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Letters About Literature 2017

2017 Winner - New Hampshire, Level I

Dear Esther Earl,
I know that you aren’t physically on Earth anymore, but you can always be found in other people’s words and actions. Your book, This Star Won’t Go Out taught me an incredible lesson. I will never forget that life is short. We’ll all leave one way or another, but most importantly, we’ll be remembered by our actions. It’s how I learned to remember someone I lost. If not for your book, I could have even lost them again, forever.
My grandfather and I were inseparable. We both loved to build, woodwork and play with plastic horses. We did so much together. He showed me all of his tools that I might be able to use one day. He taught me things that I wouldn’t learn in school. Like doubling numbers starting with one to two, to four, until four thousand ninety-six. We were like two peas in a pod. Cut from the same cloth. We were very, very, very close, until we weren’t, because he died. And I tried to forget about it.
I didn’t realize it was okay to let me feelings go. I just locked the world out, and tried to leave the room whenever I saw something that reminded me of him. I didn’t think of the good times we had together. I didn’t want to remember. All of my feelings started to build up inside of me. I was going to explode.
When I started to read this book a whole new world was opened up to me. I learned it was okay to let my feelings out, and open up. After finishing this book I cried with my mom for a good hour or so. We hugged, and remembered the good times. We looked at old pictures and watched videos. It felt so much better to think about my grandfather rather than just forgetting about him. I got to visit old memories, ones that I could have lost forever.
But I also learned that it’s not okay to forget. I can’t hide from the things that remind me of him, I should embrace them instead. I can let them comfort me. I’ll always miss my grandfather, but now that I know I can remember the good times instead of his death; it’s easier.
Whenever I miss my grandfather, I look for things that he would have done, and it makes me feel like he’s still here. I know that he’s thinking about me when his favorite song comes on the radio. I heard his favorite song on the way home from a basketball tryout, and then I made the team! And once, when I was studying for a test, the song came on the radio, and I aced the test the next dayQ As long as I remember him, and he remembers me, we will never forget each other. Your book showed me that if I pay attention to details like these it can help me keep moving forward knowing that my grandfather wants me to.
Your book, This Star Won’t Go Out helped me remember my grandfather. If I hadn’t read your book, I might not remember much about him. Esther, you saved me from losing my grandfather again, I can’t thank you enough for that. You made sure that my grandfather wouldn’t go out.
Isabella Reichard
(Bella R.)

2017 Winner - New Hampshire, Level II

Dear Mr. Spinelli,
In sixth grade, every so often my teacher would recommend your book Stargirl to me. But every time I picked it up, I put it down. I can still remember the one thought that came to mind when I stood there holding your story: “Huh?” I read the first page and was lost as to how Leo and his porcupine ties had anything to do with stars or girls. I looked at the cover and knew my eyes were blank with confusion. The robin’s egg blue, the simple drawing, the lack of words…it was different. All I could do was stare and wonder what was inside. All I did was stare and wonder what I could be missing. And then I read it. And, without hyperbole, I can say it changed everything. It changed me.
All my life, I’ve had a small part of me that feared I was somehow different from everyone else. I spent hours making pipe cleaner candy canes for everyone in my class before Christmas break, and I skipped down the hallways when no one was looking. But only when no one was looking, because no one else skipped. Part of me always held back, because I was scared of being different, of people seeing me as some sort of outsider. I was terrified of becoming the puzzle piece that got forgotten because it didn’t fit. I saw the world with eyes of “what if?” What if I’m doing something wrong? What if people don’t like the real me they haven’t seen? What if they don’t like the me they do see? Thoughts like these bombarded my mind without end.
But when I looked at Stargirl and found so many small similarities between her and myself, I was baffled. Not because of how she left pennies on the sidewalk or wandered into the desert. I was baffled because here I was, staring at a page illustrating what I was missing. Just like the first time I picked up your book and almost missed a life changing story, am I now missing the most important chance I’ll ever have? To be me? Stargirl’s kindness and hope made me see not only humanity with new eyes, but I saw myself differently. Stargirl did her part and then some to find the good in the world and spread it, just by being her. The day I finished reading Stargirl I stopped trying to hide myself away. Your book opened my eyes to see that being a cookie-cutter version of the same person is something to be afread of. What really matters is being in touch with the world around you, not what the people in it might think. You’ll miss so much beauty if you’re blind behind a screen of something that’s not you. You’ll miss a chance that only comes once.
It’s been almost three years since I read your book for the first time, and I just recently picked it up again. Everytime I look at that book, that robin’s egg blue cover without words, I smile. I’m just realising now all the little ways that I’ve kept a bit of Stargirl in me, the little bit that every so often chases that fear that I need to be like everyone else. I twirl in gym class, I sing in the hallways, I listen to the world tell stories without a single word. Nowadays I don’t worry so much about being the same, after all that’s how we all fit together. What fun is a puzzle with identical pieces? Why count the stars when you could go on believing they’re endless?
Thank you.
Megan McLauglin

