2015 Winner - New Hampshire, Level I
Dear Mr. Robert Lawson,
Your books Rabbit Hill and The Tough Winter have really changed my perspective of an animal’s world. (They are as addicting as chocolate cake!) At first I thought animals did nothing but forage for food and make a dwelling. When I read your books, my thoughts on animals changed.
Even though these stories you write are fiction, they have some truth in them. Animals have to supply for a family, organize their thoughts, and make friends so they can be comforted. Animals also grow up like little boys and girls, and then they have a family, children, die, and the cycle starts again. Humans, thought they might hate to admit it, also have a cycle of life much like the animals in your stories. Your books have not only changed my perspective n animals’ lives, but also changed the way I write stories.
When I write a story where the main characters are animals (mice, rabbits, cats, etc.) I give them all personalities different than the generic heroes and villains, like you do. It makes the story more interesting, don’t you think? What I like most in your stories is that the suspense is an object, day, or time, not a person. However, when they make movies, they always have an actual person be the villain. (Why, I don’t know.) I enjoy in your stories how the characters are at first close, slowly drift away, and then come back as well. I also like the characters’ relationships, where some are very good friends, others distant acquaintances. Finally at the end they must all come together to face something.
Your stories are in fact very similar to my own. When all the animals think Little Georgie is dead, they go on a long, deep, emotional journey. My characters, Joe and Mickey, go on an emotional journey when Mickey’s uncle, Opal, goes missing suddenly. Our stories are similar in the happy sections too, such as when at first they think Mr. Maldoon is an evil cat, next they like him. In my story, Joe isn’t liked very much by his family, then they like him after he saves them from being killed by a plow. We are also similar as writers in who are characters usually are. We both use animals mostly for characters. Even in my comic strips I use talking animals.
What I enjoy most in your books is how everything is intricately sewn together in such a good way that you cannot see the seams, and that that the books stay lanky. I hope you keep writing books.
One thing I hope for in the future is that you keep writing good stories. Why? Well, I personally think that if your books had a lasting effect on me, they should do the same for many others in the world.
Wait! Before I finish this letter there is one more thing your writing taught me is that you should not cram all ideas into one story or book, but make a series of books, and let imagination do a relentless romp.
2015 Winner - New Hampshire, Level II
Dear Laurie Halse Anderson,
Your book made me realize I needed help.
Even before I had reached the page of the story, even before I met Melinda, your book Speak was trying to telling me something. Reading the introduction, reading all the letters your received about people who had gone through the same thing, people who had experienced equally horrible things. I found it surprising I could relate to them. I was having one of my good days, and I was used to the feeling of thinking I was feeling fine. I was fine. I read on.
I read about Melinda’s silent struggle. I read about the lip biting, and the isolation she felt in school, with her family. I read on as Melinda silently spiraled into her depression. And I could relate.
I’m loud. I have friends. I am vocal in class and come across as energetic. I certainly haven’t gone through the same thing Melinda did, how could I be feeling the same thing? I was fine. I am fine.
Then I took a closer look at myself. I saw the chewed, raw lips, and the tired eyes. I felt the aches, and migraines, and the lost interest in things I used to love. I felt the isolation form the people I used to care about. I felt the emptiness. I felt blank. For the first time, I heard my own silence.
But I’ve always been a happy person. I was fine.
When Melinda cut her wrists, that’s when I really saw it. I saw from a fictional mother the response I was fearing from my real one. I saw the ignorance and ridicule I feared from my peers. I saw the fear that had kept me pushing my feelings down for almost a year now. I took a moment to take inventory of my own condition.
Feeling like throwing up when picked for a solo, or when expected to speak in class, is not a normal reaction. Not everybody feels like crying all the time, yet too empty to actually do it. Not everybody hates themselves for no reason. Not everybody wakes up with a pit in their stomach. Not everybody feels smothered and suffocated by their own pointless guilt. Not everybody has indulged in fantasies of pills going down their throats.
I’m loud, but nothing that I say means anything. I have friends, but I am so alone. I’m vocal in class, but petrified to make the wrong move. Any form of judgment throws me into my own spiral. I’m just so tired.
