Writing Contest Winners: 2016 National Book Festival

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC.>>Eun Yang: This marks the
16th year of the festival and the 5th year of the contest,
which would not be possible without the hard work of
all the festival people who are working on it. As I mentioned, Lola and Brianna. And we really want to present
this in a two-part series. First, we want to honor
the winners of A Book that Shaped Me national book
festival summer writing contest and then we will hear from the
winners of letters about literature. It’s the library’s
national writing contest. And in the middle of the program
we’ll be joined by a special guest, so you’ll have to stay
tuned for that. A Book that Shaped Me was launched
by the Library of Congress in 2012 with DC Public Library and has since expanded throughout
the mid-Atlantic region. The contests asks rising 5th and
6th graders to reflect on a book that has shaped their lives, influencing the way they see
themselves, their communities or their world and
books certainly do that. Students entered by writing a one
page essay, which sometimes is hard, you know, you think writing
a 10 page essay is hard try and put all your thoughts in
a compact way is hard as well. And then they submitted in person
to participating public library in Washington, DC, Maryland,
Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania or West Virginia, so
this is a big contest. Over the years nearly 800 essays
have been submitted to the more than 350 public libraries that have
signed up to administer this contest as a part of their
summer reading programs. The essays are then judged
by the American Association of School Librarians and later by a grand prize panel
of judges, tough job. And of course, one of
the people that had that very tough is Fred
Bowen who joins us now. He is a sports writer for the
Washington Post Kids Post. We love the Kids Post
in my house too Fred. And he’s been one of the grand prize
judges since the contest began. This year A Book that Shaped
Me received nearly 300 entries, I love that. And today we bring you 30
finalists and state winners and our three grand
prize winners as well who will then read their
winning essays on this stage. I’m going to read the names of the
finalists by state and then Lola and Brianna will hand them
their certificates and awards as they come to the stage. Okay get ready now. From the District of Columbia through its DC Public
Library locations. Now listen a name like Eun Yang
I get a lot of mispronunciation, so please forgive me if I
don’t get your name perfect. I apologize in advance. Atalia Berger from
Southeast Library. Come on up. Noah Antonio Dooley, the Watha T.
Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library. Lila Easton, the Northeast Library. Mason Gray, Martin Luther
King Jr. Memorial Library. Mason was also 2015 DC winner, so
Mason welcome back, congratulations. And the district winner for 2016, Abigail Kelso from
Chevy Chase library. [ Applause ] So we’re going to take
picture of all of you together. All right, well done. Congratulations. And right now we’re
going to go to Virginia. Come this way, come on. Watch your step, watch
your step, come down. We’re going to go to Virginia. Alexia De Costa from
Arlington Public Library who was the 2015 grand prize
winner, welcome back Alexia. Shelly Dimri from the
Arlington Public Library. Malayeka Khan the Prince
William Public Library, Chinn Park Regional Library. Viktor Vollen, the Mary
Riley Styles Public Library. And the Virginia winner
Isla Rodriguez from the Richmond Public
Library, Ginter Park Library. Congratulations to all of
you winners, congratulations. [ Applause ] All right, thank you
Virginia winners. Watch your step. All right, we’re going
to move on to Delaware. Molly Amerling from the
Frankford Public Library of Sussex County Department
of Libraries come on up. Emily Carpenter of the
Dover Public Library. Lucy Goodwin, Newcastle County
Libraries, the Hockessin Library. Lucy can’t be here today. Lauren Woods, Newcastle
County Libraries as well Lauren also
could not be with us. And the Delaware winner
Rachel Smookler from the Newcastle County Library’s
Brandywine Hundred Library. Congratulations, congratulations
to you all. You came from Delaware? Awesome, congrats. [ Applause ] All right, now we have the finalists
from Pennsylvania, how about that? Lindsey Baldwin from the
Western Pocono Community Library. Brenna Pipkin from the
Lititz Public Library. Gabrielle Stawski from the
Wissahickon Valley Public Library System, I hope that’s right. Sebastien Weaver, Montgomery
