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“A Book That Shaped Me” Contest Winners in Their Own Words

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The winners of the festival’s youth writing contest, “A Book That Shaped Me,” were announced yesterday!

When we started this program five years ago, our goals were to encourage young readers to reflect on the importance of books in their lives and to foster connections between area youth and the National Book Festival, the Library of Congress and local libraries through which the contest is administered.

One unexpected outcome, however, was the personal connection that “ A Book That Shaped Me” fostered between us and the students who’ve entered the contest over the years. Their words have impressed, enlightened and stuck with us. Some kids have even placed in the contest in successive years. Some have had younger siblings come along in their footsteps.

Year after year, we receive essays from rising 5th and 6th graders who have managed to expertly convey how a particular book has shaped their view of themselves, their communities or their world. Whether it was the girl who wrote how “The Brightest Star!” helped her understand and cope with the loss of her grandmother. Or, the boy who related the courage of a young girl living under Taliban rule in “The Breadwinner” to that of the only girl playing on his football team.

2015 “A Book That Shaped Me” contest winner, Alexia De Costa, reading her essay on "Rules" by Cynthia Lord. Photo by Patricia Fisher.
2015 “A Book That Shaped Me” contest winner, Alexia De Costa, reading her essay on “Rules” by Cynthia Lord. Photo by Patricia Fisher.
Students have written about books that familiarized them with historical events including the civil rights movement and the Holocaust. They’ve written about books that made them fall in love with reading, and those that helped engender empathy, teaching them to understand and be less critical of classmates who are different. They’ve written about books that have given them the courage to change and those that have helped with self-acceptance, along with a host of other themes that resonate with any age group. (Essays from all the past finalists and winners are available on the contest website.)

This year’s batch of essays is no different in terms of the breadth of topics and books covered and the wisdom that these 10- and 11-year-olds impart. We all know the proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Well, books, characters and authors also make up part of this village, helping children to understand themselves, their world and their place in it. Read some examples in the short quotes below from each of the 30 finalists’ essays for 2016. Then, come out to the “A Book That Shaped Me” contest presentation at 3:20 p.m. at the Library of Congress National Book Festival on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to hear the grand-prize winners read their full essays. It will be a treat, and their words will stay with you.

This book shaped me to become a more confident person and to accept every part of myself.

After reading this book, I felt for the first time how fortunate I am and how important I can be.

I realized that I should not lose hope in any situation, and I should be grateful for what I have.

This book made me realize that my perspective is important and worth sharing.

This book taught me how to control my feelings and emotions in a more positive way.

This book taught me to stay true to who I am, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Not only did this story let me read about someone like me, but it helped me to meet someone who appreciates books like me, and we will always be best friends.

This book has taught me that with a good strategy, diligence, and perseverance, you can achieve your goals.

Wings of Fire inspired me to write better stories.

This book helped me find and explore my new passion for musical theater and to learn that change can bring new adventures and exciting opportunities.

I loved this book very much because it inspired me to be thankful of being born in America and that I have opportunities that Anne and her family did not.

The most important thing I learned is that things are not always going to be easy in life and one has to make certain choices.

Reading this book has made me more tolerant and accepting of other races, nationalities and religions.

Reading this book also encouraged my love of poetry, specifically repetitive poetry.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon changed me because it taught me not to try to always get more, and to not be greedy and pushy.

It has taught me not to judge people based on how they look, but the person they are inside.

Because of The BFG I want to become an author.

However, Number the Stars has taught me to not succumb to hatred but to live each day brave and proud with an unselfish love to human kindness.

After reading March, I decided to become a civil rights attorney because if nobody does anything about keeping our equal and civil rights, then our rights will deplete.

But, Wonder truly taught me that even if you see something strange about somebody that they are worth the same as you.

…since I have read it I have felt the urge to go hike trails, camp, or even just go for a walk. Instead of watching television, being on the tablet or computer, I would rather read about the wilderness, use my survivals skills or go exploring!

This story also reminded me to be an advocate and friend to those who are different.

Their creativity inspires me to want to be an engineer when I grow up.

Some lessons it taught me [were] to strive for excellence, never give up, and always do your very best.

In the end, it made me think about how you can’t contain nature.

Today, even if you are at war, you cannot hate an entire country because some bad people come from it.

Number the Stars make me realize that I may not have everything I want, but I do have everything I need, and I’m thankful for that.

I’ve learned from this book that we need to be kind to each other and accept each other’s differences.

After reading The Lemonade War, I realized that maybe it is not so bad to talk about your feelings with the people you are closest to, rather than pushing those people away.

People believe that you get your own ideas from your personal experiences and dreams. That much is true, but, they leave out one thing. One gets ideas from one’s mind, but those ideas can be shaped by powerful books.