I need to speak. But will anyone listen? Everybody’s gone through something, and I really don’t feel like I’m worth enough to compare. My wrists are clean and my laugh is loud. I am not Melinda. The days I look sad pass. The days I feel blank don’t. At the same time Melinda and I are the same. I need to speak but the right words won’t come. Even if they did, would anybody take me seriously, or would I just be another dramatic teenager with an angsty struggle? Maybe that’s what I am. Maybe I am fine.
But now at least I know maybe I’m not fine.
Now I know I should speak.
I should speak to the friends who have told me their similar struggles, whom I’ve takes seriously enough to console them. I should speak to them for comfort. I shouldn’t fear their judgment, their disgust, their exasperation at just another over exaggerated teenage sob story.
I should speak to the people that I look down on, and see how my words impact them. I should speak so I don’t hurt someone without knowing.
I should speak to the people who look down on me, to see if their smiles are plastered on, or if their judgment is just backlash. I should speak to forgive.
I should speak to my family, speak without cringing, speak without always feeling awkward, because I want them to know. I want someone to know.
I have so much speaking to do, but so much reluctance.
I was so mad at Melinda. I was so upset at her that she wouldn’t say anything to anyone, that she wouldn’t try to be heard. In my anger at your character, realized I should be feeling the same anger towards myself.
I hope to take inspiration from Melinda’s courage to cry out. I hope to take control of myself, and my words.
I hope I’ll be fine.
2015 Winner - New Hampshire, Level III
Dear Chinua Achebe,
Week after week, the cover of The New York Times looks like a tattered mosaic, covered with photos of us, the American people protesting and crying our for injustice with red and black marked signs reading “Mike Brown: America is racist,” and “Trayvon martin: Stand up for racial justice.” Mr. Achebe, please hear me, African colonization is over, but racism has yet to end.
In all honesty, your book, Things Fall Apart was something that I had on my dusty shelf for the past five years. It was brand new, and you could smell that new book scent, event five years after it was bought. “It’s an amazing classic,” my mother used to say. Yet I never bothered to pick it up; instead I played video games on my iPod. I had been ignorant: the same kind of ignorance the Commissioner had to the Igbo people’s culture.
I was finally forced to read Things Fall Apart in and African History class. It was just another book, just another classic. I went in thinking that I would skim some chapters, underline some random sentences, and then put the book back on the shelves. I mean, it was just another required school reading assignment. I was wrong. I began to comprehend the horrors of the ignorance of the European colonizers. The entire culture of the Igbo people was beginning to “fall apart,” yet the Europeans did not care about their culture and continued colonizing. Great relief struck me in the final chapter when I realized that colonization was over. Today, this kind of horrific ignorance did not happen. That’s where I was wrong yet again.
Colonization may have ended, but racism has yet to end. Even at school, we see boys and girls like Okokwo, brave and powerful, who are bullied by others because of his or her skin color. When looking for jobs we see men and women of color be put down and disrespected like the six tribe leaders who were led in and abused by the Commissioner and his men. Today, we see injustice everywhere, like when the white men completely ignored the Igbo culture and took over the tribe.
Mr. Achebe, today’s racism not only encompasses African Americans, it has enveloped the Asian, Hispanic and other cultures as well. I can recall a time when boys who I thought were my friends made fun of my eyes and the color of my skin. They yelled that I studied too much and that I shouldn’t be playing basketball or sports at all. But like the Igbo people, I didn’t stand up for myself. I stood back in fear that they would hurt more. Mr. Achebe, should I have acted like Okonkwo? Should I have fought back, displaying manliness? Would they have received the message?
Mr. Achebe, is this what we need? Do colored men and women need to stand up with violence like Okonkwo? What is it that we need to end racism? Today, I saw pictures about cars being burnt down and buildings torn by protestors in the Furguson area, demanding justice. I immediately realized that this was what Okonkwo would do. An urgent reaction would have been instigated against the whites and things may have stayed together, instead of falling apart. The culture may have stayed stable. But is this what we need Mr. Achebe?
Slowly, things may be falling apart right before our eyes, my eyes. And I am just standing here like the scared Igbo people. I am standing here noticing injustice, but not acting against it. I am standing here watching racism gradually evolve into acceptance. Okonkwo would not have acted like I. Okonkwo would have fought back. But is that the best method?
Mr. Achebe, when things are falling apart, how should you act?