County Norristown Public Library. And the Pennsylvania winner is
Mikayla Phasufong, Phasufong, Phasupong sorry, Citizen’s Library. Congratulations. [ Applause ] All right, winners
congratulations to all of you. [ Applause ] I want to go to the
Maryland libraries now. The finalists from all
Montgomery County public schools. Zoe Antonishek from the
Poolesville Library. Thomas Preston Berry-Mike
from the Aspen Hill Library. Grace Harvey from the
Bethesda Library. Swathi Sevugan from the
Prince Orchard Library. And the Maryland winner this
year is Julia Lucy Grumet from the Bethesda Library. [ Applause ] Congratulations. Congratulations. [ Applause ] All right, now for the West
Virginians all of whom are from the Martinsburg Public Library of the Martinsburg Berkeley
County Public Library system. Sierra N. Diebert. [ Applause ] Christien Janvier Morel. [ Applause ] Declan Mungovan. Declan was also 2015 winner. Nessan Mungovan and
yes they’re brothers and they won the prior contest,
very smart Mungovans, love it. The West Virginia winner
this year is Alexia Rahl. [ Applause ] Congratulations. How do you say your
name, what’s your name?>>Mungovan.>>Eun Yang: Mungovan,
it’s Mungovan I’m sorry, the Mungovans I knew I was
going to get them wrong. Can we just give all
our wonderful finalists and state winners a
big round of applause? We mentioned there were hundreds
of entries, hundreds of entries and you all did such a wonderful job and we just appreciate you
taking the time to write. Keep on reading, keep on writing,
it’s just a wonderful thing to do. You know, I was talking
about my kids. The boys, the two older
boys like math and I just can’t help
them with that. I’m like if you want
to write essays, then I can help you
that was my thing. So I’m hoping they’ll come
around to like writing as much as they love reading. Well the state and grand
prize winners were selected from 30 finalists by a panel
of judges as we mentioned, selected by the Library of Congress
that included children’s authors, educators, library staff and
as we introduced you earlier, Fred Bowen has written 21 sports
themed books for children. He has been involved since the
start of A Book that Shaped Me and is here today to introduce
the 2016 grand prize winners. Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome Fred Bowen. [ Applause ]>>Fred Bowen: Thank you, that’s
right my name is Fred Bowen and yes, I have written 21 sports books
that combine sports fiction, sports history and
there’s always a chapter of sports history at the back. And I also write a weekly kid sports
column for the Washington Post. But what I’m very proud
that I’ve been doing for the last five years is
I’ve been one of the judges in A Book that Shaped Me. And one of things and that means
you read quite a few essays and one of the things I have noticed over the years we are not only
getting more essays we are getting better essays. The kids do a wonderful job. In fact, I’m starting
to get a little nervous because I think there’s going
to be a lot of competition out there with book writers. But I don’t do this
all by myself I’d like to see if anybody is out there. We have my fellow judges
Maria Salvador is she out there and Rachel Walker. There she is back there
let’s give them a hand. [ Applause ] Also helping us this year was
Jason Reynolds who’s a wonderful, wonderful author who will
actually be speaking here at 4:45. So if you can hang around really
stay he’s a wonderful author and I would encourage
everybody to see him speak. And I also would encourage
everybody to read his excellent and very timely book
All-American Boys. Now what we’re going to do
is we’ll present the awards for the grand prize winners. I’m going to introduce the winners,
then they will read their essays and then I’ll ask them a few
questions about their essay. First, Mikayla Phasupong of
Citizen’s Library who wrote on the Sneetches by the
wonderful Dr. Seuss. Would you please come up? [ Applause ] Mikayla is the third
place grand prize winner and the Pennsylvania State winner. So step up to the microphone
and read everybody your essay.>>Mikayla Phasupong: As a
small child my mom read a story to me numerous times. I never knew that it would
change me for the better. Now I read it to my
younger siblings. The book that shaped me is
the Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. It may be silly that a story written for small children is a
book which has shaped me. However, the Sneetches teach people
valuable lessons about equality and diversity that
