The contest calls for students to write to an author about a book that has impacted them in some way. Each year I require that every student write a letter, but it is up to the individual student whether or not they will enter the contest or even mail the letter to the author it addresses.
This year, I decided to preface the letters that were sent to authors with a small note from me:
I am an 8th grade language arts teacher in Romeoville, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Each year I invite my students to participate in the national Letters About Literature contest sponsored by Target Corporation and the Library of Congress. The contest requires students to write a letter to an author of a work of literature that has impacted them in some way. Students may choose any piece of literature they have read at any point for any reason. This letter is being sent to you because your work has touched the life of a middle school student. Although it is the result of an assignment, the thoughts expressed in the letter are authentic to an individual. Thank you for your time and for making my job so rewarding.
Amazingly, I think just knowing where the letter came from, influenced the response from authors. This year’s responses have been overwhelmingly positive.
Leslie Connor, author of Waiting for Normal, sent a hand-written thank you note to the student and to me. Susan Beth Pfeffer responded in e-mail to multiple students as well as sending me a thank you e-mail. Ni-Ni Simone requested to feature the student who wrote her a letter on her website. Neal Shusterman has posted the letter one of my students wrote to him as the first entry in a blog focused on fan feedback. Students have also received thoughtful responses from Ben Mikaelson and Sharon Draper, and a few even received personally signed notes from Nicholas Sparks.
The Letters About Literature contest is all about the power of words and about how great literature has the strength to move us. For my students, it has not only shown that they are able to be moved by something they’ve read, but that they are also capable of moving another human being to respond with the words they write.