the first book I bought in over a year. 
I didn't know what to expect. From what I read in the excerpts, a mentally retarded man receives an operation that makes him smart, but the effects of the operation soon wear off and he becomes retarded again. The idea of the book was like a rose in a field of yellow grass, and I was completely entranced by the development and deterioration of Charlie simply through the grammar and spelling of his journal entries. 
I still remember myself three years ago as I awaited the book, with my nose pressed against the glass of my door as I awaited the UPS man, and how overwhelmed I had been when I had tore open the small cardboard box. I devoured the book like a wolf. I chewed up every word carefully, letting it slide down my throat, and letting it rest deep inside me. 
Your book took me in and made sense of myself. It allowed me to open my eyes and my heart.
I am sometimes ashamed to admit that I have never loved my mother, for we have never been particularly close. She exuded intense pressure onto me, and I crumbled in her presence. I brooded over my grades, which she strictly stressed. When they weren't up to par, I tore myself up over them and never fully stitched myself back together, and every time it happened, a bigger and bigger mental wound opened.

I felt that my mother was simply tolerating me all the time. I felt that she believed that I'd never amount to anything, that I'd never succeed. She would often belittle me with her words. I imagine young, little Charlie, unable to comprehend much, unable to fulfill his mother's expectations. Rose, Charlie's mother, wanted Charlie to grow up normal and she hid under her delusions until she had Charlie's sister, Norma, soon giving up completely on her son. Charlie was a mouse looking up at his tiger of a mother. But strangely enough, although Rose had forfeited the future of her son, I felt compassionate towards Rose, who I saw much like my own. I saw the intense stress a woman had to go through to be so frustrated and enraged, and I became more kind and understanding towards my own mother. It has taken me awhile to  become more loving towards her, for I was scared that she would backlash it and reject it. But our relationship has improved, even with setbacks and conflicts, and I can only hope for the best.

Because of my emotionally taxing relationship with my mother, as well as not being particularly close to anyone in my family, I grew up to be quite secluded. Although I had people to talk to at school, the conversations were tedious and unfulfilling, and there were nothing more than that. I didn't have any friends. There was a distance I always insured, a distance that I always felt that I needed to have with other people. For most of my life, I didn't feel as if I was loved, and I was afraid to be loved. If people made any attempt to get to close to me, I'd make up excuses to not talk to them and avoid them. There was a voice in my head, saying that if I let people become too intimate with me, they would betray me, that they would drift away from me and I could never recover. I felt like I didn't need anyone. Your book taught me that humans do need other humans, that we need support and compassion and love. Charlie's relationship with Alice had a huge change on my viewpoint of other people. In times of love, in times of friendship, and when their relationship was awkward and strained, Alice always helped Charlie and cared for him with great affection. Her warmth for Charlie began from before the operation, with her pondering if she was making the right choice for him to undergo the operation and hoping that he wouldn't get hurt until the final days of his intelligence when he isolated himself, with her pounding on his door in tears. And in times of trouble, in times of emotional turmoil and confused love, Charlie would always turn to Alice, even running through the rain and constantly going to her classes to see her. Even though Charlie and Alice did have arguments, they loved each other desperately, with raw, beautiful, human depth and emotion. It made me realize that how much humans were dependent on others and how important that was, and that we should open up to each other to offer empathy and to grow to understand ourselves better.
Everything about your book, from how incredibly moving and beautiful the story was, to the development of the characters, had made me feel a surge of something powerful, and within me, something had started to brew. It was the biggest gift you had given me; the power of words and the ignition to write. Your book had made me realize the depths and the stretch of the literature world, and I realized how narrow my sights had been before. I had set out to embark on something new, something of a gamble, and three years ago, with my heart still quivering as I closed your book, I had felt a rush, a surge, and instinctively,
I had opened up Microsoft word and poured myself out on paper like a bottle of wine that had sat on the shelf for hundreds of years and the time was finally right for it all to spill out.
One year ago, I mustered all my courage and sent my first piece to a teen publishing magazine. I had gotten rejected. My heart depleted like a pricked balloon, but six months after, I had sent another piece of my work to another online magazine. I didn't win first, but after receiving my certificate that had 2nd place by name, I was wildly ecstatic. Now, every day for half a day, I go to school especially for creative writing. You have given me a future that I could have never been able to fathom or realize until your book made it very real.
So what can I do now except to keep building upon the foundation that you have already set for me? To keep adding and to keep learning. I will think of your book in my times of my writing troubles and think I wish I had never read it, and I will think of your book in my times of my shining moments in writing, and smile, even shed a tear. But to you, I could never express the depths of my gratitude enough. I hope you will accept these words: Thank you. Truly, thank you. 
Jessica Xu

