Letters About Literature: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 13.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
>> Letters About Literature is a special project
of the Center for the Book.
It's about years old.
I'm about to introduce Cathy Gourley, who is the coordinator
of the project and she'll tell you a little bit
about how today's project works and then when we will meet three
of the winners from the states.
It's a project that from the beginning has asked young people
to write to authors about books that have helped shape their lives
or helped change the way that they think about themselves.
And the project had a beginning
of around 18 years ago with Cathy and myself.
Cathy has been a consultation for the Center
for the Book for many years.
And we started with Read Magazine where Cathy was an editor
and gradually as Cathy will explain to you the nature of Letters
About Literature has changed and it's actually broadened in scope
and Target has become our primary sponsor, our major retail sponsor
and that support has enabled us to tie Letters
About Literature to the state centers.
There are centers for the book in every state and Letters
About Literature is a project that we not only offer to them
with support from target but also want them to encourage --
encourage them to use as a basis
for reading promotion throughout the states.
Many of you saw the state centers who are really
with the state libraries, dominate our pavilion of the states.
So this is an example of a project that is truly national and is one
of the projects that helps make really the national testable
of the book, something that is truly national.
And so I think it's appropriate that we conclude this,
the 10th anniversary of the National Book Festival with hearing
from the young people and delving right into the heart of one
of our most popular projects.
I would Cathy Gourely who is our coordinator
to say a few words about the project.
And she can explain to you how it's changed its educational tone.
Then we will meet the families, hear from the kids and also hear
from the authors to whom two of the letters were written this year.
Cathy. [Applause]
>> Cathy Gourely: Okay you've got mail.
That's an understatement for me.
Each year in December the post office delivers mail bins
by the dozens filled with letters and they come from all
across the country and they come from children as young as 9
and 10 years old and seniors in high school as well.
And these letters are very personal.
They're not writing to me, but I get to read them.
Letters About Literature started
out as a program called Books Changing Lives, but it kind evolved
into a personal conversation with an author.
Here's what we do.
We ask kids, we challenge kids, write a letter to an author,
living or dead, that's okay.
Tell that author how his or her work somehow changed your view
of yourself or your world.
We say, "Don't summarize the book."
Why? The author wrote the book.
So the author knows what the book is about.
What the author doesn't know is how the book touched you.
The author doesn't know what emotions you felt
when you were reading the book or what thoughts entered your head
after you finished reading the book.
Write about that.
Read the book.
Get inspired and write back.
Well, our kids do not disappoint us.
This year we received 70,000 letters.
In fact, I learned new post office lingo.
The mail bins came in a device called an erk, which is as kind
of big as a refrigerator and it's filled up higher
than my head with bins of mail.
My team and I begin to open the letters.
We count them.
We log them and then we begin to read them.
And we eliminated in the first two rounds of reading, 63,000 letters.
So only 7,000 letters nationally advance to state competition,
just to advance to state is a big deal.
So what happens next?
Okay, so the state judges now read their state letters
and they choose their state winners.
And we have three state winners with you here today.
So we've gone from 70,000 to about 7,000 to about 150.
And then those letters go on to national competition
and the national winners, we pick 6, that's all.
So 70,000 to 7,000 to 150 to 6, and we also pick 12 national honors.
But here's the big deal.
The national honors and the national winners, they earn in addition
to cash prizes, they earn a reading promotion grant for the library.
The 6 national winners each earn 10,000 dollars for a school
or a library, but they get to nominate the school.
And I'm just about done, but in Anchorage this year, Alaska,
they had their very first ever national winner.
She was junior in high school.
And what she did was, she did not nominate her high school library.
She said to us, "I want to give this money, 10,000 dollars to a school
that needs it perhaps more than my high school does."
And she gave it to an elementary school
in Anchorage that was in need.
And that principal didn't know her.
The librarian didn't know her.
So the kids know.
They get it.
And they're very altruistic.
So with that aside, I'm going to turn this back over to John.
He's going to introduce each of our three winners
that we've invited here today.
They are guest authors and they're going to read their letters
and they are going to have a very unique opportunity
of meeting their author and having the author answer their letter
in person.
>> John: Thank you Cathy.
[Applause] First however I would like to know if anyone is still here
from Target, I want to thank you personally
for the support that you've given us.
Let's give Target a hand.