even adults may need to be reminded of once in a while. This story starts off with bird-like
creatures some have stars upon their bellies and some don’t. For some reason the star
belly sneetches feel that they are superior to
the plain belly sneetches. The star belly sneetches
leave out the plain-bellies from their fun and games. Even the children were not permitted to play games unless there
was a star upon their stomach. Then one day a fix-it-up
chappie comes along with an odd yet one of a kind machine. For a small fee the machine
put a star on the stomach of a plain belly sneetch. Of course, the star
bellies lined up thrilled. They all thought about how they
had a chance to be special. When the star bellies found out
about the plain belly sneetches and their stars they
were very unhappy. So that fix-it-up chappie
made another odd yet one-of-a-kind machine. This one took off their
stars from their stomachs. So of course, the star belly
sneetches went through. They had to stay different so
that they could remain superior. But the plain belly sneetches and
the star belly sneetches went round and round, in again, out again
until no one knew who was who. Finally, they came to realize that they were all equal
regardless of their stars. That day all the sneetches
forgot about their stars and whether they had
one or not upon Mars. The Sneetches was published in 1961. This was during the Civil Rights
Movement, which eventually ended in the segregation of blacks. Dr. Seuss also served in the United
States Army during World War 2 in which many Jews
tragically lost their lives. It is safe to say that Dr. Seuss
witnessed his fair share of racism, discrimination and overall
struggles for equality. I believe Dr. Seuss used the stars
in his story as a symbol of race, religion, gender, disability
and any other characteristics which may have made us
different from one another. Those stars weren’t so
big, they weren’t really so small you might think such
a thing wouldn’t matter at all. Dr. Seuss one wanted his readers
young and adult to realize that we are all equal
regardless of our stars. This story shaped me because
I learned early to be kind to others regardless of their stars. After all, our stars are what
makes every one of us unique. Our stars most certainly
should not divide us apart. I learned from this book that
we need to be kind to each other and accept each other’s differences. If each of us could be a
little kinder to one another and celebrate our differences the
world would be a much better place. Even just a simple smile or a wave
hello could help make one person’s day brighter. They might even pass it on. Step-by-step our kind heartedness and compassion can shape
the world for the better. I am thankful that my mom read
this story to me as a young child. It has made me a better
person and more aware of how I treat other people. I would like to thank Dr.
Seuss for writing this story with such a valuable lesson. Has this story shaped you? [ Applause ]>>Fred Bowen: Well
that was wonderful. Dr. Seuss has written lots of books. Now have you read other books,
is he one of your favorites?>>Mikayla Phasupong: Yes.>>Fred Bowen: Oh okay, can you
remember any of the favorites of Dr. Seuss because I
remember the one that I love and that is Horton Hatches
the Egg did you ever?>>Mikayla Phasupong: Yeah.>>Fred Bowen: Read that one?>>Mikayla Phasupong: Uh-hm.>>Fred Bowen: Right I remember
that what it was that Horton says, he says I meant what I said and I said what I meant an
elephant’s faithful 100%. Now what other Dr. Seuss books
did you enjoy, do you remember?>>Mikayla Phasupong:
Green Eggs and Ham. I think he has a newer book
out I forget the title.>>Fred Bowen: Oh yeah, where you’ll
go or stuff like that all right. Now your mom reads to you or
did you say you now read to one of your younger siblings?>>Mikayla Phasupong:
My mom read that to me as a child and now I read it to.>>Fred Bowen: Oh and
you still remember it. Well you gave a wonderful reading
of the essay that was just terrific. Thank you. [ Applause ] Now would Julia Lucy Grumet of
Montgomery County Public Libraries, in fact Bethesda Library which
I go to many times who wrote about the Lightning
Thief by Rick Riordan. Please come up. [ Applause ]>>Eun Yang: A deep breath.>>Fred Bowen: Take a
deep breath all right. All right. Right up to the microphone.>>Julia Lucy Grumet:
What should I move it?>>Fred Bowen: Why don’t we do this?>>Julia Lucy Grumet: Okay.>>Fred Bowen: Pull
it a little bit up. Maybe like that, step right up.>>Julia Lucy Grumet: So first
I would like to thank everybody who supported me and helped
