Books inspire winning letters by Vineyard students
Books may inspire, entertain, touch an emotion or evoke a memory - or all of those. For Vineyard students Meghan McHugh and Flo Alexander, sharing their reactions to favorite books in letters to the authors recently won them recognition in the 2008 Massachusetts Letters About Literature Contest.
The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, in partnership with Target Stores and in cooperation with affiliate state centers for the book, sponsors the national reading-writing contest for students in grades four through 12. To enter, students write a personal letter to an author, living or dead, about a fiction or nonfiction book, explaining how the author's work changed their way of thinking about the world or themselves.
Photo by Glenn Kulbako, Mass. Center for the Book
The Massachusetts Center for the Book and the Calderwood Writing Initiative at the Boston Athenaeum sponsor the state contest, with additional support from Houghton Mifflin Co.
This year, more than 3,600 students from nearly half of all cities and towns from every region in Massachusetts submitted letters in the state contest. Meghan and Flo were two of only 48 students statewide that received top honors, honors or honorable mention in three age-level categories.
The authors and books inspiring letters from students ran the gamut, from William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.
Meghan, an eighth-grader at Edgartown School, received honorable mention in Level II, grades 7-8. Flo, a sixth-grader at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, received honorable mention in Level I, grades 4-6. Level III includes grades 9-12.
Photo courtesy of Moira Silva
Meghan, age 14, wrote a letter to author Jodi Picoult about the book "My Sister's Keeper," recommended to her by her sister and mother. Kate, the main character, is a 13-year-old girl who has undergone surgeries, transfusions, and shots to help her sister fight leukemia.
In writing to Ms. Picoult about how the book influenced her life, Meghan said the fictional Kate's experiences reminded her of what she went through last year when she faced a medical issue.
"The main character's Mom reminded me of my Mom, too - they're both overprotective after finding out how sick their daughters are," Meghan said. "The book helped me understand my Mom's feelings more." She said she was really excited and surprised to win an award in the contest, especially the first time she entered.
Flo, also a first-time entrant and winner, wrote to author Kate DiCamillo about her book "Because of Winn-Dixie." The story is about a mischievous dog that befriends a lonely young girl in a new town. Flo said although the book is about a dog, in her letter to Ms. DiCamillo she related events in the plot to her experience of losing a pet cat she loved three years ago when she was nine.
Meghan and Flo received awards in a ceremony on April 10 at the Great Hall in the State House in Boston, which included certificates, books, tote bags, and dictionaries.
Meghan, the daughter of Jennifer and Tim McHugh of Edgartown, attended the awards ceremony in Boston with her mom and Edgartown School grade 7-8 teacher Moira Silva. Flo's parents, Bonnie and Sandy Alexander, of Vineyard Haven accompanied her to the ceremony, along with her brother, Cam, and sister, Tilly.
Dear Kate DiCamillo,
The book you wrote, Because Of Winn-Dixie, taught me so much about loss. Have you ever lost something that you loved very much? I have.
I lost my cat, Cid, when I was 9 years old. Oh, boy did I love her! She would rub her head to her tail around my leg to make me giggle. She would guard my house from noisy little animals, and the one thing I loved most about her was she loved me.
She ran away and never came back. Like Winn-Dixie, but he came back.
I remember crying when I was by myself once a day. Mostly at night, lying on my bed in the wet puddle of my tears. Then two years later my dear, loving friend Teo mentioned Because Of Winn-Dixie saying it was a lovely story of a girl and a dog. When I was reading it, it made my heart open. It made me realize so much more.
The words that Gloria Dump whispered in Opal's ear showed what I needed to know about loss. "There ain't no way you can hold onto something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it."
Now my cat is a dear memory that I loved very much. Thank you for writing this wonderful, loving story.
Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School
Dear Jodi Picoult,
My Sister's Keeper was the most magnificent book I ever read in all my 14 years of living. Every single chapter had my heart pumping as if I was running a marathon. The description and detail you wrote about made my mind jump right into the story. The way each character was described reminded me of my life in a way. Last year, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which is a chronic illness that affects your digestive tract and makes it hard for you to digest and absorb nutrients. The way Kate expressed pain from all her procedures reminded me of the horrible and excruciating pain I went through. The pain we both went through is like a hurricane struck our bodies. The scary part is the emotional pain can be just as worse as the physical. Once you experience remission (which I am in right now), people don't treat you as you used to be. Unfortunately, they think of you as the "sick girl." Just like Kate, I have the "Mom effect." Kate's mother, Sara, is the mirror reflection of my mother. They are both loving and caring, but they are also so overprotective.
After reading this heartwarming story I have discovered something brilliant. The world each of us is living is like a treasure hunt. Sometimes we may find the hidden treasure, but other times we may get lost and find ourselves at a dead end. We may have hit a dead end, but we must always start over until the hidden treasure we're craving for is found.
I may have had more in common with Kate, but Anna is the kind of person I look up to. The way Anna comes alive in your book was outstanding. The confidence and braveness she had is what I am searching for inside. The quote that captures my heart was when Anna stood up in front of everyone and announced her feelings, even if the solution might have meant giving up on something she loved. "The kidney - that is just today. Tomorrow it will be something else. It's always something else." I think of Anna as a flower. She started out as a weak seed; once she got what she needed, her beauty came alive.
Overall, this book has inspired and transformed my life. I don't look at the world the same way anymore. The message I feel you were trying to bring across was that life is a gift. The gift should be taken care of wisely and never take advantage of the gift. The amazing gift can be taken away at anytime, so appreciate it to the fullest.