[Applause] Target of course is the major sponsor the Book Festival
and they have been here today but when the person we work
with most closely did not make the trip to Washington but she knows
about this and we were hoping that some
of the other folks could be here.
But I heard that they also are packing up now and are on their way
out but they know that we are here and they know that we are grateful.
I would like to mention that I'm going to introduce everyone
that is going to participate in this and then it's on with the show.
If you were here you already know Katherine Paterson.
Katherine is our of course National Ambassador
for Young People's Literature.
The award-winning Katherine Paterson and you are here
to learn why Katherine is the National Ambassador if you sat
through the marvelous session she gave us earlier today.
She also is the write and producer
of the Exquisite Corpse Family Theater in which
in the first session
in the children's division we brought the successful online serial
story to almost a conclusion.
Only part of it -- the story is concluded,
but next year it's going to be a book.
So the Exquisite is never going to end.
And Katherine we're glad of that and we're glad to have you here.
The second author
that is participating was here earlier this afternoon and is
with us again, Michael Buckley,
who's a former television producer who's now into the world
of children's literature and children's books,
particularly through The Sisters Grimm and we're going
to guess what -- have a letter to Michael
as the author of Sisters Grimm.
Our three students are with us today and the first one who is going
to read is Olivia Marcantonio.
Olivia is actually -- maybe we're not going to start quite yet.
We're going to wait just a moment.
I'm going to introduce you and then you're going
to be up in just a moment.
And Olivia is level one in the Letters About Literature.
She was 11 when she wrote this letter.
She's 12 years now and her letter is written to Jerry Spinelli
and it describes the book Star Girl.
And Olivia now is with her family and I know her mother is here
from Great Falls is that correct.
Our second student -- and Olivia then is the one
that represents Virginia.
Our Maryland representative who since has moved
to Virginia I learned today is Claire Wang
and Claire is level two, which is grade 7 and 8.
Claire wrote this letter.
I think you're 14 now?
Tell me, correct me please.
You're 14 now.
Okay thank you.
And she wrote to Katherine Paterson and her letter is
about the Bridge to Terabithia.
And we are very pleased to have Claire here.
The final winner is going to be Katherine Ann VanKirk who is 13
and she is the on who wrote to Michael Buckley and she is --
we're delighted to have Katherine here.
She is from Washington,
D.C. So these are representatives of our states.
And now Olivia it's your turn to come on up and read your letter.
Let's give Olivia Marcantonio a big hand.
[ Sound effects ]
>> Olivia Marcantonio: Dear Mr. Jerry Spinelli:
Star Girl was one of those books.
I don't know how else to describe it.
It is a book that completely turns you inside out.
Many books deal with a character who is different,
but none of those characters actually enjoys being different.
Star Girl showed me not to change, to be my definition of normal,
to be myself, as long as that self does not have a negative effect
on other people.
This book surprised me.
By reading it, I discovered things about myself
that I never noticed before.
I discovered my strengths in the characters of Star Girl.
Like her, I don't pay attention to negative peer pressure.
I discovered my weaknesses in Hillary's character.
I am often determined to dislike certain people.
You should care about what other people think of you, but not as much
as you should care how you make other people feel.
We are the main character in our own story, but it never occurs to us
that we might be the bad guy in someone else's.
By reading Star Girl I stopped seeing everyone else as "Them",
with a capital "T" and started seeing people as individuals.
While everyone is made from the same primary colors,
it's how we mix those colors
to create ourselves that makes us different.
Now I fully recognize that you can't treat everyone the same way.
What resolves an argument
in one person may insight an argument in a different person.
I never knew that before.
I have learned to accept other's differences by reading Star Girl.
Not necessarily big differences, not even important differences.
It could be something as small and inconsequential
as liking a book series that I happen to hate.
Then again a person might dislike me because of that.
I've learned to accept that too.
I have learned to tolerate people when the opinion
of everyone else strongly contradicts my own.
Mr. Spinelli, before I read Star Girl I was the same kind
of different that I am now.
I always speak my opinion, good or bad, hurtful or not.
Now though, you and Star Girl have taught me
that while being different is good, I have to keep it in control
like a bush, in some places you let it grow and in others you prune it
down so it doesn't stick out into the neighbor's yard and annoy them.
Mr. Spinelli, you taught me how to be normal without changing,
to change my image while the way I think stays the same,
to be myself without hurting others.
Thank you.
>> John: Thank you Olivia.
[Applause] Now Olivia stay here for just a second.
Jerry Spinelli was invited to the Book Festival but could not make it.
And we were able however just a couple of days ago to get in touch
with him and Cathy had sent the letter to him
through is publicist and he has read it.
And the night before last I got the following response
from Jerry Spinelli and for just a second, you're going to have
to pretend like I'm Jerry Spinelli okay.
[Laughter] This is what he said.
"No Olivia, thank you.
Thank you for being the dream reader we writers all wish for,
someone who takes from the story not only what we put in but even,
maybe even a little more.
Thank you Olivia for making a story a part of your life
and thereby affirming something the poet, Murial Rukeyser wrote,
"The world is not made of atoms but of stories."
And thank you Olivia for confirming my own belief as an author
that a book is only half done until someone picks it up and reads it.
So you'll understand if I think of you as my co-author.
Best wishes from Star Girl and me, Jerry Spinelli."
And I'll send you a copy of the email.
>> Cathy Gourley: And I like to present you with a tee shirt
that says, "I cannot live without books."
And a writing journal that matches, because we want you to keep writing;
at 11 years old what a great job.

