If you ever doubt that kids are affected by books, read any one of these letters. They will touch your heart deeply. You’ll remember each two- or three-page missive and the ardent connection to the book. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll more than likely be moved to read (or re-read!) the book that prompted the child to write a letter to the book’s author.
“I know you wrote these books to help children understand the lives of American pioneers, but for me, it helped me see my father’s African childhood as being less foreign.” Alessandra Selassie observes similar values and experiences between her father’s early life and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood in The Little House books. The series evoked understanding, appreciation, and empathy for her own family for this young reader.
In writing to Avi about Crispin: The Cross of Lead, this young reader understands drama: “A body hanging limply from the gallows, his dead body swaying in the wind … I was repulsed, but intrigued.” Thomas J. Cienki shares that “I have mild cerebral palsy, but for one cool fall afternoon, I became Crispin, living in the Middle Ages.”
More than 50,000 letters are submitted to The Center for the Book’s Letters about Literature competition each year. The program is celebrating its 25th anniversary, prompting entries from readers in grades 4 through 12. As John Y. Cole, director and founder of The Center writes in his foreword, “Over the years that Letters about Literature has invited young readers to share their personal responses to authors with us … we have learned that children often approach reading with reluctance and that writing about what they read is often a challenge and, for some, a struggle.” You work with these children. You know this. One more reason why this book will move you.
I can well imagine a teacher or librarian or parent booktalking any of these books by reading a letter out loud from a child who felt powerfully connected to that book.
“After I read your book,” Janet Lynne Snow writes to Susan Cooper about Over Sea, Under Stone, “I began to think about life in a different way. I took more notice of things that were interesting, and I asked questions about anything I was curious about. I began to think deeply about the way time works in your book, and I finally came to my conclusion a few months ago at a Greek restaurant. I decided that time was the ultimate mystery.”
Which educator, librarian, caregiver, or author doesn’t dream about awakening a child’s mind with a book?
You’ll find letters to Sharon Draper, Sandra Cisneros, Sylvia Plath, Walter Isaacson, Dia Calhoun, and many more authors who have — now we know for certain — changed lives.
This book will make a beautiful gift (I love the feel of the paper and the book’s design) for any book-loving, book-reading adult in your life, but certainly for those who dedicate their lives to creating thoughtful, creative, life-long readers. Highly recommended.
Journeys: Young Readers’ Letters
to Authors Who Changed Their Lives
Library of Congress Center for the Book
edited by Catherine Gourley
published by Candlewick Press, 2017