The Friends is the Center for the Book in Minnesota, designated by the Library of Congress. The Center for the Book is a national initiative established in 1977 to promote reading, literacy, libraries, as well as the scholarly study of books.
All 50 states, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, have a designated Center for the Book. The Friends was honored with this distinction largely because of the success of our statewide programs, including the Minnesota Book Awards. As Minnesota’s Center for the Book, The Friends produces dynamic programming that benefits all ages and reaches all corners of the state, such as the following.
Minnesota Book Awards
The Minnesota Book Awards is a year-long program that fosters the literary arts community in our state with the ultimate goal of creating stronger communities.
The process begins in the fall with book submissions and continues through winter and into spring with two rounds of judging. Also woven throughout the season are various engagement activities and events that promote the authors and connect the entire world of Minnesota books to readers throughout the North Star State.
Letters About Literature
Letters About Literature is a national writing contest for students in grades 4-12. The program invites students to read a book of their choice, reflect on it, and write a personal letter to the author explaining how the book changed their views of the world and/or themselves.
Letters About Literature Invites Students to Participate in National Writing Contest
Submissions due: Friday, January 11, 2019.
Letters About Literature: 2017/2018 State Winners
Finn Benz, Grade 5, Visitation School, Mendota Heights
(letter to J.K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Dear J.K. Rowling,
Lumos. The charm for light to show you the way. Last year this was something I struggled to find. My doctors called it depression. I called it my eternal Voldemort. Your book changed my view of how to live life. During this time I felt bad about myself and was very sad, stressed, and frustrated. It got so bad that I felt suicidal and a danger to myself. Your book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, really helped me deal with my depression. I realized that Harry was dealing with the same problems of frustration and stress that I was and I took to heart how Harry dealt with that in his life and used it in mine.
In your book the magical community doesn't believe Harry's "lie" that Voldemort was at large again. At least they knew what Harry was trying to get across. My parents didn't believe my Voldemort was even real. Harry's problems weren't quite as bad as mine in that aspect. The way Harry turned to friends and teachers to help him with his problems encouraged me to open up to my parents about my problems. My parents then connected me with someone that could help me with my mind called a therapist just how Dumbledore connected Harry to Snape to help with Harry's mind. My Voldemort was then put at bay for the time being. My life was slowly getting better: I was starting to have fun with friends and family. Then Umbridge showed up in my life.
In my story Umbridge was a kid and his gang of friends at my school. He realized I was vulnerable and took advantage of me by picking on me. It was just like how Umbridge and her henchman, the Inquisitorial Squad, picked on Harry to get a reaction to use against him. He wanted a reaction out of me as well so he could get me in trouble. In a P.E. class he finally succeeded. He was making fun of me in front of the whole class by telling them something personal I had told him and I attacked him. I almost got suspended until I explained to the teachers that he was taunting me. In this situation my teachers were my Professor Mcgonagall. They helped me block him out exactly how Mcgonagall helped Harry deal with Umbridge by telling her off when she tried to hurt him with her awful detentions of writing with his own blood. Once I got him off my nerves I got back on track with my therapist. Without him in the back of my mind I became less and less angry so I could talk about my problems more easily. My therapist and I worked for a long time to clear the anger in my mind with brain games and mental tools. In your book Snape teaches Harry to not let Voldemort take control of his mind by using the art of occlumency. That was exactly what she taught me. By the end of the year my therapist had successfully taught me her version of Snape's occlumency.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the enchanted version of my world. It taught me life lessons that I couldn't have learned anywhere else including grit, control, and how to overcome obstacles in life. It pried me open like a crowbar so I could get help with a problem that could of put me in a different situation than I am in today. It rescued me from a dark place. Light had been found. Thank you so much for helping me find the way.
Evan Taggart, Grade 6, McGuire Middle School, Lakeville
(letter to Rick Riordan, author of The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones)
Dear Rick Riordan,
Your book, The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones, helped me realize something about myself and my parents. More importantly, it helped me with two important things in my life that tie together: my brother and cancer.
When I read about how Amy and Dan's parents died in a fire, l realized how lucky I was to have two loving, simply living parents. Before reading this, I felt like my life was full of injustice. I thought about what my parents didn't give me, what they didn't let me have, not what they did. Reading this part of the story changed that. I started to think more about what they do give me, and how to make their lives easier.
