The Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana is announcing the 2015 winners of the annual Letters About Literature contest, a national reading-writing competition that asks students to write a personal letter to an author or poet, living or dead, explaining how that writer's work impacted the students’ life or worldview. The Letters About Literature national headquarters received 198 entries from Louisiana students.
The 2015 winners from throughout the state are listed below.
State winners will be recognized at the Louisiana Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 31. Winners will be awarded $100 for first place, $75 for second place and $50 for third place, made possible by a Library of Congress grant. Louisiana’s first place winners’ entries have been submitted to the Library of Congress for the national competition.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Library of Louisiana
Office of the Lieutenant Governor
Letters About Literature
2015 Winning Letters
Level 1, Grades 3-5
Episcopal School of Acadiana
Dear Rick Riordan,
I am writing to you because your book, The Lightening Thief, from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series inspired me. So, this is how it started. When I lived in The Netherlands, there wasn’t much literature when I lived there. I was really not into the whole literature thing. So when I moved to America, I had a whole new choice. When I took a book from the library shelf, it was The Lightening Thief. Not knowing any better, I read it. It was amazing. I thought that I was literally inside the book, and since I had never really read much in The Netherlands, I thought the feeling was amazing. Now, because of that one book, I am a very advanced reader.
The book changed me. I had developed a bigger, better imagination. I thought that anything was possible. The book also made me read more literature, because I wanted the feeling more often. I also started studying Greek mythology, and that is something new I accomplished. I now know that your first book can change someone’s life.
I now know big things can happen when a book is opened by your imagination. Beautiful things can happen. Amazing things can happen. Creative things can happen.
Peter Menard, Grade 4
Level 1, Grades 3-5
Dear Shel Silverstein,
I always thought that mothers are there to give to you, and they expect nothing in return. They are there to make you happy. In a way, they bow to your every whim, and you do not even realize what you are doing. Your book, The Giving Tree, made me realize what I was doing wrong (using my mother) and the pain of a mother who just wants to see her child happy, no matter what it cost herself. So I stopped it… for my mom.
My mother is always there for me. Until I read your book, I didn’t realize how I was taking advantage of her desire to make me happy. When I read your book, I imagined my mother as the tree and myself as the boy. As frequently found in human nature, I first wanted nothing, but as I saw her desire to make me happy, I became greedy. I used her resources until she did not have any resources left – she was just a shell of her former self. And she knew it… she knew it all along, but her strong love caused her not to stop me. I now understand how much my mother loves and all she has given to me.
Your book has changed my way of thinking and my actions. I now realize how much people give to me. I am surrounded with people who love and do so much for me. Now, I can really see and appreciate all they do for me. From now on, I am going to be like the tree, and give all I have while I have it.
Your book, The Giving Tree, taught me to be thankful and generous. To think your book is just a children’s book is wrong. Your book has some of the most important lessons that are known – to be thankful and to be generous.
Level 2, Grades 6-8
Dear Mr. Brooks,
When I first stumbled upon your novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, the concept of zombies in popular culture was still quite new to me. I wanted to read something action-packed, as well as something with a good story. However, I didn’t want anything too scary, as, I have to admit to you, I became scared easily. I thought your novel was as good as any to catapult me into the zombie genre. When I actually sat down to read it, I was both truly fascinated and terrified by it. I mean really terrified. The book kept me awake at night with fear, but I couldn’t stop reading it nor could I figure out why I was afraid. Sure, at first I was scared of the zombies. A reanimated human corpse that could run, climb, and hunt their prey (humanity) would scare anyone. I grew less scared of them as I read further. Something else deeply frightened me, and it wasn’t until later that I understood it was about the underlying threats we all face in society and how we react to them.
Go figure, a zombie novel that scared its readership and had a central theme of fear. How unoriginal. But, Mr. Brooks, you do some pretty exceptional things with the idea of fear. You don’t use cheap and low-grade horror. You explore many human fears other than just the fear of succumbing to zombies. You use it as a springboard to explore human nature, politics, education, prejudice, and warfare. I think that’s what I have taken away from your book.
Before reading World War Z, I had always been kind of oblivious to the horrible things this world has to offer. I have been fortunate to travel within America and to other countries. But a tourist rarely understands anything beyond the superficiality of a destination and a guidebook’s glossy pictures and descriptions. However, when I considered one type of apocalyptic scenario suggested by the book, I thought about other possible catastrophes facing mankind. For instance, you could replace the zombies, as the antagonists against whom humanity must contend, with something else such as famine, a war, or a natural disaster. You portray humans in their most monstrous form, both in their physical appearance and in their actions. Yet, you also display the best of human nature – our innate sense of hope – something quite invaluable. I understand this as one of the underlying themes from your zombie novel. When all may seem dire and bleak, there is still hope.