me to write this essay. To most people the Lightning Thief
is mainly about people fighting — to most people the
Lightning Thief is mainly about people fighting monsters
and going on magical quests. I’m not saying that’s false I’m
just saying there’s more to it. A year before I read the
Lightning Thief I was diagnosed with attention deficit
hyper disorder ADHD. The diagnosis made me feel
lonely like I was the only person in the world who had ADHD. It made me feel insecure. Then I read the Lightning Thief. When I first learned Percy the
main character had ADHD I wanted to put the book down, I did not like
the sound of that word in my head or the fact that I had it. Those letters on the
page bothered me. It seems as if the letters were
in caps lock just to catch my eye. I remembered staring at it for a
minute and almost closing the book. Later in the book when I figured out another character Annabeth
also had ADHD I felt even more uncomfortable than before. I felt exposed and as if by reading
the book everybody would realize that I had ADHD. Eventually I began
to get used to it. Then seeing the word on the book
made me want to keep reading it. Almost all of the amazing characters
had ADHD, especially the demigods. The book taught me that ADHD
could be a gift not a punishment. The book was inspiring and it showed
me all the great things about ADHD. The Lightning Thief made
having ADHD sound awesome. It describes what it
is and its advantages. For example, Annabeth
talks about it saying and the ADHD you’re impulsive, you
can’t sit still in a classroom, that’s your battle reflexes in a
regular fight they’d keep you alive. Percy, the main character,
is impulsive but heroic, fidgety but quick. The other kids in my class who
were reading the book wanted ADHD. After reading the Lightning
Thief I felt more confident about having ADHD. In school I felt less embarrassed
and it helped me feel more similar to the other kids in my class. These relations helped
me make more friends because I was no longer afraid that
people would find out about my ADHD. I felt braver which made
it easier to raise my hand and participate in
class discussions. Annabeth is good at putting clues
together to figure out a puzzle. For example, she realizes
that a woman in glasses who make sculptures
is actually Medusa. In reading class I’m aware
of my creative instincts and ability to see relationships. Like Annabeth this creative thinking
leads me to predict plot twists and understand what motivates
different characters. The Lightning Thief helped
me realize the gifts of ADHD, including the quick reaction
time which assists me with soccer and baseball since my
reflexes are swift. ADHD also helps my reaction times in science class when
I make connections. For example, when we
were programming robots to navigate a simple maze
I was able to use evidence from the previous robot challenge to quickly calculate
how to program my robot. This is similar to when
Annabeth was successful in playing a virtual city
game in the lotus casino. The Lightning Thief made
it obvious that lots of people in the world have ADHD. I’m not alone. Having ADHD has a bright side. This book shaped me to become
a more confident person and accept every part of myself. [ Applause ]>>Fred Bowen: So after you read the
book now do you tell your friends that you have ADHD now that
you’ve told all these people, it doesn’t seem like
it bothers you anymore?>>Julia Lucy Grumet: No, not
really I kind of got over it.>>Fred Bowen: Yeah
you kind of got — it does seem like you got over it. One thing I was wondering is
the book is a fantasy book, do you like fantasy books?>>Julia Lucy Grumet: Yeah.>>Fred Bowen: All
right now I don’t, so explain to me why fantasy books
are so cool kind of like ADHD right?>>Julia Lucy Grumet: Okay, so fantasy books I find them
more interesting no offense because like you can have anything
happen like a hippopotamus can ride on a unicorn and it’s totally okay. But in nonfiction that
won’t be true, therefore, I like fiction better.>>Fred Bowen: All right,
well I can see that. In fact, I think you’ve
convinced me.>>Julia Lucy Grumet: Thank you.>>Fred Bowen: You may
have convinced me to go out and buy some fantasy
books all right. You’ve done a great job, thank you. [ Applause ] Great job. All right, would Rachel Smookler
from Newcastle County Libraries and she wrote on Jack
and Louisa Act One by Andrew Keenan-Bolger
and Kate Wetherhead. Please come up. [ Applause ]>>Rachel Smookler: How Jack
and Louisa Act 1 shaped me. As the lights came up
