Past State Winners

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2016 Level 1 State Winners

First place:

Alexander Jadoo, McGuire Middle School, Lakeville

(letter to Brian Falkner, author of Brain Jack)

Dear Brian Falkner,

I write to you, to thank you for your writing. You have opened my eyes to the truth that hides behind a grand illusion. You have allowed me to discover the code of our lives, to read, in depth, the lines of our past, present, and look to the future. For the years to come, I will remember Brain Jack for what it has done for me.

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Second Place:

Marie Schumacher, Lake Country School, Minneapolis

(letter to Elizabeth George Speare, author of The Witch of Blackbird Pond)

Dear Elizabeth George Speare,

I have read your book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, many times. Reading it every single time has been a thrilling journey. I have laughed with the characters, learned with the characters, and at the appropriate times, cried with the characters. While reading your book, I not only learned about that time period in the seventeenth century and the way many people lived then, but I also learned a lot about who I want to be. In this book, many of the characters live their lives governed by fear and prejudice. What they did not understand they feared.

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Third Place (tie):

Ani Heikkila, Parkview School, Roseville

(letter to J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series)

Dear J.K. Rowling,

“To the well organized mind, death is the next great adventure.” I remember when I first heard those words. I was probably four, yet they seem to hold so much. But so much what? What did they hold? I didn’t find out until I was six.

I was reading the Harry Potter books to myself for the first time; it hit me then. It hit me so hard, tears of pain came to my eyes. I realized at that moment, that all life must end. Every beautiful creature, plant, even human must leave the earth forever. I realized that my grandfather was gone. Forever. He was never coming back.

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Gracie Ritzenthaler, Visitation School, Mendota Heights

(letter to Thanhha Lai, author of Inside Out and Back Again)

Dear Thanhha Lai,

Your book, Inside Out and Back Again, changed my perspective on bravery. Your book showed me that there are other ways of being brave. I thought being brave meant being a soldier or withstanding physical pain. But now I know that courage is bravery, too. Your character, Kim Ha was forced out of her home in Vietnam and fled with her family to America. That is courageous because she had to start over in a new place, and find a new home. She left behind all she had. I have never moved from the house I grew up in. It is hard to imagine moving to another continent with only the clothes on my back. I have traveled to other countries that speak different languages and that was hard, but I have never had to go to school using another language.

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2016 Level II State Winners

First Place:

Natalie Anderson, The Blake School, Minneapolis

(letter to George Orwell, author of Animal Farm)

Dear George Orwell,

After reading every single word in your book Animal Farm at least three times, this passage will always stick with me, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This twisted reasoning was used to oppress the animals in the novel by making some animals think they were better than others. For example, there was only one candidate for president, but the farm’s commandments declared the farm to be a society of equals. Although your book is 70 years old, your ideas about equality still hold true. I can see this idea of equality applied, in regards to the treatment of women in the workplace today. When I read this quote in your book, it reminded me of the stories my mom has told me about her quest for equality in her job.

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Second Place:

Andrea Hansen, Wayzata East Middle School, Plymouth

(letter to J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series)

Dear Ms. Rowling,

Your books have changed my life. Your books have helped me through a time when I felt hurt and always sad. For years I thought that I did not need to read the Harry Potter series, I thought that if I did I would be following the crowd—I was wrong. Your books taught me about how you can choose your own path, just like Harry chose to be in Gryffindor. I learned the value of friendship through your books by looking at how Harry, Hermione, and Ron always stuck together, and after I had finished reading them I knew I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Third Place:

Aaryan Gulati, The Blake School, Minneapolis

(letter to Marcus Zusak, The Book Thief)

Dear Mr. Zusak,

Which is more powerful: words and books or bullets and guns? Until I read The Book Thief, I would have always said bullets and guns, but in your book it is words that lead to compassion, such as reading to the kids and adults to take their minds of the bombing and sorrow, such as how Hitler enslaves Germany using them. You show how words led to one of the most horrific events in history—the Holocaust. Books and words also help shield a young girl, Liesel, from the horror of Nazi Germany. She learns that the ideas expressed in books have the power to change the world for better or worse.

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2016 Level III State Winners

First Place:

Dani Dahlseid, Robbinsdale Cooper High School, New Hope

(letter to Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why)

Dear Jay Asher,

It might be strange for a girl to write to you about a book you wrote about another dead girl, but “Thirteen Reasons Why” was a book that had given me hope when I needed it most.