Relating to this, when I read about how their grandmother died of cancer, it helped me, but it also scared me. I have a brother who was relapsed with cancer this past summer, so your book made me realize how lucky I am for him to be doing well. The way that it scared me was that, through all of my brother's treatments and therapies, almost anything could go wrong. My fear became worse when I actually became a part of his journey. I was the one to donate bone marrow for his bone marrow transplant. I was afraid that if, from that point on, a problem occurred with his immune system or marrow, it would be my fault. I worried about this for a long time. But then, your book saved me again. When I read about how they realize that even though their grandmother is deceased, she is still with them, in their minds, it aided me. It pulled me out of the hole that me and my emotions had been stuck in.
I realized that if something did go wrong in my brother's treatment, if he didn't make it, it would definitely be the most terrible thing to happen to me, but he wouldn't be gone. I know this because your book taught me that no one is ever gone until they are gone from everyone's minds. If that is true, which it is, then my brother is truly immortal.
Isis Nuñez-Martinez, Grade 6, Rogers Middle School, Rogers
(letter to Jeff Probst, author of Stranded)
Dear Jeff Probst,
Sometimes, when you don't want to think about something really bad that has happened to you, there's always something to remind you about that moment. This is exactly what your book Stranded did to me. Stranded made me think about a hurricane that hit the island of Puerto Rico in September 2017, which is where my family is originally from. It was a really hard time for me not knowing anything about my family for a few weeks. We were not sure if they were safe, if their houses collapsed, if they were eating, even if they were alive. I am sure that the parents of Vanessa, Carter, Buzz, and Jane were very worried like I was about my family and only wanted them to be safe and to hear from them.
On every page of the book, there was always something there to remind me how I felt during the hurricane. Everyday after school I was waiting for a call from my family or just to find out if they were fine. For the first time after a few weeks, I was as lucky as the kids were, when they got ahold of the coast guards and could at least tell them where they were. I finally was able to hear from my family and learned that they were safe. Luckily Dex and John got away on a life raft but some of them couldn't so that made me think about my family and how some could leave the island before it got worse and how some of them couldn't.
After the hurricane, I found out that Puerto Rico had ran out of potable water and if they wanted purified water they would have to buy it and the prices were really high. When I read that Vannessa, Carter, Buzz, and Jane needed water because they broke a pipe when they opened the tank, I thought about how my family were struggling for the lack of water. It was sad how the boat sank and how they had to sleep outside. Then I remembered that my aunt and her family slept on their roof top of their house because it was too hot inside their house and there was no electricity in the whole island.
After reading this book, I really thought how lucky I was that my family were fine, alive, and healthy. I really loved this book even though it made me think of a time that I would rather forget, but thanks to the hurricane I got to understand the book a lot better than I thought I would. As soon I found out that there was a second book I really wanted to finish the book and read the second one because I wanted to see if the second one would also change the way I think and see my life.
Jamison Dietlin, Grade 6, Individual Entry, Duluth
(letter to Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of Fish in a Tree)
Dear Lynda Mullaly Hunt,
Hello and thank you for writing a Fish in a Tree. I realize I am unlikely to win the "Letters to Literature" contest, for I am lackluster in the zone of reading and writing. But, I'm similar to the main character Ally, and I want to share how I connected to your book.
Ally is relatable to me in many ways. She has great friends in the story. Me too. Friends make school worth going to. She also collected coins much like me. Mostly what we have in common is dyslexia.
It may seem surprising that I would even enter this contest. I usually prefer to get information from video or audio books because print is hard to decode. When I do read, I choose fantasy or nonfiction. Even with all of that, Fish in a Tree is a book that impacted me.
I think of life like a video game. Imagine characters have different amount of points in different categories that can help them win the game. To start everyone has 20 points total and each person will have a unique distribution of points. One character may have all their points in charisma or they might have an even distribution across the board. Ally had many points in art. Her friend Albert had many points in science, but a tough home life. Keisha was a good baker kind of like me. My points are heaviest in science, history, charisma, but quite low in reading and writing. Everyone has value, but spread out differently.
I think a difference between Ally and I, is that I have more confidence in myself as a learner than she did for most of the book. I am lucky/ unlucky to have two teachers for parents. We caught on to my dyslexia early and I started getting help by first grade. Now I'm a 6th grader, I know my strengths and weaknesses (lucky). I'm also writing a letter on Sunday afternoon (unlucky). In the book Ally was unlucky with her first teacher Ms. Hall. Ms. Hall thought Ally didn't care. I never had a teacher who was that clueless (lucky). It was so frustrating to read because I wanted to tell Ally to TELL SOMEONE she was trying and to believe in herself. I was relieved when Ally got a better teacher.