[Applause] And I now would like to invite Claire to come up
and read her letter and I did not mention
that Claire is a home-schooler and also to invite both Katherine
and Michael to come up and take these stools
and we will have two consecutive readings and then comments.
[ Sound effects ]
>> Claire Wang: Dear Katherine Paterson:
What brings two completely different people together
and creates a lasting bond between them.
In what ways does it change our lives forever?
To me a friendship seems useless and superficial.
I believe that something or someone will always break it or destroy it,
erase it with no trace at all.
When my family moved back to Beijing, I lost all my best friends.
Year's worth of friendship was broken in a matter of minutes.
I became bitter and cautious to any potential companions.
In a Chinese public school I was known as the tall,
think Chinese-American girl who had no feelings at all.
However I was indifferent to the gossip around me.
The hurtful gossip further proved my point.
Thankfully my parents transferred me to a bilingual private school.
Slowly but surely I became attached to some of the people there.
In that group of people was a girl named Vicki.
Her attitude and characteristics were similar
to your character Leslie Burke, bright and lively,
bold and somewhat rebellious.
We helped with each other's struggles.
She was a leader and I was a follower.
Regardless of our completely different personalities Vicki
and I were soon best friends.
Although my parents started to home-school me,
things remained the same between us.
I thought I will always see her again.

One cloudy day, someone told me the shocking news.
"Vicki's dead."
I felt stunned and helpless that entire day.
A car accident took her bright life.
Again, a perfect friendship was destroyed in a matter of minutes.
Again, I became bitter.
Never again should I ever rely on friendship.
Never again should I ever have a close friend.
I repeated these promises to myself almost every night.
As books are one of my escapes from the real world,
I picked up the book Bridge to Terabithia from my dusty bookshelf.
Although I read Bridge to Terabithia before,
I felt something different this time.
I understood Jess Aaron's feelings before Leslie came into his life.
I smiled at the adventures that Jess and Leslie had
in their magical world of Terabithia.
I thought that their perfect friendship would go on forever.
I was shocked when Brenda told Jess that Leslie is dead.
That part is like a clear reflection of my present situation.
However, I was curious to see how Jess reacted to this event.
When I finished your book, I knew immediately what to do.
Just like Jess who passed down the lessons that Leslie taught him,
I will try to do the same.
I will remember how Vicki impacted others through her cheerful,
creative spirit and strong leadership.
Instead of being timid and shy, I will try to help others
with my leadership and smile to pass down the gift Vicki left me.
I used to think that death marked an ending, however now I know
that it also marks a new beginning for a new friendship.
Thank you so much for teaching me this valuable lesson
through your book.
Thank you for making me understand how God intended friendship to be.
Sincerely, Claire Wang.
[ Sound effects ]
>> Thank you Claire.
That was wonderful.
>> Claire Wang: Thank you.
>> John: We're going to have Katherine give you a response.
She needs to calm down a bit.
>> Katherine Paterson: I need to calm down.
>> Claire Wang: Thank you.