I was in seventh grade when your book’s words truly affected me. I was only twelve, but I hated myself. I hated the way I looked, the way I spoke, my actions, the way I thought, the very breath that I took every day just for the fact that it had kept me alive. When you see a twelve year old, you don’t think this is something that could possibly be dancing across their mind.

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Second Place:

Julie Eilers, White Bear Lake High School, White Bear Lake

(letter to Dr. Seuss, author of The Cat in the Hat)

Dear Dr. Seuss,

Everybody has things they don’t mention, and subjects they try to avoid at all costs. In my case, this “thing” is a large chunk of my childhood.

The combination of an absent father and a mentally ill mother is one combination I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone, although these were the cards I was dealt, so to speak. As I grew up, my mother’s schizophrenic tendencies along with a refusal to take medication began to affect me. At age five, when it was time for me to enroll in Kindergarten, she insisted I would be home-schooled.

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Third Place:

Claire Hank, White Bear Lake High School, White Bear Lake

(letter to anonymous, In the Silence)

Dear author who can not be named,

Your poem “In The Silence” touched the very core of my heart six years ago. Before December 7, 2008, I was a happy third grader who loved to smile and give hugs; also I was emotional and sensitive. In third grade I was prone to daydreaming and was starting to be interested in reading. However, December seventh was the day I stopped loving to smile, giving hugs to others, and became more guarded with my emotions.

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2015 Level 1 State Winners

First place:

Sarah Nadian, Rush Creek Elementary, Maple Grove

(Letter to Suzanne LaFleur, author of Love, Aubrey)

Dear Suzanne LaFleur,

Have you ever heard the saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me”? Well, it’s not true. Words do hurt. A lot. I’ve never really thought about how much hurt people cause in the world, just by the simple, willful words, “I hate you.” I was deaf to my words, too. I couldn’t hear them. Until I read your book, Love, Aubrey. Your book taught me a lesson about how to appreciate what I have, and Aubrey’s bravery inspired me to stand up to my dad’s harsh words and actions.

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Second Place (tie):

Dillon Kischell, Kellogg Middle School, Rochester
(Letter to Ned Vizzini, author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story)
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Jack MapelLentz, Visitation School, Mendota Heights
(Letter to John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars)
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Third Place:

Peyton Lenz, St. Michael-Albertville Middle School East, St. Michael
(Letter to Lauren Tarshis, author of the I Survived series)
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2015 Level II State Winners

First Place:

Soren Eversoll, Capitol Hill Magnet School, St. Paul

(Letter to Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories)

Dear Mr. Conan Doyle:

Sherlock Holmes. Your detective is more popular now than he was back in the 1890s when you wrote about him!

For this reason I write to you about your four novels and fifty-six short stories about the great detective and his partner, Doctor Watson, which have changed my life in so many ways.

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Second Place (tie):

Elie Oxford, The Blake School, Hopkins
(Letter to A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh)
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Samantha Stocking, The Blake School – Middle School, Hopkins
(Letter to Joy Hensley, author of Rites of Passage)
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Third Place:

Garrett Synstelien, Minnetonka Middle School West, Minnetonka
(Letter to Dr. Seuss, author of Oh, the Places You’ll Go)
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2015 Level III State Winners

First Place:

Taylor Ogren, Mahtomedi High School, Mahtomedi

(Letter to Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Namesake)

Dear Jhumpa Lahiri,

In my last summer before I am to be pushed out of my parents’ protective nest, I was assigned to read your book The Namesake for my Advanced Placement Literature and Composition class. I believed there would be no personal value, no relevance to my own life within a book about immigrants of a very different culture. I naively believed the only gain from reading it would be full points on the summer reading assignment, at best.