I saw the blurred faces of the audience staring at
me in the bright spotlight. As I exhaled all of my
nervousness whooshed out of me like a deflating balloon. When I inhaled excitement
took its place as I prepared to sing the first note
of the opening song. This was the beginning of act one. Last summer I never could have
imagined myself performing in front of hundreds of people. At my old school my
classmates labeled me as the shy girl who barely talked. My family was moving over the
summer from Maryland to Delaware and my main goal was to change
that label at my new school. After the move books were
my best and only friends. Like a rabbit hiding from the
world in its hole I stayed in my room and shut out the world. Jack and Louisa Act 1
by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead
helped me out of my hole. When I started reading
this book all of my sadness and loneliness flew away like
birds flying free in the wind. I was transported on
stage singing a song from into the woods
with Jack and Louisa. In the book Jack reluctantly moved
from exciting New York City life as a Broadway actor to a
boring suburban life in Ohio. He missed all of the familiar
activities in New York, such as picnicking in Central Park and eating ice-cream
on the Hudson River. After moving I felt — he was
also sad not to attend 7th grade at the Professional
Performing Arts School. After moving I felt the same way. I missed my favorite
Maryland activities, such as eating mint
chocolate chip ice-cream at the Annapolis Ice-cream Company,
enjoying the beach with friends and devouring blue crabs at
local seafood restaurants. Jack and Louisa Act 1 helped me
to feel less alone since it was about another kid going through
the same challenges as me. Reading the book also made
me curious about Broadway. I started looking up songs from
musicals and listening to them. Soon I became what Louisa
calls a musical theater nerd, someone who is obsessed
with musical theater. I dusted off my mom’s
old Secret Garden CD. When I listened I immediately
fell in love with the mysterious ghostly songs. My parents got so tired of me
playing the soundtrack nonstop that they begged me to
turn it off just like Jack and Louisa’s parents did whenever
they played Into the Woods. When winter arrived the
opportunity to change my label and explore my interest in
musical theater came along. I mustered every bit
of courage I had and auditioned for
my school’s musical. By then I had made many
friends besides Jack and Louisa at my new school. I even encouraged some of my
friends to audition with me. With the courage that Jack
and Louisa gave me I felt like I could do anything. When my turn to audition came I
felt all my nervousness disappear. That weekend I was thrilled to find
out I was cast as the narrator. I knew that I had achieved
my goal to change my label. I wasn’t a shy girl
who had lost her voice, but an actress whose voice will be
heard throughout a large auditorium. My school’s musical was a success and before the curtain fell
I gave Jack and Louisa a bow in my imagination for
helping me in so many ways. This book helped me to find
and explore my new passion for musical theater and to learn
that change can bring new adventures and exciting opportunities. It also gave me the courage to
show the world my true self. [ Applause ]>>Fred Bowen: Well that
was wonderful Rachel. Now I don’t know much about
the book and I don’t know much about musical theater, but we do
have two people in the audience who know a great deal
about the book. Because the authors,
Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead are
here and they were thrilled about you winning the contest. So I think we should have them come
up and ask the questions of Rachel. [ Applause ]>>Kate Wetherhead:
That was wonderful.>>Andrew Keenan-Bolger:
That was amazing.>>Kate Wetherhead: What do we
do we ask the questions here?>>Fred Bowen: Yeah go
ahead what’s the question?>>Kate Wetherhead: Hi,
congratulations that was beautiful.>>Rachel Smookler: Thank you.>>Andrew Keenan-Bolger: I know that
this competition is called a Book that Shaped You, but honestly as
authors you stare at a blank screen and you never can really know
what the impact is going to be. And so getting to be here and
seeing this it really is the prize for us as well. It’s really, really generous.>>Kate Wetherhead: Yeah
and congratulations to all of the winners today, it’s
just a thrill for us to be here and to celebrate with you and the two other essays were
just fantastic, so congrats. So we’re supposed to ask
you some questions I guess. What was the name of