Your book also transformed my perspectives on issues such as war. You use war as means to explore human behavior, as well as to understand war’s global dimensions. You explore the theme of war beyond fancy military weaponry, which ultimately is a distraction from the real purposes of such national arsenals. I think World War Z dissects numerous aspects of warfare. The novel focuses on the consequences war has on the individual soldiers who fight it. As well, it zooms out to display war’s significance on humanity as a whole. War damages societies, as it drains resources and unveils humanity’s greater evils. Your depiction of war really changed my perspective of it. I never thought war benefitted either side of a conflict. Now, I think if there is any benefit to war, it can bring people together. Perhaps not communities or societies on opposing sides in a conflict, but the people on the same side. I think that is what you’re trying to reveal, that we can come together in the most horrific situations.
Thank you, Mr. Brooks, for changing my viewpoint on the world and the issues we face. I now have a better understanding of what motivates people and where they are coming from when an issue arises. I wonder if we can truly come together as a species, as we did in parts of your novel, without the impetus of cataclysmic events. I hope so.
Until that day, keep up the good work,
Level 2, Grades 6-8
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
“I think I can,” Those four simple words have helped me get through the toughest times of my life. These four magnificent words come from my favorite childhood book and one that you wrote, The Little Engine That Could. Somehow, your book found its way into my life and helped me, guided me, told me never to give up, and go the extra mile. I know this book might be extremely juvenile for my age as a thirteen year old boy going on fourteen years old, but without this book I don’t know where, how, or what I would be right now, I just know I wouldn’t be like I am today, so thank you very much.
In 1930, created by you, The Little Engine That Could was born. Your book was created in 1930, yet it still found its way to me in my baby ages. Having my mom read it to me every night made your book become my favorite over any book I’ve ever read. The Little Engine That Could tops The Hunger Games, crushes Harry Potter, and demolishes all the other books. I know you might think that I’m overreacting, but this book has brought me through the roughest times of my life.
Growing up in the New Orleans, life was not always peaches and cream and honey and sugar. I didn’t grow up struggling for a dollar, and I didn’t have to cut open a vein to do some drugs to be liked. No, I didn’t have to do this, but I grew up where these types of things happened. Growing up in the dirty streets of Hollygrove, life was not always easy for my family and me. Every day having to be alert at every step I made to not get killed or kidnapped by the local gang members and every night the lullaby that your mother sings you gets drowned out by the sounds of screaming cries for help and shots of gunfire penetrating a man’s body was a regular thing for me. It was twice as hard for my mom having to be a mother and a father for my brother and me. The tragic day my dad left me I was just turning two (my birthday), may god bless his soul, without the knowledge of this man and with really no sentimental value for him, all he really was to me was a sperm donor, a chopped up memory, a sad dream. My mom is and will always be a superwoman that works 24/7 at taking care of my brother and me. Her guidance and my innocence were a pair of thick ear muffs and blacked out glasses that protected me from hearing and seeing things that would corrupt me at my young age. My mother shunned those things away from my brother and me so that we could see the good in the world and live with a different picture of it through our own eyes. Yet through everything going on in my life, getting tucked into my bed and to have your book read through my mother’s cherry plum lips and to hear her sweet voice escape through her mouth made all the pain go away. It made me and my brother want to fight another day and to see what would tomorrow bring us. I couldn’t say the same for my mom, for she would cry herself to sleep over the losses of loved ones and the struggle of taking care of two little black boys in America. The tears may have run down her face, but I know your four words ran through her head every second of the day, “I think I can.” The only thing that saved me from that hell hole was my mother, my innocence, but overall your book.
Mr. Watty Piper, I just want to thank you for everything you have done in my life. You might feel as though you have done nothing to earn this honor of helping me, but through my eyes you are a savior, a shoulder to cry and lean on, a father figure. Mr. Piper, I have seen, met, and head of great men in this world, but you are by far the greatest man that has lived on this earth. Your book The Little Engine That Could might be for little children, but it has touched and healed hundreds, thousands, and millions of hearts around the world including my very own just through its simple words. “I think I can” are just four simple words that make me want to keep moving forward in my life’s trials. When I finally complete them, all that goes through my head is “I thought I could” and I did it. Mr. Piper, you may be a man with small words, but words have the biggest meaning. My heart goes out to you and your writing, and again thank you for everything you have done in my life thank you so much. May all your days be full of joy.