Second Place

Joseph Giberga

St. Paul’s School
Dear Ms. Lee,
I know that you probably receive a thousand letters like this one every day, but it wouldn’t mean the world to me if you wouldn’t read this humble thank you note. When I was very young, I was considered a “good reader.” I was reading books well above my grade level from an early age, so it came as a bit of a shock to my parents and teachers when – in about the fifth grade – I stopped reading for pleasure altogether. I cited my disinterest in literature as a whole, and replaced it with much more entertaining substitutes such as video games and television. I suppose that when I ran out of Harry Potter books, my ability to genuinely enjoy a good book vanished. I could not be intellectually satisfied by the children’s novels that were assigned to me as a middle schooler, and just decided that reading was inherently boring. Whenever I was given a reading assignment, I would never actually engage and seek to look deeper into the words that a person much wiser than myself had dedicated years, or even decades of their life to give a class of snotty sixth graders a fuller understanding of the harsh world that they would soon encounter. And then one summer, my parents forced me to read To Kill a Mockingbird. 
As a rising seventh grader, I was not thrilled at this assignment. No offense. But as I finished your magnum opus, I realized that your book had more subtle importance than any book that I had ever read. The story of To Kill a Mockingbird is one of humanity, race, and coming of age, but I think that you were trying to teach me something even more important through Atticus Finch. Atticus’s words and actions are a guidebook for life, written for me. I am grateful for these lines in particular.
“Atticus, you must be wrong…”
“How’s that?”
“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…”
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” – Scout and Atticus Finch
Using Atticus Finch as your vehicle, you showcased the values that I now strive to uphold. Courage: even though Atticus knew that he would lose the case, he gave Tom Robinson the best defense he could muster. Empathy: Atticus tells Scout, “to climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it.” He understands that you should never judge a person based upon his or her color, education, strange habits, or religion. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus teaches Scout, Jem, and me how we should live our lives. I have come to realize, Ms. Lee, that you were Atticus all along.

When asked in the eighth grade what kind of man I wanted to be, I replied, “Like Atticus Finch.” You designed Atticus to be the perfect person in the hopes that I and others would follow in the footsteps of Scout. Scout hopes to one day be just like Atticus, and so should I. I suppose you will just have to imagine what kind of world we would be living in if every young person aspired to be Atticus Finch. All you wanted was young people like me to wake up and live their lives the way we were meant to. You never saw your wish fulfilled in life, but perhaps a better world will be y7our legacy. Perhaps one day, people will wake up and discover that you gave them the blueprints for a better world, and all we have to do is follow it. Thank you for giving me mine. I am eternally grateful.

Best Regards,
Joseph Gilberga

Second Place
Isabella Redman
Bolton High School
Dear Shel Silverstein, 
I can neither recall the first time The Giving Tree was read to me, nor the first time I read it independently. However, its value is priceless.
The times I can recall your book being read to me were all with my mother. As someone I quite literally started my life with, she’ll always hold a special place in my heart. Even if she has left me at times, I’ll always love her unconditionally.
My mother has abandoned me many times; she decided she did not want to be a mother anymore, so she left. She came back. She left again. The cycle still continues. Because I’m the youngest in my family, I listen to the advice of my four older siblings. They hate our mother, and they aren’t afraid to tell me. My father, my stepmother, and my grandmother also tell me that my mother is awful. Being surrounded by a magnitude of hatred as great as this has led me to believe that my mother truly is evil. When I was twelve years old, I stumbled upon The Giving Tree in my local library. At this time I was caught in the middle of a custody battle between my mother and father. I had been torn from my father’s home and forced to live with my grandmother. In a new environment, I felt like a snake constantly being rattled within its cage. Seeing your book brought back memories of simpler times. Deciding to give it a read, I quickly remembered all the reasons why it was my favorite book as a young child.
Your book taught me that goodness in the world goes unnoticed, but without it suffering would ensue. No matter how one sided a love is, it will always be better than being loveless. Similar to the way the tree always gave and boy always took, my mother has taken me for granted throughout my life. I can never stop loving her regardless of the wrongs she has committed unto me. Through the words and illustrations in your book I have come to realize forgiveness, patience, and understanding are all characteristics of love, and as individuals people of the world must learn to love one another. 
Although the boy in your book left the tree, came back, took from it, and left again, the tree always welcomed him. The tree’s love for the boy became its downfall, but seeing him grow because of its care seemed more important to the tree than the cost of its body. Even if the tree does not appear to gain anything from its constant giving, it receives its blessings from watching the boy grow. This powerful message has allowed me to forgive my mother and absolve myself of any resentment I felt toward her. I now fully understand that love is the greatest power. I know that by continuing to give all my love, I can live a fulfilled life without hatred. I am no longer bound by the grips of anger; instead, I swim in a serene sea of acceptance and understanding.
Thanks to The Giving Tree, I am able to forgive those who are walking blindly in the world, unaware of the fruits of kindness. This awareness is a gift that I believe will keep giving and will prevail through the trials I may face. 
Isabella Redman