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Second Place:

Sarah Hinrichs, St. Michael-Albertville High School, St. Michael
(Letter to Emily Dickinson, author of Hope is a thing with feathers)
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Third Place:

Anita Thammavongsa, St. Michael-Albertville High School, St. Michael
(Letter to Hope Solo, author of Solo: A Memoir of Hope)
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2014 Level 1 State Winners

First place:

Nathan Behrens, Parkview Center School, Roseville

(Letter to Barbara Joosse, author of I Love You the Purplest)

Dear Barbara Joosse,

Bright and brilliant bikes, cocoa mugs, windbreaker jackets, backpacks, fuzzy blankets, and Christmas stockings! One set sapphire blue as billowy sky, and one set ruby red as rocketship fire. One for my brother, one for me. How did you know? Of course, you wrote I Love You the Purplest for all brothers and sisters. Though, it seems as if you wrote your warm and wonderful book just for my family. This is the reason it holds mystery and magic for me! As far back as my memory can reach, our favorite colors have coded Nicholas’ and my lives. Since that time of beginning stories, your words “I love you the bluest! I love you the reddest!” have reassured me. No matter what, similar or different, separate or together, my brother and I would always be equally loved.

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Second Place:

Alemu Slattery, Great River School, St. Paul
(Letter to Gary Paulsen, author of Tucket’s Travels)
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Third Place (tie):

Lauren Phillips, Chapel Hill Academy, Chanhassen
(Letter to Jenny L. Cote, author of The Ark, The Reed, and the Fire Cloud)
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Noelle Wang, Friendly Hills Middle School, Mendota Heights
(Letter to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat)
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2014 Level 2 State Winners

First Place:

Noah Visness, ESCHEL Home School Cooperative, St. Paul

(Letter to Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Men)

Dear Miss Alcott,

Sliding down banisters. Making clubs. Heading out fishing. Racing around the house. These words describe Plurnfield, but they also describe a place where I would love to live. Little Men is one of the best books I have ever read. Reading about how the boys owned animals and gardens gave me the desire to be able to grow food and sell it or earn money in other ways. Reading about the boys’ innocence made me want to preserve my own innocence as long as possible. After reading Little Men I think it would be awesome to live at a boarding school, especially one on a farm. Little Men has inspired my thinking and my actions.

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Second Place (tie):

Caroline Bowen (Grade 8: Our Lady of Grace, Edina)
(Letter to Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief)
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Sarah Chute, The Blake School – Middle School, Hopkins
(Letter to John Green, author of  The Fault in Our Stars)
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Third Place: Riley Wentink, Chaska Middle School West
(Letter to George Orwell, author of 1984)
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2014 Level 3 State Winners

First Place: Larissa Bohler, St. Michael-Albertville High School, St. Michael

(Letter to Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why)

Dear Mr. Asher,

Despite the countless pieces of literature I have read throughout my life, none have gripped me as intensely as Thirteen Reasons Why. As I read this novel I shed many tears, and the story of Hannah Baker ran parallel in my head with the story of one of my closest friends.

I met my best friend “Kayla” the summer of eighth grade. In many ways I was similar to Clay, as I watched her struggle with depression and fall into a dark pit of unhappiness that I didn’t know how to help her out of. Every time I thought she was doing better, something or someone caused her to retreat deeper into herself.

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Second Place: Meckenna Woetzel, Blaine High School, Blaine
(Letter to Elie Weisel, author of Night)
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Third Place: Meghana Iyer, Valley View Middle School, Edina
(Letter to Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)
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2013 State Winner, Level 1:

Sadie Oster, Individual Entry

(Letter to Watty Piper, The Little Engine That Could)

Watty Piper-

I should probably introduce myself. I’m Sadie Oster, and I love to read! My dad once told me that I have read more books in my lifetime than he has in his, and he’s 42! As much as I would like to credit my love of reading to my superior brain (just kidding!), your book, “The Little Engine That Could” has to take the prize!

I am deaf in both ears, so noises don’t mean as much to me, but words! Well, they’re like music to my ears (no pun intended)! When I’m reading a book, there’s no need for me to pretend to understand a conversation when I know exactly what everyone is saying! I don’t need to constantly ask, “What?” when I can see the answer right in front of my eyes!

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Second Place: Autumn Trujillo, Delano Middle School
(Letter to Stephanie Tolan, Listen!)
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Third Place: Rosalie Kurtz, Capitol Hill School
(Letter to Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water)
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2013 State Winner, Level 2:

Sophia Kurowski, The Blake School

(Letter to Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)

Dear Mr. Bradbury,

For 13 years now I have sat by and watched as the world has grown more and more dependent on technology. I will admit that I too have fallen victim to the enticement of technology and all it has to offer. But there’s always been a part inside of me that yearned to pick up a book every once and awhile. A real book, with real paper pages that I can flip through from front cover, to back.

