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> Letters About Literature 2016

2016 Winner - New Hampshire, Level I

January 8, 2016

Dear Mrs. Palacio,

I can go out in public with no one staring at me. My face looks, as some people would say, normal. Some faces don’t. There’s a girl in my class whose face looks a little different than most. In fact, it’s not only her face that is different. And your book, Wonder, helped me understand that she is no different than me on the inside.

The first time I saw her was on the first day of kindergarten. She was short, pale, and made odd noises. I was scared. I had never seen anyone like her before. She was so different than me. This made me uncomfortable, and I kept my distance. Later, I learned that she had a condition called Down’s Syndrome, which affected her appearance and made it hard for her to do many things. In third grade, the girl was in my class for the first time. I still tried to have nothing to do with her, and I never picked her as my partner for group projects. But then, that fall, one of my friends read Wonder and suggested that I read it. So I did.

As I read, I thought about the girl in my class. Like Auggie, she looks a little different than most people, and some people try to stay away from her. Unlike Auggie, however, she is able to do some things without the help of an aide. Every day was a challenge for Auggie with everyone being mean to him, and I didn’t want it to be like that for the girl in my class. She didn’t deserve to be treated like that. I was going to fix my mistake. I wasn’t going to be like Julian. I was going to be like Summer.

I decided that I would approach her and try to be friendly, because Wonder made me realize there was no reason to be afraid. After talking to her, I discovered how funny, caring, and kind she was, and soon we became good friends. My mistake had been that I had never accepted her for who she was. I regretted my behavior, and now, whenever I have a chance, I talk to her and try to make her day more pleasant.

I loved how Wonder was written not only from Auggie’s point of view, but from his friends’ and family’s too. I could especially relate to the chapters written from Jack’s point of view. When he got the call that he was going to be Auggie’s welcoming buddy, he was a little uneasy. But soon, he and Auggie were best friends.

Wonder has impacted me in many ways. I used to think my life was difficult, with homework, school, and all of my after school activities. Then I read Wonder, and I realized that people like Auggie and my friend face even greater challenges every day. I can’t thank you enough for writing that book. Wonder taught me to accept others as they are, and helped me make a new friend. The two of us talk, have fun together, and even work together on projects, all because of Wonder.

Liliana P.

2016 Winner - New Hampshire, Level II

Dear Paul Volponi,
I have been interested in basketball since a young age, and I still play basketball whenever I can. In Kindergarten I got to play basketball for my school, and I had a blast. I was in fifth grade when I first read The Final Four, and right off the bat I was hooked. I loved the contrast between two of the four main characters, Malcolm and Roko, Malcolm is full of himself and mostly just a scorer. Malcolm had been mad at Michael Jordan because of his name. His name was the GOAT’s name, but he wasn’t good. When Malcolm was mean to him, I thought they should be close because they played all season together. Usually when teams play that long they are like brothers. Roko was on the Trojan’s Basketball team. Malcolm and Roko have differences, and they have similarities. On the other hand Roko was a team first point guard and had his teammates involved. He made his team better, not just him. Roko comes from a poor family he lived in Croatia. Troy gave him a scholarship to go there.

Crispin was one of the fellows that Roko helped make them better as they played in the tournament. The Trojans and The Spartans met in the NCAA Men’s Division I Final Four. Crispin had a fiancé who he proposed to during a game. During the tournament he and her had some trouble and started to separate. Even when Crispin was in a shooting slump Roko didn’t get mad at him, he just supported him. I like how they have had such similar tragedies but they took them differently. Malcolm and Roko are different because Roko went so he could get an education and graduate but Malcolm was a one and done player where he just wanted to go one year then go to the pros.

Roko’s life reminds me of my life in some ways. Like I mentioned before, I have been playing basketball since I was little. My dad showed me basketball and taught me how to play. He hung up a basketball hoop on our garage so I could practice my shot. Our family wasn’t very rich, and we lived in a small house. I have two brothers and one sister, both of my brothers are younger. I played basketball with my father every day and had tons of fun. My dad and mom donated a lot of time to bring me to basketball and watch me play. I lost my mother and my father a couple of years ago. The next year I read your book and fell in love with it. That same year my teammates and I led the Plainfield Blackhawks to a Division III championship. Roko’s Uncle Drazen taught him how to play basketball, and they grew extremely close. Roko lost his Uncle in an act of terror, like me I lost my father and mother in an act of stupidity and a fit of rage. When my tragedy first happened I grew to feel that my family was the only that has had something bad happen to us. This book showed me that my family isn’t that only one that has tragedies in our family. Roko is a pass first point guard which I try to be when I play basketball at Plainfield. He is very humble, which I admit I am not always.