the show that you did that you were the narrator for?>>Rachel Smookler: Aladdin Junior.>>Kate Wetherhead: Awesome.>>Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Cool.>>Kate Wetherhead: Do you know
that this guy was in Aladdin at one point, you did a
production of Aladdin?>>Andrew Keenan-Bolger:
Yeah, indeed.>>Kate Wetherhead: And so okay.>>Rachel Smookler: I
didn’t know about that.>>Kate Wetherhead: So tell us now
— first of all, I’m so proud of you for facing your fears,
that’s such a big deal. What is it now about performing
that you like the best?>>Rachel Smookler: I like
singing it’s just like I love music and I love singing with my mom
and we both just loving singing, so it’s really fun for
me and for her too so.>>Kate Wetherhead: Awesome.>>Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Now
Jack and Louisa it’s a book about friendship I think mostly
and especially about an outsider who meets that one friend
who has a shared passion that really it changes the game. Did you feel like when you moved
to your new place that there was that one friend who really
changed your life and if you want to give a shout out
to them right now?>>Rachel Smookler: Yeah,
I met a lot of friends, but after I auditioned the
musical I met a girl name Neve and we just both really,
really love Broadway and we like singing it together and it was
just really great to have her so.>>Kate Wetherhead: I have
one last question and that is when are you going to
come visit us in New York?>>Rachel Smookler: I am trying — I am in the process of trying to
get my parents to let me see a show on Broadway for my birthday so.>>Andrew Keenan-Bolger:
Well you need to hit us up because chances are
we can find some way to bring you backstage of that show.>>Kate Wetherhead: Yeah.>>Andrew Keenan-Bolger:
And parents, I feel like this would
be a really nice reward for writing such a beautiful essay.>>Kate Wetherhead:
Yeah, no pressure but.>>Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Hint,
hint her birthday’s coming up. Thank you so much Rachel.>>Kate Wetherhead: Yeah, thank you.>>Rachel Smookler: Bye, bye. Thank you.>>Congratulations.>>Eun Yang: Congratulations,
oh my gosh. What just happened
between Kate and Andrew and Rachel is why the National Book
Festival is as wonderful as it is. What a special moment and when
people books change lives it’s not just something we say. These essays that were
just written read by these wonderful finalists just
evidence of how they change lives and how they impact I hope every
single one of us in the audience. Thank you so much for your beautiful
writing and for sharing with us. Can we give another
round of applause? Thank you so much. What a wonderful surprise, thank
you for being here, it’s go great. All right, so I believe
we also have someone here from the Delaware division of
libraries who traveled up here to also congratulate you. Is Patty Langley here? Is Patty here? Oh thank you for coming. Can you stand up to be
recognized, thank you for coming? Thank you Fred and you
have fans in my house. I know they like fantasy okay. We have a very special guest
with us this afternoon. Carla Hayden is the new
Librarian of Congress. [ Applause ] And as today we celebrated
the opening of the Smithsonian’s National
Museum of African-American History and Culture which was
such a momentous occasion. Here is a woman who is also making
history she is the first woman and the first African-American
to hold this position. [ Applause ] Carla Hayden please join us
on the stage and we also want to invite the grand prize
winners and the state winners and all the finalists afterwards
to join us for a group photo. But we want to also make sure that we capture this
wonderful moment together. Do you want to have them come up? Do you want to come up right
now all the grand prize winners, the state winners, and the
finalists so we can take a picture?>>Fred Bowen: Thank you guys. [ Applause ]>>Eun Yang: Aren’t you glad you
stayed because now we’re going to go to the second portion of our
program which celebrates the Letters About Literature Youth
Writing Contest. And here to tell us more
about this is Pam Jackson, the Director of the Center for the
Book at the Library of Congress. Pam. [ Applause ]>>Pam Jackson: Good afternoon. So thank you, it’s a pleasure to be
here and to celebrate youth literacy in such a fun and exciting way. The Letters About Literature program
is a reading and writing contest for students in grades 4 through 12. Students are asked to read a book,
poem or a speech and to write to the author about how the
