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“A Book That Shaped Me ” Past Winners – Where are they Now?

The following is a guest blog post by Bryonna Head, who works in the Office of Communications at the Library of Congress and is a member of the 2016 festival planning committee.

Past “A Book That Shaped Me” contest winners, clockwise: Alexander Constantino, Myla Agyin, Sofie Dalton, Julian Jackson, II, Ananda Kalukin, Jessica Holloway.

Past “A Book That Shaped Me” contest winners, clockwise: Alexander Constantino, Myla Agyin, Sofie Dalton, Julian Jackson, II, Ananda Kalukin, Jessica Holloway.

Need a summer pick-me-up? How about a reminder that we are getting closer to the fun of the 16th annual National Book Festival on September 24, 2016 and are only days from the close of the 5th annual “A Book That Shaped Me” festival writing contest on July 18. The “A Book That Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest encourages rising 5th and 6th graders to reflect on books that have made a personal impact on their lives. The contest originally launched with the DC Public Library system but has since expanded to include hundreds of libraries across Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Each year, contest finalists and winners are invited to participate in the awards ceremony, where grand-prize winners share their essays for family, friends and guests to enjoy. I reached out to grand-prize winners from the first three years and asked how the contest has impacted their lives. Some contest winners have begun to explore other interests, while some have continued to create through writing.

Below are some excerpts from their responses.

1. How has your life evolved since winning the “A Book That Shaped Me” contest?

Although I still have been joining essay contests, I have not participated more willingly as I have been pursuing my first love of joining Math and Science competitions—especially now that I got accepted into my dream high school. But if I find a great topic to write about, I do write and submit my entry. I have also sent some comments to the New York Times and wrote a Congressman congratulating him for his plans on [the] environment.

– Alexander Constantino, 2012 2nd Place Grand-Prize Winner, Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library in Washington, DC

Since that time, I have completed middle school and earned the Presidential Academic Award. I served as my school’s SGA 8th grade vice president and as a math tutor. I earned eight high school credits during middle school for courses that include Physics, Engineering Design, and Algebra II. I will be attending high school in the fall where I was accepted into the International Baccalaureate Magnet Program. In high school, I hope to make the junior varsity volleyball team and join the debate team.

– Jessica Holloway, 2013 2nd Place Grand Prize and Washington, D.C. Winner, Juanita E. Thorton/Shepard Park Library

2. Have you entered any other writing/reading contests since your participation in the program?

Yes! I won first place for my homeschool group for an essay about the Roman emperor Hadrian. I also participated in a bee essay contest sponsored by the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, and I won first place in the state.

– Ananda Kalukin, 2014 1st Place Grand-Prize & Virginia State Winner, Arlington Public Library – Central Library

No, I have not because I have been really busy concentrating on my schoolwork during the school year, also camps and football workouts during the summer. I am very involved in a STEM program this summer where I am learning how to build a drone. This involves a lot of reading, researching and science, but I like it a lot.

– Julian Jackson, II, 2013 3rd Place Grand-Prize & Delaware State Winner, Brandywine Hundred Library

3. Now that you are older, is there a current book that is helping you ‘shape’ your life as a teenager?

The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell has changed the way I see the world. It shows that some people do have some advantages others don’t. The book explains that we can’t control what happens but we have to find our advantage to make ourselves outliers.

– Jessica Holloway, 2013 2nd Place Grand Prize and Washington, D.C. Winner, Juanita E. Thorton/Shepard Park Library

One book that has shaped me is The Outsiders. The book is about two different groups who have two totally different upbringings and are not the best of friends. They have to learn how to put their differences aside to get along. I can relate to this because the majority of the students in my school and I also have different upbringings, yet we have become great friends and have learned a lot from each other.

– Julian Jackson, II, 2013 3rd Place Grand-Prize & Delaware State Winner, Brandywine Hundred Library

4a. In your essay about Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, you wrote “I know I was meant to work in health care and I am now more determined than ever. One day I would like to meet Dr. Ben Carson”. Would you still like to work in health care? Dr. Ben Carson made a switch from health care to politics. Have you ever thought about switching your career aspirations? If so, what was your motivation?

Yes, I am still determined to work in health care. As a matter of fact I am starting my first Summer Employment on 6/27/16 at a nursing home. My views have not changed as far as working in health care and healing of the sick. However I originally stated that I would like to be a Pathologist but since then I have also now considered working as a General Surgeon. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ben Carson at one of his book signings in 2012, right after the contest. I have not considered working in politics at all. I had the opportunity to take a law class for a semester at school which did not motivate me to switch career paths but, did help me to better understand my civil rights and how the court system works.

– Myla Agyin, 2012 3rd Place Grand-Prize Winner, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.

4b. In your essay about Bird Songs Bible by Les Beletsky, you wrote, “maybe someday I can save some bird species from extinction.” Are you still working towards accomplishing that goal? Have you spotted any other interesting birds lately?

Yes. I am active in many citizen science/conservation organizations that are helping to save birds and habitats. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of rare birds, including Golden-winged Warblers, and Red Crossbills. My bird life list is now at exactly 200, double what it was when I wrote the essay.

– Ananda Kalukin, 2014 1st Place Grand-Prize & Virginia State Winner, Arlington Public Library – Central Library


5. Have you attended the National Book Festival since winning?

Thankfully, I am able to join the National Book Festival every year it happens (which is in September) just to be able to find out what is new in the realm of books.

– Alexander Constantino, 2012 2nd Place Grand-Prize Winner, Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library in Washington, DC

I have not attended the National Book Festival since 2013, but I want to go back this year.

– Sofie Dalton, 2013 1st Place Grand-Prize & Virginia State Winner, Arlington Public Library

6. What advice would you give to other students considering entering the “A Book That Shaped Me” contest?

After entering the contest it allowed me to reflect upon the books that I had read and how some of them impacted my life and decisions for my future. I would encourage all students to enter the contest and keep reading as much as possible. I am very proud of my accomplishment and look forward to many more.

– Myla Agyin, 2012 3rd Place Grand-Prize Winner, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC

My advice for students considering entering “A Book That Shaped Me” is not to worry about the competition or about winning. Just write from your heart about a book that you love, and as long as you’re proud of your work, then that’s what matters. Winning is great, but writing will stick with you forever.

– Sofie Dalton, 2013 1st Place Grand-Prize & Virginia State Winner, Arlington Public Library

Students are not too late to join this group of readers and writers by sharing their thoughts on a book that has shaped their life. The deadline for “A Book That Shaped Me” is Monday, July 18, 2016. Be sure to check participating library locations and contest rules on the official “A Book That Shaped Me” National Book Festival Summer Writing Contest website.

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