LAL 2017 Finalists

Letters About Literature Louisiana Finalists


Cathedral Carmel, Lafayette
Teacher:  Julie Evans
Aubrey Cassidy
Jude P. Foti
Teacher:  Courtney Greer
Caroline Giglio
Fletcher Reed (Second Place)
Katelyn Swilley
Ryleigh Viator
Cedar Creek School, Ruston
Teacher:  Jill Myers
Devika Dua
Copper Mill Elementary School, Zachary
Teacher:  Margret Atkinson
Sara Blanchard 
Janiya Brown
Gabreyela Gonzalez
Parker Scott
Claire Venable
Arun Waran
Lusher Charter School, New Orleans
Teacher:  Susan Ary
Sam Carey
Camille Fuselier
Agnes Kilroy
Teacher:  Katheryne Patterson
Sundiata Haley
Jack E. Heller
Josephine Keleher
Zelia Lerch (First Place)
Alex Macneill
Ethan Roberts
Libby Sullivan    
Ella Szalai
Giselle Wolf
Christina You (Third Place)
Tchefuncte Middle School, Mandeville
Teacher:  Bonnie Stokes
Miranda Holincheck 
Jessie Kergosien 
Olivia Rogge
Independent Submissions
Finn Galarneau , New Orleans

Lusher Charter School, New Orleans
Teacher:  Rebekah Bradshaw
Ashley Allen
Taylor Allen (Second Place)
Olivia Bell (First Place)
Ambroisine Daniel-Pougault
Anisha Mohapatra
Avery Pierson
Teacher:  Erica Cross
Lily Adamo
Ebubechukwu Agwaramgbo
Simone Bassiouni
Morrah Burton-Edwards
Benhamin Gancarz-Davies
Sidney K. Gard
Ethan J. Hutchinson
Arshiya Khokher
Destinee Lavigne
Charleston McLean
Claire Meder
Austyn Millet
Julia Munger
Ellen Rogers
Mia-Fay Rouse
Elisha Schiller
Nia Talbott (Third Place)
Nicco Turillo
Zachary Wilkins
Christopher Wiseman
Nina Yetta
Mangham Junior High, Mangham
Teacher:  Nelda Lawrence
Trenton Frost
Northwestern Middle School, Zachary 
Teacher:  Margret Atkinson
Brianne Bankston
Lauren Bradley
Macie Turner
St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School, Baton Rouge
Teacher:  Charlotte Carnes
Kate Langley
St. Paul’s School, Covington
Teacher:  Emilee Allen
Luke Beckendorf 
Evan Green
Joel Rodriguez
Thomas Scott Woodard
Southern Magnolia Montessori School, Abita Springs
Teacher:  Mindy Dennis
Isabel Fisk

Bolton High School, Alexandria
Teacher:  Nancy Monroe
Mahad Ahmed
Preston Baum
Abena Berko
Storm Boyett
Maryann Brame
Atula Danivas
Khadijah Evans
Sansar Gupta
Isabella  Redman  (Second Place, tie)
Emma Sullivan
Christin Tanner
Haleigh Vandyke
DeQuincy High School, DeQuincy
Teacher:  Adri Leblanc
Crissy Thomas
Deridder High School, DeRidder
Teacher:  (undetermined)
Julia Hoychick
Hahnville High School, Boutte
Teacher:  Deborah Unger
Lucy Barré
Nevaeh Gair
Caroline Genius
Isaac Moore
Holden High, Holden
Teacher:  Dana Ray 
Josie Purvis
McKinley High School, Baton Rouge
Teacher:  Lena Burrows
Raven Daye 
D’mya Delpit
Mount Carmel Academy, New Orleans
Teacher:  J. Richard
Emma Lion
Natchitoches Central High School, Natchitoches
Teacher:  Lesa Thompson
Zachary Dubois
Katlynn French
Brittany Miller
Anna Murchison
Carli Raupp
Runnels High School, Baton Rouge
Teacher:  Colleen LeBlanc
London Deshotel
Saint Louis Catholic High School, Lake Charles
Teacher:  H. Fontenot
Teacher:  E. Pettaway
Anna Bushnell
Madelyn Guidry
St. Paul’s School, Covington
Teacher:  Brother Ray Bulliard
Sam Avenel
Tyler Beard
Brady Billiot
Clayton Dunavant
Joseph Giberga (Second Place, tie)
Matthew Gros
Lucas Isolani
Patrick Kilgore
Benjamin Klein
Scott Manifold
Scott Montreuil
Blake Naccari
Sean Noel
Landon Rees
Miguel Seruntine
Paul Stolin

Independent Submissions

Serenity Brown (no information available)
Austin Daigle, Lafayette
Michelle Hasenkampf, Pearl River
Danyelle Long, West Monroe
Jameka Sampson, Hammond
Jessica Xu, Metairie (First Place)


Rebecca Hamilton
State Library of Louisiana
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Buddy Boe / Jessica Ragusa
Office of the Lieutenant Governor
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