I guess the main point of why I connected with the book is we all have different strengths. Your book did a good job weaving that into a story. I enjoyed Fish in a Tree and I mostly think it"II be good for others to read and learn a bit about what it is like to live with dyslexia.
Naw Nay Blu, Grade 7, Individual Entry, Saint Paul
(letter to Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier)
This student has chosen to keep her letter private.
Martan Gregoire, Grade 8, Horizon Middle School, Moorhead
(letter to R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder)
Dear R. J. Palacio,
Growing up, I thought that I had to be like every single person around me. I had to alter myself to be like them, and if I didn't conform, then I wasn't good enough to be around them. I tried and tried to change to be like everyone else, but it never worked. After reading Wonder, my whole perspective changed.
I live in a town where we all, pretty much, look the same. No one really stands out. I'm not saying that that is a bad thing, I'm just saying it. When I was in elementary school, I thought that since we all looked alike, we had to act alike. I did all of the sports and other activities that the boys in my grade were doing, but I never liked them. I tried hockey, baseball, and golf, but I was never having fun. I later joined gymnastics and Tae Kwon Do, and those were fun, but I knew I wasn't as happy as I could have been. That all changed once I read Wonder.
Auggie is very different than everyone around him. I felt the same way when I was doing sports that I didn't like. I thought that I was just not talented enough to like them, and so I didn't try very hard at hockey and golf, as a result. When I read Wonder, I realized that it was good to be different, and that I should embrace the differences in myself and everyone around me, because these differences are what make us special. No one else is exactly like me, and I will never be exactly like anyone else.
After reading Wonder, I decided I was going to start doing the activities that I wanted to do. I quit hockey, golf, baseball, gymnastics, and Tae Kwon Do, and I decided on the first day of sixth grade that I was going to try out for the musical at my middle school. I had been doing shows in the summertime, and had had a lot of fun doing those, so I thought I was going to like it. I auditioned, and l got in. It was the greatest experience I have ever had in my life. I grew so much, and I decided to do them again and again.
I didn't only decide to branch out and do things that not a lot of people were doing. I also learned how to be a good friend and stand up for myself and others. I got bullied a lot in sixth and seventh grade because I did the musicals. You would think that 6th and 7th graders couldn't be mean, but they were. Everyday of 7th grade, I was called gay by different people because I did the shows. Being gay isn't a bad thing, but it really bothered me that people called me that just because I did the musicals. I decided to be like Jack and finally stand up for myself. I didn't go as far as punching someone, but I finally told the guys that kept calling me gay to quit it, and they did. It was great, I actually stood up for myself. If I hadn't read Wonder, I don't know if I would have done that.
Doing musicals has not only helped me grew as an actor, but also as a person. I have gained so many important virtues through shows, including more confidence. I learned that I love to dance, and that I actually love doing theatre, and that I am my happiest when I get up on that stage and perform. Most people are terrified of going in front of 800 people and singing and dancing, but that is where I am alive. If I hadn't read Wonder, I don't think that I would be a theatre kid who loves to sing and dance, and is the happiest when he gets a standing ovation.
Speaking of standing ovations, that is one of the main reasons I love this book. Auggie's postcard precept is "Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world." That really hits home with me. We all go through manydifferent things in life, and I think that we all overcome the challenges we face at one point or another. We all deserve a standing ovation, because we all chose to be who we are, and that is all we can be.
Emmalee Oberg, Grade 7, Roosevelt Middle School, Blaine
(letter to R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder)
Dear R. J. Palacio,
I recently read your book Wonder, and it has really made an impact on my outlook on life, even though at first I was hesitant to read it. Wonder had been on my bookcase for almost a year before I even picked it up. In fact, the first time I began reading it I got through about 15 pages and set it down. I feared that it would bring back memories that I was constantly trying to erase from my mind. But once I actually sat down and took the time to read it, it really changed my life. Truly it has shown me that other people are going through the same types of situations that I'm going through and that I am not alone.
In the book Wonder, I found that I related the most to Via. In my family, my younger sister Addie has Crouzon's Syndrome and has had over 40 surgeries, so I know what it feels like to not be the main focus of attention for a long period of time. In Via's family, her Mom and Dad's main focus is Auggie, so when he is struggling, they need to be right by his side. No matter what they were supposed to be doing with Via or for their work, they have to drop everything. In the book, Via says "August is the Sun. Her Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun, and the rest of her family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun." Via's family revolves around Auggie, just as sometimes our family has to revolve around my sister, Addie.