[ Sound effects ]
>> John: And now I'd like Katherine, Katherine Ann VanKirk
to read here letter to Michael Buckley
and then we will hear from both authors.
[ Sound effects ]
>> Katherine Ann VanKirk: Dear Mr. Michael Buckley:
I would like to tell you about how your series The Sisters Grimm helped
me, but first I think you should know a little bit about me.
I am 12 years old, now 13.
[Laughter] My parents are divorced.
When you think about a divorce you picture two people fighting
and then them getting separated.
Then everything becomes fine.
This is not reality.
I am part of a Lunch Bunch group that is designed
to help kids with problems at home.
I'm the only kid there with divorced parents and I'm not the only kid
in the group that has separated parents.
This reality makes me feel even worse about what happens at home.
Amongst all this is my little sister Caroline.
I don't have a great relationship with my sister.
I mean its okay but it's not the kind
of relationship I would have wished for.
Now that you know a bit about me, I would like to tell you
about how I started reading books.
The first time I read your book was in the spring
of 5th grade, about two years ago.
I finished a book and I was looking for another one.
I asked my librarian and she gave me your fourth book, Once Upon a Curse.
I had no idea that it was in a series.
Of course, I had a few questions, but I dropped them.
One early Wednesday morning, I was in SSR, Sustained Silent Reading
and I found that I didn't have a book to read.
So I decided to look on the cart of books that was there for us to read.
And I found the first book in the series, The Fairytale Detectives.
I was surprised because I had absolutely no idea.
Anyway I checked it out and read it.
It was just as good the fourth book had been.
I continued to read books two, three and four again.
Before school one morning I went to see
if they had book number five and they didn't.
I continued to look for it, but I just couldn't find it.

While I was trying to find the fifth book, I began to think
about the characters in the series.
I thought about how the two sisters get along
and have a blast without their parents.
I realized that these sisters had a strong enough bond
that it didn't make too bad of an impact on them.
I also began to think about this could be similar in my life.
If I had a better relationship with my sister we could work
through what happens and I wouldn't have to hold it in until
that once a month Lunch Bunch.
I knew what I wanted to do.
I wanted to make the relationship I had with my sister better.
The only problem was how would I do it?
I began to brainstorm some ideas of how I could accomplish this.
I noted that Sabrina and Daphne spend a lot of time together.
Caroline and I spent time together, but nearly as much as they did.
I decided to spend more time with her.
After about two weeks had past I began to notice
that we were treating each other differently.
As time went by we got closer and closer.
It was great, but problems still came up.
There was no way we could prevent this but we talked everything
at SM's, secret meetings.
During an SM we would talk about what was bothering us
and what we would do to change it.
These meetings were like my Lunch Bunch meetings
but they were private and overall better.
Now I feel like I could get through anything with my sister.
I never dreamed of having a relationship this strong.
I want to thank you for writing this series.
One thing, which I think you'll happy to hear is that last weekend,
well not last weekend but you know, I found book number five and six.
Sincerely, Katherine Ann Vankirk.
>> John: You want to go first.
>> Katherine Paterson: I asked John Ko to give me a minute
because I think all of us were deeply moved by Claire's letter.
And I didn't have Jerry Spinelli's advantage
of seeing the letter first.
I heard it when you heard it.
I think the thing that struck me in your letter Claire,
was how important friendship is.
And I know in my life I've had to move many times
and have left behind friends
that I thought I could not bear to live without.
And I've lost friends who have died, and at my age more
and more of my friends are dying.
And I think what I've learned through that
and I think what you've learned
through that is how precious friendship is.
And that the fact that we've had those wonderful friendships makes it
possible for us to reach out to other people in a way
that we couldn't have without those friendships.
And I'm very grateful that that's what you learned
from reading Bridge to Terabithia.
You know I always say that the writer doesn't have a right
to tell the reader what to take from a book.
And your teacher doesn't have a right
to tell you what to take from a book.
No one has a right to tell you what the book should mean to you.
But it makes me very happy to know that what you learned
from that book is how precious friendship was
and that you could never turn your back on that.
So thanks so much for your letter.
>> Michael Buckley: Katherine I am a little choked up by your letter
and that's not good because I'm 6' 3"
and people laugh at you when you cry.
[Laughter] One of the things I set out to do
with The Sisters Grimm was tell a very simple message and that is
that the real magic in the world doesn't come from wizards
and magic wands, it comes from family.
And of all the people who have written me letters,
you seem to get that the best.
I'm glad that the book has had a positive impact on your relationship
with your sister and hopefully you can carry that into your adult life.
Because as you get older you'll hear time and time again
that you can pick your friends but you cannot pick your family.
But the true magic of a family is
that everyone is a little bit different,
but they all come together to form one amazing group.
I'm very happy that you get that.
The one thing I would like to say is I get many letters
from kids who enjoy the books.
I never thought that anybody would even read my book when I wrote it,
let alone write me a letter about it.
And it's truly a special treat.
I think that when a writer sits down, well at least some of us,
when we sit down we dream that we're going
to write the next Harry Potter, the next Wimpy Kid and we're just going
to be swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck.

