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2013 Winner - New Hampshire, Level I

Dear Rick Riordan,

Your book, The Son of Neptune, has really changed the way I think of people. I was an entertaining book as well as very inspiring. I learned some valuable lessons.

In your story, Frank has a strange appearance, and I felt sorry for him when he was neglected and sometimes teased by others. I did not think that was right. I have often ignored people similar to Frank also. I didn’t want to be mean, but I also did not want to go near them. At the end of the story when Frank returns as a hero from his quest, I realized that there is a lot more to people than what they look like. Their appearance means nothing to what they truly are like on the inside. Frank was kind and generous to everyone he met, and in the book, I could feel his emotions in the words that you wrote. He felt embarrassed and lonely when people neglected him. When Frank receives his ability to transform into different animals, he felt like he finally belonged. I think that everyone should feel a sense of belonging. People who do have disabilities should be treated the same exact way as others.

Sine reading your book, I have gone to a nursing home with my Girl Scout troop to hang ornaments on their Christmas tree and sing holiday carols. At first I did not want to go, because the people were old, weak, and in some cases, mentally ill. I remembered your book and thought how happy the seniors would be if a bunch of little girls were around them spreading the holiday cheer. They were no different than you or me. When I arrived at the home, I was a little nervous at first, but the people were smiling at me, and I felt good inside to be helping these people instead of neglecting them. Giving them some happiness really gave me a lot of pleasure in return. I ended up having a joyous time!

I learned from your book not to judge people by how they look for there is a lot more to them inside. I am even using the lesson I learned from The Son of Neptune in my everyday life. Your book has truly taught me something I will remember forever!

Elizabeth Ross

2013 Winner - New Hampshire, Level II

Dear Mr. Sparks,

Last year when I was twelve my mother died and my father was sent away to prison for the heinous crime. Both of them were unable to be with me the day I turned thirteen. Because of this tragedy I had to move to a different town and go to a new school for 8th grade. Everyone knew my story. My whole past. It’s hard, because when I arrived I felt as if people were judging me on my family’s past. When I came to my new school one of the books I picked up was your book, The Last Song. I was able to connect with it in so many ways. It gave me hope. It helped me understand the world and people around me better. The book had a powerful way of connecting with my real world problems and touched my heart. It also helped me understand that there is a healthy way to cope with any difficult tragedy.

After my mom died and my dad was sent off to prison, I believed that I would never be able to get over it. But after I read how Ronnie had to deal with her father’s death and her mother’s misunderstanding, and was still able to go to college and live a normal life, even with both parents “out of reach”,  I know that I could live a healthy life and cope with what has happened. After Ronnie’s dad died she said she could still feel her dad with her, or feel him watching down on her, making sure she’s okay. I feel that way with my mother. Living without her is extremely hard, but I know she is everywhere I go. She’s watching down on me and my three brothers to make sure we’re okay and that we will live a normal, happy life like she wanted us to.

Right after the tragedy I only thought about myself. I believed that I was the only one that was hurt or affected. But I wasn’t. My whole family was affected. After Ronnie’s dad passed away she knew she wasn’t the only one affected. She had to help her little brother through the whole thing. Throughout the whole book Ronnie’s little brother, Jonah, had really connected with their dad. Jonah spent his whole summer with his dad. When I read how Ronnie helped Jonah through their dad’s death, I realized that I wasn’t the only one suffering. My little brothers, Anthony, Christopher, and Max, didn’t really understand what had happened. I had to help them through it. Living with the pain from the tragedy was something my whole family had to endure. Not just me.

Reading Ronnie’s story really got through to me and I was able to connect with her story, in so many ways. Reading the way Ronnie had to cope with her father’s death, really connected with how I am having to cope with my mother’s death. Being the oldest, I understood the most. My brothers didn’t understand that my dad had been the reason for this destruction. Losing a parent at a young age is hard. But losing both is even harder.

Thank you Mr. Sparks, for opening my eyes and making me see how I could cope in a healthy way with the tragedy that affected not only me, but my whole family.