With my sister being in the hospital a lot of the time, my parents get stressed out sometimes about medical expenses or Addie's health. With this constant stress weighing on my parents, it has put more pressure on me to do well in school and follow all the rules. That way I don't add more problems to their already stressful lives. My accomplishments often go unnoticed. Just like me, Via feels like she needs to prove herself or do something extraordinary to become noticed or be the center of attention.
Via's needs are never a priority for her family when Auggie is around. She often struggles with the tension of feeling compassion for Auggie while also dealing with the fact that she doesn't get as much attention as she would like. I also struggle with feeling guilty for wanting my parents to be with me and not Addie. I know she doesn't deserve to go through all the hurt and pain, and my heart breaks for all of us.
Sometimes I just wish I had a normal family, but then I think of how much this experience has helped me
grow and become the person I am today. I have stronger bonds and relationships with others, learned more about myself, and understand what is really important in life. But the truth is, I would never have realized all of these things without Wonder to show me that other people are going through the same types of situations that I'm going through, and that it is okay to have the feelings and struggles that I do. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart for writing this book. It has given me the opportunity to more fully process all these complicated emotions.
Ashna Oray, Grade 8, Horizon Middle School, Moorhead
(letter to Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water)
Dear Linda Sue Park,
I really liked the way you wrote your book, A Long Walk to Water because it was something different. It was a short read, but it was very powerful and informative. I liked how you wrote it in two different time periods from two different people's point of view.
As I read your book, it made me think of my uncle who is currently fighting in the war in Iraq against ISIS as a Pesmerga. Like Salva, he has a hard life. He has six kids to raise along with a wife. He doesn't get to see them for weeks until he comes back to Duhok Kurdistan, which is where he lives, for a few days and goes back to work.
Salva doesn't have to fight, but he has a tough journey trying to get to safety, which is what my uncle wants for his country. Another thing my uncle has in common with Salva is how he doesn't get to see his family. Like I said, he has to go away for weeks not being able to see his wife, kids, siblings, and mom. He also doesn't get to see two of his brothers who live in France, and his sister who lives in America (my mom). Not just for weeks but for months. Years even.
When I was a little girl we would go to Kurdistan pretty often. Once a year or once every two years. We even moved there for three years when I was forty days old. We came back as soon as my brother and I had to start school. My dad worked in the army, like my uncle, during that time, so he wasn't with us all the time. When I was nine, we went to go visit again for the fourth time ever since we moved back to America. While we were there, we went hiking with my family, and everyone got ahead of me. One of my older cousins, he was about 20, stayed behind with me. Like Salva's uncle, he would point somewhere and tell me to walk that far. When we got there, he would point to another milestone for me to get to, so it would feel easier. Once we got to our destination, we started sledding because it was one of the mountains with snow (Kurdistan rarely gets snow). It was a very good day and I hope I get to spend another day like that with my family.
Another thing is that my mom's uncle died, and it made me think of Salva's uncle when he died. Also his father being in the hospital reminded me of my grandad in the hospital before he passed away as well. Which obviously was a hard time for me and my family.
Both of my parents and their families had to run away from Saddam Hussein in the early 1980's when they were really young. They were way younger than Salva though. My dad was about seven and my mom was four. My mom had two other siblings at the time. She had an older sister and a younger brother. My dad on the other hand had all seven of his siblings with him. They would travel in small groups, like Salva and his group, and they had a long journey to reach a camp safely.
Now, I look back into my family's past and what Salva had to go through, and I think to myself, how lucky I am. Not just me, my siblings and cousins as well. Especially my siblings and I because most of my cousins live in Kurdistan where there is not as many resources and not as much money as before. It is harder for them than it is for me. We live in America where there is everything we need and more.
We all still have a roof over our heads and bread to eat, so we are very fortunate unlike Salva and Nya, in a way. When I get older, I want to do something like what Salva did for Nya, her family and their little town. I want to change people's lives by giving them what they need. I might not be able to give them everything they need and their life might not change tremendously, but giving a hungry child even a small meal would at least make a little difference.
This book is one of my favorite books, and I am very glad that my friend back in fourth grade recommended it. It has inspired me to do something as simple as building a well for the people who need it. It also has changed the way I look at life. Life is not all about having and getting what you want, but what you need.
