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> Letters About Literature

2004 Winner - New Hampshire, Level I

Dear Candace Goldapper and the editors of Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul,

Your story, Daddy's Girl … at Long Last made me feel relieved to know that I am not the only one who suffered the feelings of disappointment from my own family … all that just because I am a girl. My grandparents are disappointed that I am a girl when I was born. My family is Asian American and most Asians like boy more than girl because they believe that boy is the one carrying the name of a family and can keep a generation going on forever.

I have tried very hard to please my grandparents since I could talk. However, they never seem pleased in whatever I do. It really hurts me pretty bad to see my own grandparents treat me like this. I just don't understand what the difference is between a girl and a boy. Aren't we all their grandkids? Fortunately, my mom and dad are always on my side. They could see that I was trying to impress them. They told me to just be myself and my grandparents will someday love me as who I am. But I didn't believe it would work.

After I read your story I think my parents are right. I have to be myself and love myself before other people will love you. Maybe with a bit of luck, I will win their hearts. Your story gave me courage, hope, and determination to believe in myself. Daddy's Girl … at Long Last makes me feel good that I am not alone.

Sincerely,

Samantha Lo

2004 Winner - New Hampshire, Level II

Dear Tamora Pierce,

"Gods of fire and ice … keep my will burning as hot as the heart of the volcano, and as hard and implacable as a glacier." When Kaladry of Mindelan first uttered those words, she was looking ahead at eight years of difficult training to become a knight. I'm sure she didn't realize that they would mean as much to me as they did to her, and when I first read those words, I didn't realize it either. But in the years to come I would discover how alike we really were.

When I read the first book in the Protector of the Small series, First Test, I was immediately drawn into the book by the fact that Kel and I were both so similar. Kel began her page training in First Test at about the same time as I began my journey into the Korean art of Taekwondo. We were both ten years of age, very stubborn, and had come from related backgrounds (I was half-Japanese; she had spent most of her life in the Yanami Isles). And, though I certainly didn't know it then, we would soon face similar difficulties.

One of the struggles Kel and I faced was prejudice. When I first read Kel's story I scorned Tortall for its anti-feminist culture. "I live in a much better country," I sneered, "There's no discrimination here." But people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw bricks, and when a boy complained of being partnered with me one night, that lump of granite hit me squarely on my head. "She's a girl. She won't be able to do anything," I heard him whine to a friend.

He was wrong, but I hope I didn't hurt him too much.

As the boys and Lord Wyldon soon discovered of Kel, gender has nothing to do with it. We showed all those boys that girls can kick, and fence, and shoot, and eventually we earned their respect.

We persevered together, Kel and I, she in your books Page and Squire, and I in my dojang, or Taekwondo school, as I progressed through the ranks. Our distant goals began to look more like reality, and one day I received my letter for testing -- I would soon be ready to try for my black belt. First, however, I would have to endure Taekwondo "boot camp" preparation for black belt. At my dojang, this meant five hours of intense training -- kicking, punching, pattern forms, fighting, self-defense, general pain and anguish if the instructor's expectations weren't met. Many times I could be seen limping away after class, echoing Kel's "I am as stone," and wondering why I did such things to myself.

But then I looked at Kel, who was rising before dawn for extra weapons practice and training with lead weighted weapons. She was climbing trees and walls to overcome her fear of heights. She was spending all day -- every day! -- fighting and running and riding and training. If she could do that, then certainly I could achieve my goal.

Time passes more quickly in books then it does in real life -- I gained my black belt at thirteen on a warm summer evening while she received her shield and knight's title at eighteen in the middle of winter. I was a Taekwondo black belt. And she was a Lady Knight.

Though I'm sure your didn't realize it when you wrote the Protector of the Small series, you helped me in all of my training by creating Kel. And so, immortalized upon my bookshelf, you and Kel help me still as she protects the small and encourages me, and I continue to train and kick and fight.

Our wills remain as hot as the volcano. And it's all thanks to you.

Sincerely,

Helen Aki

2004 Winner - New Hampshire, Level III

Dear Stephanie Tolan,

Somebody once told me that everyone goes through life looking for mirrors of themselves. They want to find themselves in others. In their lives, they look for people who are similar to themselves. When they read books, they are searching for characters that remind them of themselves, and plots that resemble their own lives. This person's theory makes sense to me. Everybody wants to feel like they're not alone. Everybody wants to feel like they belong.

I know I've been on this quest to try to pin down my identity, to try to find others similar to me, for as long as I can remember. I have never had an easy time of it in this lifelong search. Some people can find soulmates wherever they go. I've always found myself standing on the outside of their circles, wondering which one was truly mine. I refused to believe that the answer was "none." Even in books, I could find no mirrors of myself. I saw characters that reminded me of people I knew, or of other characters in other books, but never any that reminded me of myself.

Then I read Welcome to the Ark. In that book, I finally found the mirrors of myself that I had been searching for. Miranda, like me, was being shoved unceremoniously into a system that meant nothing to her. The way her life was organized, even the way the world was organized, was foreign to her natural way of being. When she tried to fight it, everybody dismissed her as insane. Like Miranda, I have learned that the world is organized in an unfamiliar pattern. But like Miranda, I have also learned not to try to rearrange the pieces.

Taryn was another part of me, another mirror that I had been searching for. Like me, she saw the depth and truth of everything around her, and she wondered why nobody else saw the world this way. She wondered why everybody else chose to stumble blindly through life when her kind of vision was available to them. I learned early on that other people do not see this way. I learned that they do not stumble blindly by choice, but because it is all they know. I have spent most of my life trying to stumble like them, but somehow I never trip and fall in quite the right way. As much as I try to emulate their blindness to the deeper world that underlies the world around them, I am still marked. I cannot hide my lack of blindness totally.

Just as these characters sounded like parts of myself put on paper, their story resonated within me. I have never been in a mental institution like they have, and I have never been called to save the world from evil. But I have been misunderstood. I have been stigmatized for what I am. I have tried to close off parts of myself in order to more closely resemble the world around me. Sometimes I've failed. Sometimes I've succeeded. I think the successes are worse. I've lost parts of my spirit that way, and I've had a hard time reclaiming them.

What I want to say is this: Thank you. Thank you for creating these characters that mirrored me as no others had been able to. Thank you for being able to see through their eyes, so that you could represent them in your words so vividly. Thank you for understanding what it is like for those like us, even if you are only trying to imagine. Sometimes I wonder if you know firsthand, if you are one of those people I could find myself by knowing. But whether you see life like Miranda and Taryn, or whether you were simply able to imagine their perspectives while you wrote Welcome to the Ark, the most important thing is that you did see. Even though your characters only exist on paper, I now know that somebody else could see the way I do, if only for a second. Thank you for this gift of connection.

Sincerely,

Zoe Cannon

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