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Second Place: Elizabeth Sheldon, The Blake School
(Letter to Carolyn Keene, Nancy Drew series)
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Third Place: Jessie Wang, Minnetonka Middle School West
(Letter to Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
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2013 State Winner, Level 3:

Amy Sawyer, Shakopee East Junior High

(Letter to Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Dear Stephen Chbosky, Dear friend,

I think that it would be best if before you know why it is that a random teenager is writing to you about why your book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is one of her most prized and adored possessions, you know who she is. My name is Amy Sawyer. I am 14, quirky, a daydreamer, and I believe that the power of words is unparalleled; perhaps odd traits to put for one’s self but nonetheless completely truthful ones.

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Second Place: Tristan Ott, Caledonia High School
(Letter to Karl Marx, Essential Writings of Karl Marx)
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Third Place (tie):

Jake Hill, Shakopee East Junior High
(Letter to J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter series)
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Minh-Uyen Nguyen, Robbinsdale
(Letter to James Patterson, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment)
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 2011-mn-winners2012 State Winner, Level 1:

Grace Hoaglund, Montrose

Dear Jerry Spinelli,

I have always been against bullying, but I never thought it could be as bad as in Maniac Magee. For example, not talking to a person that has different color skin than mine.

As I was reading your book, I thought of bullying and being different from others in my own life. In my school kids are separated into groups like boys and girls or fifth grade and sixth grade, but kids are not separated based on skin color. At my school we include other people regardless of their skin color or other differences; like people with disabilities.

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2012 State Winner, Level 2:

Will Kaback, St. Louis Park

Dear Ms. Cornelia Funke,

I have always wondered if an author can experience their own writing. Can you, the writer, read your work and feel the tension and suspense? Engross yourself in a different world? Jump at cliffhangers? I find this question pestering me today, long after I first read Inkheart.

Inkheart shaped my childhood and continues to inhabit my thoughts to this day. I first read your book snuggled up with my mom at my grandparents’ cabin in Maine. It was the summer of 2004 and I was 7. At the time, as I gazed at the red cover, marveling at the rich illustrations, I didn’t know that I was about to embark on a journey that would change my life. I began to read.

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2012 National and State Winner, Level 3:

Alexandra McLaughlin, Minneapolis

Dear Tim O’Brien,

A $12 digital watch from Target. A bottle of Ibuprofen. A heart-shaped gold ring my Mom wore when she was a teenager. Vanilla-scented hand lotion. The memory of my mom lying lifeless and still on a hospital bed, her cold hands no longer squeezing back. A shoebox containing a lifetime of letters, some creased, worn, and stained with tears. My sister’s sleepy but comforting voice through the phone at 2 AM, when I lie awake, haunted by the past and crippled by fears. I know. It will be okay. I love you.

These are the things I carry.

Two years ago, when I was a sophomore in high school, my Mom had a sudden heart attack while running. She collapsed on the side of the road and died instantly. My English class read The Things They Carried a few months later. What I expected was just another book about war. What I found was a message that spoke directly to my soul. Your book came when I felt my suburban town was the quintessential land of lollipops and ignorance, when I feared real pain and heartache were foreign to everyone but me. It came when I needed it the most.

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2011 State and National Honor Winner, Level 1:

Nicholas Behrens, Falcon Heights

Dear Debra Frasier,

Each and every living thing in the universe is unique and spectacular! Each and every plant, animal, and person is connected to another and has an important place and purpose! Each and every day of my life, I see this in the green Earth around me and feel it deep down in my soul.

Please know, Ms. Frasier, that these valuable and treasured messages I first learned and experienced from you! And, from my parents who told me the story in your beautiful book, On the Day You Were Born, on March 29, 1999 – the day I was welcomed to this “spinning world”!

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2011 State and National Honor Winner, Level 2:

Solomon Polansky, Minnetonka

Dear Mr. Keyes,

Upon reading your book, Flowers for Algernon, I felt a change. Perhaps not a physical change, such as a loss of a limb, but a change in my mind and heart. This story provided me with a new understanding of our society and a completely different point of view I had never thought about previously. A new window was opened in my mind, and now light could flood in.

This change began with the main character in your story. Charlie, a man with an obvious mental disability, narrates his experience in journal form. Charlie was able to teach me about myself and society as a whole. As I journeyed with Charlie through its pages, I began to realize new truths about knowledge and intelligence.

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2011 State Winner, Level 3:

Tyler Sturos, St. Michael