Lizzy Pickering, Grade 8, Horizon Middle School, Moorhead
(letter to Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey)
Dear Rupi Kaur,
Your book Milk and Honey helped me find myself in a time that I needed it the most. The way that you describe your life, through your poetry, illustrations, and how it has made you who you are is admirable. It made me want to figure out where I wanted my life to take me and who I need, who I don't need, and how to get there.
Though I have never been raped, abused, or gone through much grief, I was able to emotionally connect to your poetry on a level that l never would have imagined. It helped me learn more about who I am, and how I can become who I want to be, more than anything else could have taught me. Your perspective on the world, how every bitter moment can have a sweet spot if you can find it, made me want to start looking at the world in the same way.
The day that I finished Milk and Honey I deleted all social media and decided that I would focus more on building the relationships around me. Learning to love myself, accept myself, and accept the world around me. Suddenly, my bedroom walls were covered in pictures of the people I love and positive quotes. Finding peace with who I was and who I wanted to become, was now the most important thing for me to do. I hadn't really gone through many of the problems that you discuss, but I was so easily able to connect on a mental and emotional level, not knowing why. Then I decided to read the section of The Healing again and realized that I had gone through a lot more than I thought I had. I was able to connect to the poetry, because I was the poetry. I was broken, loved, then had to go through a process of healing.
I especially admired the risk that you took writing this book. Rape culture, feminism, and abuse are topics that lots of people fear talking about. But not only do you address these topics, you teach us how we can change the attention drawn to them. You speak out, and tell us how we can stand up for ourselves, and bring attention to all of the awful stuff going on, that everyone else chooses to ignore.
The section of Milk and Honey, called The Healing, was where I was hit the hardest. After reading this section I was able to gain confidence in myself, and learned how to appreciate the world around me. I was able to connect emotionally with your poetry, and what it had to say. On page 198, you say, "you must want to spend the rest of your life with yourself first." At the moment I read this, I was not in a good place, mentally or emotionally, with myself. Though I had been seeing a psychologist and a therapist, I wasn't able to honestly say that l loved myself or liked who I was, and who I was becoming. I took this line to heart and tried more and more to come to terms with who I am. Thanks to this line, I have finally found my self confidence again and can happily say that I love who I am now.
Thank you Rupi Kaur for writing Milk and Honey. You have given me the courage to speak out about my pain, and learn to love who I am. It has truly changed the way that I think about my life and where I want my life to take me. Again, thank you for helping me on my life journey, and helping me in a time that I needed it most. Thank you for helping me learn to love myself again, and giving me the strength to continue that journey. You are admirable, inspirational, and amazing at what you do. Never stop inspiring!
Lydia Meier, Grade 10, Individual Entry, Willmar
(letter to Matthew Quick, author of Every Exquisite Thing)
Dear Mr. Quick,
Like Nannette in your book, Every Exquisite Thing, I felt unextraordinary. Trapped in the unlocked cage.
The real truth of the matter is that this book took my life out of its sad little jar on a sad little shelf and shook it all up and out of order. You spoke so many truths through the mouths of Nigel Wrigley Baker, through Mr. Graves, and even Oliver. Truths about society, growing pains, and personal tragedy. I began to recognize the fellow weirdos, the lonely people, the poets, and the flower lovers.
Your book made me want to make a difference. To write something dedicated to the archery pit, to run screaming through the streets in a blue prom dress, to swim in the ocean. It made me want to quit, like Wrigley, Nannette, Nigel. And so I did. Nigel said, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it,” and I listened. I quit dance and began to write more.
Nannette knows she’s grown up when she realizes that the adults in her life don’t know any more than she does, and that helped me through a time when some people I really looked up to made some pretty big mistakes. People I had unquestionably followed changed direction, and I had to make my own path. And it was a moment of growth I wasn’t quite ready for. I wasn’t ready to define myself on my own terms.
I carry my highlighted, scribbled over, underlined copy of your book around in my backpack. I write crappy poetry and hang out in local coffee shops and persevere in my own real life coming of age. Growing up is hard. And messy. And reading your book convinced me you got that, and validated it for me.
Oh, and I’ve finished the second draft of my own novel. And right now, it’s dedicated to you.
McKenna Murphy, Grade 12, Individual Entry, Shorewood
(letter to Katherine Erskine, Mockingbird)
Ms. Katherine Erskine,
Your book was one of the most meaningful and essential books in my journey with autism. As a child on the autism spectrum, the world was a terrifying place, full of complicated social rules, conflicting emotions, and trying to fit in.