Jillian C. Perriello

2013 Winner - New Hampshire, Level III

Dear Mr. Stephen Crane,

A shiver shot up my spine when Jim Conklin was depicted as a “falling tree” during his death scene, his body bouncing after hitting the ground. Your work The Red Badge of Courage was an eye-opening book for me. I have never personally experienced war, and I hope I never have to, but your skin-and-bones realism and stark imagery made clear to me the horrors that war truly holds. You set out to dispose of the romantic view of war, gallant knights and courageous horsemen galloping about the battlefield strewn with dead heroes. You certainly succeeded. I will be honest, upon picking up this book I didn’t think it would hold a lot of my interest, but it had a greater effect on my than I could have imagined. Although I have never approved of war, this book has inspired me to take action against it and has caused me to think about my own character.

I think you would be horrified to see what war has become today; the bombs, the full out slaughter and oppression. Even though the Civil War remains one of our deadliest and most remembered wars in our country’s history, what happens today has taken a whole new shape. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East soldiers and citizens from all different countries lose their lives each day. What has this world become? This is a question you might ask yourself, I do everyday. Some might call me a pacifist, someone might call me unrealistic, but I hope to see someday a world without war. Your story of Henry Fleming and his experience have inspired me to take action. To be honest, I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet, but I have made it a goal. Your novel mixed with other stories I have heard of war have left a large impression on me. The cases of post traumatic stress and other situations are simply saddening. As your novel describes these men are (and nowadays women), willing or unwilling, bravely fighting for their country. But war morphs them; they are no longer humans, but machines, or merely gears that power the larger machine, the army as a whole. They aren’t men any more. The conditions don’t allow it. Witnessing a death or killing a man are events that you can never erase from your mind, and they enrage you, sadden you, and kill your soul little by little. Your novel has shown me in great detail the effect that war has on a man, the death of Jim Conklin, the anger and insanity that Henry exhibits on the battlefield, and the inner turmoil that Henry seems to lose himself to everyday. These are the products of war; not success for your country, not gains territorially and monetarily; dehumanized people and broken hearts. By using the tactics that you did in your novel, using names such as “the tattered soldier”, “the tall soldier”, etc. it informed the reader of the generality of war, that these are common men, they could be any person. Yet during scenes when we, as readers, became connected personally to a character such as Jim Conklin or Wilson, that’s when the greatest effect on Henry was demonstrated and felt by the reader. These are the moments that changed me. These are the times that your words manifested themselves in my mind and in my heart and I made the decision that I am going to make a difference. No more families need to experience this; no more soldiers need to be irreversibly damaged.

Your novel also made a lasting impression on me in a different area. It brought about some sort of a self realization. Throughout the years people have labeled this book as a “coming of age” story, whether you intended it to be that or not, I do not know. However, I do assume that to be the case, because it is very compelling in that manner. By the end of the book Henry has most certainly changed as a result of his experiences in war. In the beginning of the novel we see Henry as being a boy, excited to fight in the war, quite selfish, and determined to fulfill his ‘destiny’ as being a Romantic war hero. His ego seems to be a bit too big for the body of a teenager. Throughout the book we see changes happen in Henry’s behavior and attitude, but has he really “come of age”? In the last few pages of the book we realize that Henry has not fully let go of his Romantic vision of war. Yet he says himself that he “was a man”. If he must tell himself this, is he truly a man? Of course in your realistic genre maybe you couldn’t make him become a full man in just 3 or 4 days. Is that just not realistic? But what is a man? The last couple chapters of your novel were really though provoking for me, on a personal level. The supposed change and maturing of Henry made me question what maturity is and how you can achieve it. Does maturity come with age, or experience, or knowledge, or a combination of these things? Or does it ever come at all? The main question, what is maturity? After finishing the book I tried endlessly to define it. I failed. There are too many components, too many loose ends, too many questions and obscurities. Maturity is a golden term, something understood but not defined. Something that we all strive for, yet have no idea what it is. Then I started wondering where I stand. I decided that in certain aspects I am mature, and in many others I am not. I decided I liked it that way. How can you have any fun if you are so rigid in your so called “maturity”? Yet, will any of us ever reach maturity? Henry’s battle to “come of age” made me reflect on my own desire to do so. It made me rethink some things. I decided that I want to become an adult, knowledgeable, unselfish, determined, and successful but I never want to lose my childish ambitions or young heart, even as I grow older. Thank you Stephen, for your novel that changed my view of the world, myself, and my future and of course your virtuous contribution to American literature.

Madeline Brown

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