Level 2, Grades 6-8
Lusher Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Dear Misty Copeland,
One day I was walking through Barnes and Noble with my mom picking up my books for school when I glanced to the side and saw a petite brown figure on a book cover. Being the curious girl I am, I picked up the book to inspect it and realized that the petite figure I saw was you, Misty Copeland, the woman whose life inspires mine. I turned to my mother and shared my excitement with her. As soon as we purchased your book I started reading it. I had to be at least halfway through with it by the end of the day! Once I found out who you were and what you went through as a black female in ballet, I knew you were somebody I wanted to model my career after. The reason why I am writing to you about your memoir is because it spoke to me and instated confidence in me.
I stared dancing at the age of two years and I still currently study the discipline of ballet. When I was younger, I had all of the confidence in the world, but as I grew older, I began to realize that I was not always going to be the best in the class and I might not get the same opportunities as the girls who didn’t quite look like me. Around the age of ten, I started realizing my body and appearance was completely different from the girls that surrounded me. Just like you said you noticed at Cindy Bradley’s studio, I was the color of caramel with thick, dark brown hair while the other girls were pale and had sandy colored hair. They had blue eyes, while mine were dark brown, they had bodies the size and shape of a stick, while my body was fuller and curvier. These things started to seem like they mattered when it came to auditions for roles and spots in company workshops. I felt like I was being based on my looks, and not my capability. I was discouraged by this and started losing my burning passion for dance.
At one point, I was just about to give up on dance because I lost all confidence that I could make it, but you appeared on the award show Black Girls Rock. I was instantly captivated by your grace, technique, and stage presence. While watching you perform, I saw that maybe my body wasn’t wrong for ballet. Just like you, I have hyper extended knees that sway backwards, large calf muscles, a petite height, and curves. This gave me hope. Ever since that day, I have followed you closely and when I discovered you wrote a memoir I was overcome with joy. I follow the quote from your book, “I will forever fight, performing like it’s my last show. And I will love every minute of it” and try to do just that every time I enter the studio.
Your book taught me so much, and I thank you for helping me regain my passion for ballet because that is what makes me, me. While reading, I slowly gained back my confidence when I came to the realization that one of America’s greatest ballerinas also faced adversity and was turned down because of how she looked. Your book opened up my eyes to many of the untold stories of other black female soloists that came before us.
Thank you for restoring my love for ballet and doing it “for the little brown girls” like you said you would in your story. I would also like to thank you again for giving me the opportunity to meet you when you were at Dillard University in New Orleans. I am the girl who came backstage and could not formulate my words to tell you how much being in the same building as you meant to me. Thank you for hugging and crying with me. I will forever cherish the pictures and my pointe shoes that you signed. Thank you Misty Copeland.
Level 3, Grades 9-12
St. Paul’s School
Dear Mr. John Boyne,
I used to love reading when I was a young student. Eventually, this wonderful passion I had accumulated died down, and I only read books when I was assigned to read them, (usually with a negative attitude). In the sixth grade, I remembered being assigned The Boy in the Striped Pajamas along with a plethora of otherwise intriguing choices. There was something that seemed comical, yet whimsical, about the name of this book. I was also drawn to read this book because I had seen many of my classmates reading it. I guess you could say I was like Bruno at the time, possessing a child’s innocent view of life. I had no idea how, if you will, out of the ballpark I was when I thought of the meaning of the title of the book.
I dove into the book during the last week of summer, like your average sixth grader, procrastinating until no longer possible. When I finished the book, I was star-struck, to say the least. It had moved me so much, surprising me from the moment I opened the cover. As the story unfolded in front of me, my heart melted. I was filled with sadness once I realized the reality of what had occurred. I was so moved by this book that I did research on the holocaust and all of the different countries involved. It led to my epiphany of how badly the world still suffers of the same problems addressed in this book today. Discrimination still exists, despite a rather enormous lesson from World War II.
I can relate to this book so well because I have always been stout in my faith in God, which can be similarly related to the message conveyed in the book. I liked to compare myself to Bruno, someone who can put their differences aside with another person and become friends with them. I started to try and emulate Bruno at school, which helped me meet lots of great people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Bruno and Shmuel couldn’t have been greater opposites, but that couldn’t stand in the way of their headstrong friendship which took a turn for the worst.
This book really made me think about the problem of discrimination today. It still exists, despite how horrible it is. It embedded a cynical view of the world into my mind, and also encouraged me to try and stop this problem. Nowadays, whenever I hear my friends make a joke about race or language, I will intervene and tell them discrimination is wrong. After reading this book, it really showed me how greatly this problem can affect people. Our generation still hasn’t learned its lesson. We have an example provided to us in WWII. One of the most disastrous and horrific events known to mankind; caused by the exact same problem.