[Laughter] But as you go on in your career as a writer,
at least what I've come across is that the real treasures to me,
the real reward of what I do is fans like you who seem
to understand me even better than I understand myself.
So thank you so much for putting such time and effort into it
and I truly hope that your sister has stopped being such a jerk.
[Laughter] Thank you!

>> John: And Cathy and I on behalf of Letters About Literature wish
to thank both Katherine and Michael, but especially Olivia,
Claire and Katherine Ann for your wonderful letters, for being part
of the sharing experience that we've had about important books
that not only make a difference but of course, are true letters
about literature that affect people and their lives
and also have an effect on the authors and we just --
I would like to call for a round of applause for all five experiment --
all five people in this wonderful experiment.
[Applause] And now to close things
for this year's National Book Festival,
I'm pleased to introduce Dianna Marham
who is the associate librarian for library services
and for our purposes Dianna is actually the director
of the National Book Festival Planning Team
and if anyone deserves a round of applause, Dianna really deserves it.
[Applause] Dianna.

>> Dianna Markham: Thank you John.
Thank you Cathy, thank you authors, thank you writes.
This has been an absolutely wonderful day for all of us
and I can't stop without giving these wonderful Letters
About Literature one more round of applause.
[Applause] They were terrific.
And even though it's hot at least it's been sunny.
We haven't had to endure rain.
We're all very happy.
And so we end this brilliant day on a singularly happy note.
We have come at last to the close of the 10th annual Book Festival.
A fitting conclusion to this delightful celebration
of the good things books do for all of us.
I'd like you to look around at the young people
who are in this room today.
When I see them and I see the festive characters who were
in our poster, and I see that young people are connecting
to these characters and to authors I think back upon my own young life
when I was growing up on a farm I southern Indiana.
And the best thing for me was going to the public library on Saturday.
We went to the grocery store on Saturday
and while my parents bought groceries we were dropped off
at the public library.
There is nothing that compares to the discovery
of books in the public library.

And everyone here has had that same kind of delight,
the freedom to take an amazing journey that costs you no more time
than it takes you to go to your school library
or your public library or the bookstore and pick out a book.
And it's just a marvelous testament to the power of books
to hear what those individual books meant in your lives.
And I think all of us who love books have had
that same kind of experience.
Now it's true that you don't always have to go to the library anymore.
You can download books to your Kindle.
You can download books from your public library.
But you know you can't have an author sign the Kindle book.
[Laughter] And there's something magical
in having the author sign that book too.
I think we all want to give the authors a special round of applause.

[Applause] So this is the 10th anniversary
of the National Book Festival and we chose the theme:
A Decade of Words and Wonder.
And it is the words that bring us the wonder.
Good writers pave the way for avid readers.
Good readers often become good writers.
Books are the links of a chain of knowledge
and enjoyment that never ends.
So all of you in this room please keep reading, keep writing.
Thank you for joining us today and let's go on to the next decade
of the National Book Festival.
We'll see you again right here next year.
And until then, best wishes.
Thank you very much.
>> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress.
Visit us at www.loc.gov.