Your book was first recommended by a teacher who was a part of my special education plan. At first, I couldn't read more than two chapters of your book without breaking down into tears, the read was such an emotional journey, for Caitlin and I were the same in so many ways. We both loved drawing and inventing names for things and concepts. Caitlin was someone I could truly relate to. Like Caitlin, I lived many years denying. Denying that I was the problem, that I was any different from the “other kids”, and that I didn't need any help.
Your book helped me to address the root of my problem: black and white thinking, refusing to accept support, ignoring/ refusing to address my problems, and beating myself up over small mistakes. Your words taught me more about functioning with autism than 10+ years of special education. I felt that my special education classes wanted to make me blend in and conceal my disability, while I found comfort in your book with who I was, and to work with my disability, not against it.
After reading, I was more aware of my actions, allowed myself to make mistakes. I also became more empathetic to others’ problems, something that my disability supposedly impaired. When I finished the last page and closed the book, I had a wider understanding of understanding and empathy. Such motivation has made me consider becoming a mental health therapist, so I may teach others the essential lessons you have taught me.
Mckenna Murphy, 18
Maddie LeMonds, Grade 12, St. Michael-Albertville High School, St. Michael
(letter to R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder)
Dear R. J. Palacio,
I would like to thank you for writing Wonder. I was in seventh grade when I read this book. I remember thinking after finishing this story that it was written specifically for me. I enjoyed this book because the words enclosed in Wonder were aligned with experiences in my own life.
This book was a large part of my seventh grade English class. My teacher, Mrs. Tangen, absolutely loved this book which made my class very intrigued. As we started to read this book, page after page I was taken back by Auggie Pullman's life and how similar it was to my sister's. My sister Avery was born with a cleft lip and palate in 2008. Now, this birth defect is not as noticeable as Auggie's medical mystery, but both my sister and Auggie encountered many surgeries and shared similar worries about their appearances. Doctors and surgeons have been a big part of both my sister's and Auggie's life. Auggie's sister Via and I also share many similarities. We have been there for our siblings to give advice, always wanting to be by our siblings’ side to protect them, and show them love when they feel down about themselves.
Parts in the book where Auggie's mother worried greatly about his physical and emotional pain made me feel that I was not the only one dealing with this constant apprehension. My mom and I often talked about Avery and prayed that she would be liked by her classmates, shown love by others, and be confident in herself to do whatever she put her mind to. Mrs. Pullman and my mom not only worried about how others would perceive both August and Avery, but also the risks of several surgeries they had to endure. August said he had around twenty seven surgeries while my sister Avery has had six.
The saddest part of Wonder was when Auggie overheard his good friend Jack Will talking behind his back saying awful things such as, "I would kill myself if I looked like that." When reading this part in the book my stomach dropped and tears rolled down my cheeks. I hoped Avery had never heard anything quite so cruel and if she did, or would in the future, she would be brave enough to confide in a family member just as Auggie did. Although there were an enormous number of concerns, both August and Avery excelled in school, created friendships with many classmates, and their personalities shined through for all to see.
I am extremely grateful to you for writing a book explaining that although one may be born with a birth defect that does not prohibit them from reaching their goals. Although August and Avery have unique physical appearances, they both yearn to have the same life experiences as those who were born without a deformity. I am thankful for Wonder because it is a book I can easily relate to. It gives me hope for Avery's future. This book has helped me through difficult situations with my sister, and I hope everyone finds a book to guide them in a particular problem they are facing.
Sridhatri Guntipally, Grade 9, Eagle Ridge Academy, Minnetonka
(letter to William H. McRaven, Make Your Bed)
Dear William H. McRaven,
"Make your bed.'' These are the words to which I awoke when my eyes fluttered open on my fifteenth birthday. Immediately, I sat up and reached for the navy and golden book that rested on my nightstand. For the first time in fifteen years, I had asked my parents for a birthday present. After some deep thought, I had decided to request a gift that would be worthwhile, a gift that would last me a lifetime and be my companion in the hardest times. I asked for an inspirational book. Your book is exactly that.
When I first saw the title of your book, I was filled with despair. My housekeeping skills are mediocre, and I often forget to make my bed and struggle to keep my room clean. I worried that my parents purchased a book that would help me improve my organizational skills. Thankfully, your book not only pertained to making my bed, but also to making myself a better person. You taught values that bring self-satisfaction and that create a person whose company others value; and so, your book became something I cherished dearly. Your book kept me motivated to continue making my bed better than any organizational book ever could, and I have not left my sheets untended since the day I started reading.