2017 Winner - New Hampshire, Level III

Dear Gary Paulsen,
All of my life, I had formed an understanding that I would never be food at reading. Every adult in my educational life had told me that I could be anything, but reading wasn’t my thing. I believed them. I mean I was just a kid. I didn’t know any better, besides the special classes I had to take, and my inability to sound out words. So yeah, I agreed with them, reading wasn’t my thing. I’d much rather learn algebra, or about the lives of great people who shaped this world. Then I read your book, Harris and Me, for my fifth grade class. I absolutely loved it. There’s few characters, from books, I can ever really see myself as. The character “Me” was someone I could see myself as. “Me” didn’t have a name, or a gender. That’s exactly what I wanted to be when I was ten years old; A nameless, genderless kid, who had the possibility of becoming whatever I wanted to be. But I wasn’t nameless, and I did have a gender. At the time, I was a young girl, hopeless drowning in the fear that that was all I was ever going to be.
I don’t know why you wrote that book. And I don’t really want to ask. I don’t want to know the purpose, or the theme of the story. I don’t want to think about that book as a book, because for me it became the adopted childhood, in which I never got to have. It gave me something to be happy about, when there wasn’t much else. Looking at Harris, and realizing what my life could’ve been like if just one thing was changed, helped me a lot to realize who I was. I didn’t know much, but I knew I wanted to be Harris, and I wanted to write a book. I didn’t know how to do that. I had a hard time spelling. I couldn’t read very well, so I didn’t have a big vocabulary. I didn’t even know how to put dialogue into my work. Harris and Me was the first book I had ever read from front to back. It was the first book I had ever loved. I’m lucky I liked it so much, because I don’t think I would be where I am today, without the realization that was awakened by it.
I remember vividly when I fell in love with your book. It was when Harris peed on the electric fence and was immediately shocked. I remember wishing I had been there to witness it. Harris and Me felt so real. It was like all of the events had actually happened, just in another place, at another time. I wanted to live through all of it. I want to be at the dairy farm. I wanted to be friends with Harris. There’s nothing more surreal than the feeling you get when you realise the world is so big, and so small, all at the same time. Those events probably have happened to some people. I have friends who live on farms. I’ve seen electric fences. All of these things exist. All of these stories happened, at one time or another. They just aren’t my stories, and so it’s almost like they’re impossible to place in my reality. I can’t fandom living on a farm with my aunt and uncle. I can’t imagine a reason why I would be in that situation. Harris and Me made it a reality. It turns all these stories and situations into tangible events, with tangible people I think books are special in that way. They make people realize that in some way, shape, or form someone is experiencing something similar. It’s easy to forget the things we don’t know as our own. It’s even easier when it’s not talked about, or never witnessed. Books make it real, which brings more sympathy towards strangers, we may have not have noticed before. I’m lucky, because reading has become a release for me. I like to read now, but too many people don’t. I believe it’s because they were told they weren’t good at it. I didn’t want to read when I was young, because I didn’t think I was good enough at it. I thought I could never be good at it, and it discouraged me from even finding books I might like. How can one even be bad at reading? There’s no competition. Was is speed a judge of how good some is at something? I believe everyone should be told that they are good at reading, because it is important. It is important to read stories like yours, to get a better understanding of what the world actually is, not just the world you put yourself in.
I’m happy to say that I am very literate now, even if I’m still heavily depend on spell check. I’ve written three poems that have been published, and I’m always working on a short story. I can’t complain about where your book has taken me, I’ve changed a lot. That fearful girl, she grew up to be a boy who tries his hardest to be fearless. My life’s gonna turn out how I make it turn out. I’m thankful to you for writing a book, where I could pretend to be two people at once. For writing a book I could actually read. For all the times, I’ve questioned my feelings, and looked towards your book for confirmation. But most importantly, I want to thank you for giving me a childhood. When I became Kaiden, I left my old one behind. There was too many bad memories, and harmful experiences. I’d much rather say my childhood was Harris and Me, and I was both of them.
Kaiden Gilbert

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