I said I was a lot like Roko, but I also know that I’m a lot like Malcolm. At time I can be disrespectful to some of my teammates. Lots of times I am very arrogant about when I basketball. When I put my teammates down it brings down the chemistry, which brings down the skill level. Sometimes in my games, I don’t look up and try to find the open man; I just try and score. When Sam, my friend on my basketball squad, misses as wide open layup, I get mad and yell at him. This doesn’t help, I should say “go get ‘em next time.” That’s how The Final Four had a big influence on me, helping me realize what I need to change and what I should do. I have said multiple times to my coach that I want to be the captain of the team. I have to be positive and support my team not bring them down. Thank you for writing an amazing book that impacted me in a big way.

Anthony Perriello

2016 Winner - New Hampshire, Level III

September 10, 2015

Dear Neil,

I was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome two weeks into my freshman year of high school, and ever since then, I haven’t had too many quiet moments. I am always tapping and twitching and moving and huffing—there is hardly a second where I can sit still. Even simple things like breathing and blinking become hard when I have to do it just right or else the ugly sensation that settles just beneath my skin won’t go away. As an artist who cannot draw something without putting holes in my papers and a writer who cannot type without having to hit all the wrong keys for no reason other than “I felt like I had to,” sometimes it feels like my favorite things fight against me.

Getting used to having Tourette’s was not easy (if I am being frank, I might say that I am still not used to it, that I still get frustrated with myself on occasion). It is not something I was born with and it came on quite suddenly. I was in and out of school for a few weeks trying new medicines to get it under control. Going out in public felt like a circus act; I had the attention of most people around me and they would stare; adults would pull their kids away like they might catch whatever plagued me. My parents struggled to pull me from my room, but being anywhere else felt like punishment. It is awfully ironic that when fitting in and making friends matter the most, something like that would materialize and make socialization seem daunting, if not impossible. Adjusting was an uphill battle, especially when a select few of my “friends” thought it funny to poke fun at my condition, but eventually my symptoms settled down and I could better acclimate to the atmosphere of high school. I manage my Tourette’s much better now, but its effects are not gone from my life.

When I saw your performance of “OCD” on YouTube, I felt a sort of kinship to the person you portrayed. The way you described how people with OCD “don’t really get quiet moments” was something I could unfortunately relate with on many levels. The vivid details of your obsessions, especially those replicated through he execution of the poem itself, hit close to home; when I found your poem, it was something I found I could resonate with. Finding others with problems similar to mine was a relief in some aspects, not to say I wish similar problems on anybody else, but it made the idea that I am not alone a bit more tangible.

Not only is your poem artfully crafted, with a plot and an accurate portrayal of OCD, but it also offers people like me a place to look for inspiration. I see the wonderful work that you do, the love and passion you hold, and it shows me that I am just as capable of being successful as anybody else. My condition does not inhibit my work drive, nor my emotions. You do not withhold that others will not be affected by how conditions like ours are projected—such is clear from the lady that you wrote about, how she tired of the symptoms you could not help—but you show no sign that you are hindered by your OCD. It gives me hope that those not considered “normal” by most are doing their best to put themselves out to the world as no different, showing that we all experience love and loss, elation and frustration, just like anybody else would. It is now, when society is becoming more conscious of the wide variety of illnesses and conditions, that there need to be realistic images of people with these conditions so that myths and stereotypes can be avoided. I cannot put into words the hurt I feel with somebody cracks a Tourette’s joke or flippantly says that they have OCD because they like things tidy. I do not think that people who do not know what we feel understand the gravity of their words when saying such things.
I would like to thank you, not only for your contributions to the community of spoken word poetry, but also for showing me that I am but one of many who struggle with conditions like this. It is important that struggling individuals are shown that they are not alone and that they are just as capable as anybody else. I hope to see more poems from you in the future; never have I seen poems that touch me quite like yours do. “OCD” gave me the evidence I needed to internalize that I am not alone and that I am a strong individual. Sincerely, I thank you.

With much admiration,
Kaitlyn Grant


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