At the 2014 National Book Festival this past Saturday, I found myself listening to three Letters About Literature award-winners from Louisiana, Virginia, and Massachusetts.
Letters About Literature is a reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12. Students read a book, poem, or speech and write a letter to the author describing how the work personally affected them. The three young writers had the opportunity to meet their literary inspirations when young adult author Cynthia Kadohata and graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang attended the panel. As I listened to each student I saw how books comforted them in difficult times.
Arden Frantzen, a state winner from Lafayette, La., wrote to Cynthia Kadohata about how her book Kira-Kira helped her understand that there is always something glittering in the future even when a loved one dies. Like the character Katie, who appreciated the time spent with her older sister Lynn before she passed away from lymphoma, Frantzen cherished the time she spent with her grandfather and said she would remember the lessons he taught her. At the end of Frantzen’s reading Kadohata congratulated her and gave her a specially wrapped gift.
Christine Wang, a state winner from Chantilly, Va., wrote to Gene Luen Yang about how his graphic novel, American Born Chinese, recently inspired her to take pride in her Chinese heritage and embrace her identity. “A lie and a worthless dream didn’t save me,” read Ms. Wang, who wished for blonde hair and blue eyes to fit in and quell fellow students’ unending taunts. “Your book did.”
National winner Becky Miller from Wellesley, Mass., shared how memories of reading Dr. Seuss’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish aloud with her mother before bed helped console her in the wake of family tragedy. When Becky misses her mother, who recently succumbed to brain cancer, she finds comfort in Dr. Seuss’s book and can “remember the way her voice sounded and how safe and warm we felt with each other. ... Even if l can’t be with her, I can still turn to what we both held on to. I’ll always have that.”
The authors, too, appeared moved by the young award-winners. After hearing Christine Wang’s letter, Yang said he “knew all those hours” he spent working on his stories was “worth it.”
For information on Letters About Literature and other writing contents from the Library of Congress, visit this page on the Library of Congress website.
A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.