Mr. Boyne, your book has really opened my eyes to this problem and how prevalent it is. It needs to stop, and after reading this insightful book, I have been ignited with an unstoppable drive, just as Bruno and Shmuel’s friendship, to help extinguish this problem of discrimination. I do this by making friends with all races. There was such a warm feeling in my heart when I befriended an Arabian student on the first day of high school last year. I could tell people were hesitant to talk to him, which drive me to show people he was just like us. Today he has many friends, and is fun to talk to. Every time I see him, I always feel like I stopped him from being discriminated.
We all wish to have a friend like Bruno during our life. You can count on him being there for you through thick and thin. He didn’t waste a second reasoning whether or not he should help Shmuel find his dad. I hope my friends think of me the way I thought of Bruno.
This was the first book I had ever read that had a completely disastrous ending. It turned me into the person I am today. I don’t tolerate discrimination, sexism, or racism. It taught me how life isn’t always a happy ending, and showed me good won’t always triumph over evil. This is a life lesson I was lucky to learn early on in life due to this insightful masterpiece. I never will forget how much you have changed my life, Mr. Boyne. You have managed to create an ideal, yet realistic setting while intelligently addressing a major problem in our society. Job well done.
Level 3, Grades 9-12
Ashton Van Deventer
St. Paul’s School
Dear Ray Bradbury,
Your compilation of short stories, The Martian Chronicles, confused me. I had always had no trouble whatsoever contemplating a novel’s plot characteristics, but The Martian Chronicles strays away from what I always believed to be the accepted format for a book. I never knew a book could be so confusing to follow. Part of this may be that I first read the book when I was eleven. Although your book frustrated me and forced me to reread multiple pages until I understood what they meant, it introduced me to a level of literature that has continued to spark my intellectual thoughts and mindset over and over again.
As an eleven year old, most of the literature I had read up until that point consisted of a good guy, a bad guy, and a happy ending clearly stated in 24 point font. Books to me had always been just to fill out a packet and write a paper, but The Martian Chronicles was different from anything I had read yet. Your novel’s simplistic sentence structure yet hidden meanings fascinated me and made me want to continue reading. “Spender filled the streets with his eyes and his mind. People moved like blue vapor lights on the cobbled avenues, and there were faint murmurs of sound, and odd animals scurrying across the gray-red sands.” (Bradbury 97) This originally made no sense to me, but when I discovered the meaning of it I was amazed with how words can display a person’s thoughts and imagination.
The Martian Chroniclesmade me work harder at reading than any other book I had ever previously read. Your novel, although well written, coerced me into using small details to discover the true meaning of what you were trying to communicate to the reader. This skill of analyzing text and finding the true meaning has truly helped me in school studies and understanding complex novel’s hidden ideas. For example my eighth grade English class had to read Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and the entire class struggled to understand the meaning of the Old English. I worked hard to understand and analyze the information, and I eventually could read it better than most of the class. I was not only able to understand what Shakespeare’s writing meant, but also understand the deeper symbolism and subtle humor. I enjoy reading more because I can understand and analyze more complex literature, and I owe much of this skill to your novel for forcing me to think about the deeper meaning of the text.
I have studied you as an author and person and read many of your books and short stories, and I have made the assumption that you believe the so-called “perfect utopia” is actually one of the farthest things from a utopia. I say this because I completely understand and agree with what you have been trying to preach for many years. In your novel, Fahrenheit 451, I loved how to make people happy, all offensive literature is burned, but that takes the happiness of literature away completely. This concept is fought over all the time in politics today over what should be made illegal or banned because it is offensive, but honestly, almost everything would be illegal if anything slightly offensive had to be illegal. This concept I strongly agree with it, and your book shed light on this fact to me, which has made me think and develop my own opinions on how the world should be today. For example I had never been one to speak my mind in political and historical debates, but I was in history class in seventh grade and found myself red with anger because of my teacher harping on how terrible all southerners were during the time of the Civil War. I very rarely am offended by a teacher’s lecture, and I decided to speak up for what I thought was right. Before I spoke my mind though, I thought of the way you voiced your opinions with novels and literature. I decided rather than arguing I would tell a story of a Confederate soldier who freed his slaves and saved wounded Union soldiers. I realized that this was a better way to voice my opinion. Your expression of opinions through writing taught me there are better ways of stating your opinion.
Your novels have taught me how to analyze deeper meaning and thoughts in literature. I give credit to The Martian Chronicles for introducing me to a level of literature that I was not able to comprehend before. The Martian Chronicles also taught me persistence in reading. I had to truly give great effort in finishing The Martian Chronicles, but it taught me how to continue reading even when it is tough. The idea of a utopia and your opinion of them have changed my outlook on the world and my view of specific political issues. Your books have allowed me access to a deeper side of literature that I formerly couldn’t grasp. Thank you for writing these books and introducing me to complex literature and teaching me how to find the true meaning of the text.
Ashton Van Deventer