Letters About Literature Part 4: Correspond, Don’t Compliment

From the Library of
Congress in Washington DC. Hi, I’m Anya Creighney,
and this is the Letters About Literature Video Series. Today we’ll be exploring
some techniques to make your letters both
successful and appealing for the Letters About
Literature program. The Letters About Literature
program is a writing competition for students in grades four through twelve wherein
participants polish their reflective skills
by writing a letter to an author -living or dead-. Students’ letters explain how
an author’s work changed his or her view of themselves
and/or the world. Now, let’s start with
the workshop, shall we? One of the most common
oversights students make while writing for Letters
About Literature, is complimenting the author
instead of corresponding. Let’s look at an example:
I am writing this letter to you as a pleased reader. As I dove into your
book, Sea Jade, I felt both humbled
and inspired. Sometimes I feel confused
at how an author can pack so much emotion into
one small book. It’s like a new world is opened
at just the flipping of a page. Speaking from a future
author’s point of view, I can tell you your book
was a great creation. Yours was truly a wonderful
tale of adventure, excitement, and wonder that I
found incredible. Good job! Keep writing! In the letter we just read,
the student-writer is guilty of complimenting,
instead of corresponding. The letter, dedicated
to Phyllis Whitney, was more a fan letter rather
than a reflective letter about the personal impact
of Ms. Whitney’s book. The key to avoiding this error
is through a reader’s response. This response can describe
many things: new emotions, memories, goals or activities. A reader’s response can also
describe sudden understanding or insight. Identifying your reader’s
response is the first step in your letter writing process. The next step is sharing your
response by explaining it, retelling it, putting
it into your own words. Remember to really develop the
ways the book made you feel and think. Now, let’s look at
another example. I will never forget the night that my grandpa read me almost
every poem that he could find. It was a cool summer night and I was sitting on
the deck with him. Then he read me your
poem, Birches, I instantly fell in love. Your poem is like
a friend to me. When I am stressed out or bored,
I recite a line in your poem that will stick with me forever. Now, whenever I am able to write
anything we want to in school for a project, I write poems. Poems that I share
with my grandpa and that I could one
day share with others. If I had never read your poem,
I wouldn’t have the relationship with my grandpa that I have now. Comparing this excerpt
to the previous excerpt, the difference is clear. The first excerpt focuses
on complimenting the author, while the second
analyzes the book and illustrates the
student-writer’s feelings and experiences. Now, I am going to
leave you with a task: List three books you read at three different
periods of your childhood. Consider, for example, a book
you or a parent read to you when you were seven
years or younger. Then move forward to a book
you read two years later, and finally to a book
you read recently. After you have your list,
answer these questions: How do the books’ characters
and conflicts differ? What did you find
appealing in each book? How do the books you like change
as you changed and grew older? By answering these questions, you are practicing
your reader’s response and you might find a book
and an author to write to! This will be all
for this lesson, hope you have learned how to correspond instead
of compliment! If you have any questions
or doubts, or if you feel like you need more guidance
to reader’s response, feel free to ask your
teachers and librarians. I am sure they are more
than happy to help! For more information on
Letters About Literature, go to www.read.gov/letters. This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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