Throughout your book, one overarching lesson stood out to me, and that is to never give up. Even though only the last chapter is dedicated to teaching about persevering, there was not a single chapter that failed to exhibit this principle. An excellent example of persistence was your reaction to the parachute accident in which your pelvis was torn apart from your torso. Just imagining the pain you must have experienced makes my body and mind scream in agony. When I stretch for dance, the discomfort from over-extending my muscles seems unbearable, and I cannot fathom the torment you underwent. Physical fitness was a necessity for you to be an effective SEAL, so this accident appeared to be the end of your career. Still, you chose the path of perseverance instead of self-pity, and even after the accident, you found a way to continue your career. Another story I found equally excruciating but inspiring was that of the nineteen year old boy who stepped on a pressure mine and had both legs amputated as a result of his injuries. Even though his life was changed forever, he refused to give up. A year later, that boy was back in service, joyous as ever and refusing to allow misfortunes to spoil the rest of his life. Each and every one of your stories talked about people that did not surrender in the hardest times, and I drew tangible strength from those spirited people for the little difficulties in my existence.
In my life, there are numerous things I want to accomplish. And, the cause of my struggling and stress is, surprisingly enough, my love for everything. I must meet the high standards I set for myself in every subject in school and my extracurricular activities; otherwise, I am filled with despair and anger. You see, the problem was I wanted to do too many things at once. I wanted to get a perfect score on my math test, but my essay for English had to be equally good, and my dancing needed to be amazing as well. It was not even outside pressure, like parents or expectations, that drove me to want to do well in everything. I truly loved all of the things I learned and wanted to do them justice by excelling in everything. The problem with this desire was that everything became overwhelming because my thoughts drifted astray from one ambition to the next, never staying focused. There was so much that I wanted to achieve, but I felt like I did not have enough time to achieve it all. When l thought about what I wanted to do, l felt cornered and like I could not breathe because all my ambitions flooded my mind at once, and it felt like there remained too much to accomplish. I always felt dissatisfied and my life felt bereft of something important. Simultaneously, guilt for being negative invaded my mind since I knew I was blessed with everything I needed, like loving friends and family, an education, and health and safety. All these scattered thoughts increased my desire to quit. Your book was the much needed reminder for me not to give up. I fed hungrily off the strength of the people in your stories who refused to drop out during difficult times. Your words echoed in my head, and I knew that if you could persevere through those tremendous hardships, then I could persevere through my little ones.
Along with bringing back my motivation, your book also made me wonder. Why did I, although I was blessed with everything, constantly feel like giving up, while SEALs whose bodies and lives were changed forever still refused to do so? You said, "Of the hundreds of men I talked with in the hospital, never once did anyone complain." Why were those men always proud of their service and never complaining, while many people, like myself, were grumbling about the little trials that we transformed into the greatest catastrophes in our heads? It finally occurred to me that those men always had the strength to keep persevering and eagerly awaited returning to the very profession that caused their pain because their work was a service. The essence of being a SEAL was protecting the inhabitants of their country. The purpose of their job, more than helping themselves, was helping others. And so, they developed the strength and determination to never give up. The stories of the people in your book depicted that a worthy life comprises of helping others.
This directed my attention to people in my life that never complained or gave up even in the most challenging situations. The first person that came to mind was my mom. My mom is the person I admire most in my life. Many long evenings and nights, she spends hours laboring over her time and effort consuming job. Still, she finds time to wake up early each morning to make us breakfast, and never neglects being a mother. Countless times I need the comfort of her loving arms, and she is always there to provide me with strength to keep persisting. Sometimes, her eyes show complete exhaustion, but she still beckons me with a gentle smile and offers me strength and solace. Through everything, never once does my mother complain, just like those brave souls. I realize now that the secret to her strength is her love for me. Everything she does is so I can be happy, so my future can be better, and that is why she never quits, even if she is completely drained. Just like the SEALs, she draws strength not from selfish desires, but from her desire to support me.
