Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives, announced its 2014 winners last month.
More than 50,000 young readers from across the country participated in this year’s initiative, a reading-promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
The top letters in each competition level for each state were chosen. Then, national and national honor winners were chosen from each of the three competition levels: Level 1 (grades 4-6), Level 2 (grades 7-8) and Level 3 (grades 9-12). For the next several weeks, we’ll post the winning letters. Winners came from all parts of the country and wrote to authors as diverse as Dr. Seuss, Sharon Draper, Anne Frank, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell and Jhumpa Lahiri.
There was a tie for the national prize for Level 1. Following is one of the winning letters written by Becky Miller of Wellesley, Mass., to Dr. Seuss, author of “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.”
Dear Dr. Seuss,
When I was little, I remember reading “One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish” at night before I went to bed, and being so absorbed in it I wouldn’t put it down. It would leave me with such a great feeling I wouldn’t want to stop reading; it was my favorite. Eventually, though, my mom would come in and tell me to go to sleep, and I always dreaded that point. I felt as if that visit was the moment my room came back to life, and I bounced back to reality. But sadly, I don’t get those visits anymore. About a month ago, my mother passed away with brain cancer.
My mom always had a love of reading. She would read a 200-page novel in two hours if you let her. She could read on and on and on. Most of the books she read were trashy novels, with no definite purpose except to entertain. But my mom would read me any book in the universe if l asked her to, simply because she wanted to share her love of reading with everyone. We read “One Fish Two Fish” so many times, I can’t imagine how she didn’t feel as if she had written it herself, but the funny pictures, the made-up words, the voice — it made us both escape into a place we couldn’t explain. It was wonderful and so exciting it left me with a lasting impression of books I’ll never forget. These memories were some I will always cherish. They connected me to my mom and I hope one day, if l have a family, I will share this memory with my kids and pass it on. I hope I will be just like my mother, because these memories were some I shared with her.
Once, when I was about eight years old, my mom and I cleaned out my bookshelf. It was overflowing with picture books, books I had gotten as presents, and the books my mom had saved since she was a little girl. We took every single book out and made three piles: the Keep pile, the Throw Out pile, and the Keep in the Attic pile. I would take the books that no one read anymore, put them in the Throw Out pile, and as soon as my mom saw what I had done, she’d say, “NO! We have to keep this one. Don’t you remember reading this before?” I’d say, “Mom, I’m never going to read that. If you really want to keep it put it in the Attic pile.” Pretty soon the Attic pile was by far the biggest one. We stored them up there, but they were soon long forgotten, isolated from small children’s hands and eagerness to read for so long. I still have those Attic books, and I haven’t looked at them in forever. My mother cared way too much about the memories of reading books with my brother and I when we were kids, to throw them away. She and I wanted to hold on to the happy past and the fun memories. I realized that I would be okay as long as I didn’t let go of our time together, just like neither of us let go of our memories reading “One Fish Two Fish.”
One of the only books in the Keep pile was “One Fish Two Fish.” It was the memory that always made neither of us want to let it go. Whenever I miss my mom, I can read it and remember the way her voice sounded and how safe and warm we felt with each other. The way she’d fall asleep on my bed sometimes if we read late enough. Even if l can’t be with her, I can still turn to what we both held on to. I’ll always have that.
“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” —Dr. Seuss