In the end, the problem in my thinking became very clear. My strength to endure dwindled because the motivation for my actions was selfish. I wanted to excel in school, and I wanted to pursue my dreams; it was all about me. Instead of thinking solely about my aspirations, if I start considering the people I could assist through my success, the struggle to get there seems inconsequential. The accounts of your life brought upon me the realization that as long as part of my purpose in life is to help others, the egocentric confusion that seized me earlier would disappear and my love for life and motivation would be infinite because my intentions would be selfless. However, the prospect of helping others in the future is not the only thing that can help motivate me. I can begin today with small acts of kindness, like volunteering at my school Library, lending my friends and family a helping hand when they are in need, and at the very least, smiling. Those small acts will help pull me through the rough times as they will constantly remind me that I wake up every morning not so I can finish my homework or some other selfish task, but so I can share my life with other people. Thank you for reminding me that life is about teamwork, not individual success.
With much gratitude,
Sarah Pierce, Grade 11, Individual Entry, Faribault
(letter to William Golding, Lord of the Flies)
Dear William Golding,
First of all, I'd like to let you know that I probably would never have picked up your book, Lord of the Flies, if it hadn't been for my 10th grade English teacher. This may not be the best way to start this letter, but I feel I need to be completely honest with you. Like most English classes, I was assigned a book to read and, of course, it was a book I had never heard of before. The copy I was handed had a well worn, broken spine, bent pages, and the overwhelming smell of an old library book. My teacher then assigned us a chapter to read and my journey with the Lord of the Flies began.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it, when I first started your book I remember thinking that I just might fall asleep. After all, the room was very warm with soft background noise that lulled me into an after-lunch stupor. Fighting the sleepy temptation, I shook myself awake and tried hard to focus on what my teacher was reading. I was about to drift off again when my teacher said "Piggy."
Piggy quickly became an extremely relatable character. The second I heard his name, I had a flashback to my childhood. You see, it's important for you to know that I was a very adorable and healthy baby, with a strong emphasis on healthy. That being said, I was a bit of a chunky baby. By chunky, I mean I had four elbows and two chins. Not only was I chunky, but I was also a loud eater. These characteristics led to my dad granting me the wonderful nickname of, you guessed it, Piggy. So when I heard of another person being given the nickname Piggy, I could immediately understand why he didn't want others to know about it.
As I read Lord of the Flies and learned more about Piggy's character, I grew to realize that I related to Piggy in many more ways than just sharing an unfortunate nickname. Piggy was rational. Amidst the craziness and panic around him, he was the voice of reason. My parents divorced when I was young, so I was mainly raised by my mom. I'm telling you all of this, Mr. Golding, because I want you to understand the message my mom raised me with. My mom is wonderful because she has shown me not only that I need to know how to survive on my own, but also that I can. I am strong and capable. Since it's just my mom, my siblings and l have had to take part in fixing broken things in our house and problem-solve within a moment's notice. In an incident with a broken sump pump, a flooded basement, and panic, I found myself being the voice of reason, much like Piggy.
Relating to Piggy has helped me to explore myself. As I previously mentioned, I have found myself to be the voice of reason in the midst of chaos. That's an interesting characteristic to know about yourself, but I wondered how that would help me 'in the real world.' As I've started to look into the future, at colleges and career paths, I kept considering how staying calm in hectic situations could help me. As I've explored this question, I've found that it could help me in a number of careers. One such career is midwifery - a career where calm within chaos is a truly valuable skill. Piggy wasn't just a character to me, but a person l could relate to and who taught me about myself. For this, Mr. Golding, I would like to say thank you.
Reading Lord of the Flies with a class versus on my own, I explored so much more. My classmates and I were able to get into heated debates about human nature - one particularly bad argument about whether or not everyone has a bit of savage in them. Ironically, a little bit of savage came out in all of us as we argued.
Before reading Lord of the Flies, I believed that humans were either good or bad, and life was as simple as that. However, after reading Lord of the Flies, I realized that that's not necessarily the truth. Having a bit of savage or beast in us doesn't mean that we're bad, but that we have the ability to let our savage take over. The real battle is whether or not we let it.
Mr. Golding, I would like to end this letter by once again thanking you. Thank you for creating characters who I could truly relate to, and who would bring out a new side of me. Thank you for changing how I look at human beings and how we act. Finally, thank you for creating a story that I got lost in but at the same time was found.
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Great Lakes Reads
Great Lakes Reads is a project of the Great Lakes state Centers for the Book: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, with participation by the Ontario Book Publishers Organization.
Books for the “Great Lakes Reads” list were selected by each state, and province, that borders a Great Lake. The chosen works, all by authors either from or residing in each location, highlight the state’s relationship with its lake and the communities surrounding it.
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