book affected them personally. And letters are judged on
state and national levels. More than 50,000 students from
across the country enter Letters About Literature each year. Teachers and librarians support
the process and receive training and guidance to fulfill the
intentions of the program. So as we begin to celebrate
the winners of this year’s contest allow me to
say more about our special guest, Carla Hayden, who was sworn
in as the new Librarian of Congress just 10 days ago. [ Applause ] What a way to begin
her work — her tenure. So she’s a former children’s
librarian and most recently at Enoch Pratt Free Library
in Baltimore as its CEO for more than two decades. And she brings with her a level of
energy and excitement for reading and knowledge and she
has a particular passion for so many aspects
of the work we do. So we’re thrilled to
have her with us today to honor all the youth
participants in the writing contest and to share her thoughts about
the importance of reading. Carla Hayden.>>Carla Hayden: Thank you. Congratulations to all the
winners and to everyone that entered the writing
contest, A Book that Shaped Me and Letters About Literature. I have to tell you as I was
listening to our winners talk about the books that shape
me I thought about the book that did shape me, it
was called Bright April and I was seven years old. And I walked into a storefront
library across from PS96 in Jamaica, Queens and I don’t know who put this
book in my hand, but somebody knew that a little brown
girl with pigtails who and I don’t think they knew I was
a brownie would love a book called Bright April. Because I saw myself in that book
and even to this day whenever I see that book and I have a copy I
hug it and I smile because I knew if I could see myself in a book that was something I
wanted to share with others. Now more than a million of
students participated in the Library of Congress Letters
About Literature contest and we are especially grateful to the supporters Dollar
General Literacy Foundation for their support two
years in a row. Tonight and today and this
festival has been a whirlwind. We are celebrating people
and young people who write about what books mean to them. And so we’re going to bring up
the winners and hear from them. Are you going to do it? [ Inaudible Comment ] I think it was mentioned that I’ve
only been sworn in for 10 days.>>I would defer it to
the Librarian of Congress.>>Carla Hayden: However, I
have used this opportunity to be new to say, can I do that.>>Yes.>>Carla Hayden: Can I do that. So I just happen to have
the list of the winners.>>Yes.>>Carla Hayden: And I’m
going to take privilege. I might not be able to do
this a hundred days from now. But I’d like to be able because I
see your name was there [inaudible].>>Oh no, I want [inaudible].>>Carla Hayden: To announce
the national winners of Letters About Literature contest. First, Aleema Kelly
from Connecticut, level one national winner for 4
through 6 grade reading a portion of her letter to Alex Gino
about the book George.>>Aleema Kelly: Hello.>>Hi.>>Aleema Kelly: Almost
everybody left okay. Dear Alex Gino, your book George
has inspired me in many ways. It got me thinking about
how life is not fair, especially to specific groups of people I hadn’t have really
ever thought about before, people that are unable
to really be themselves. It also inspired me
to be true to myself and not let anyone’s expectations or
judgments make me change who I am. Your book made me think more about how life can pose
totally unexpected problems that are very hard to deal with. George was born in a boy’s body, but
he feels like he’s really a girl. He worried whether his own mom
would still love and accept him for who he felt he
really was if he told her. He couldn’t be himself with friends
and classmates, which caused him to limit his friends to only one. People shouldn’t have to be scared
of what people think of them, especially their own family members. In your book when George
told his mom he felt like a girl she couldn’t accept it. Mothers are supposed to
love you no matter what even if you aren’t what they
hoped you would be. When I thought about that I realized when George’s mom didn’t
accept him he sort of shut down and he became discouraged. After I read this book I thought
about how it’s not a bad thing if a girl says that she’s a tomboy
and she can enjoy the outdoors, run, climb and like sports, and the
more traditional boy colors like blue and green. A tomboy is usually seen
as a positive trait. On the other hand, if a boy says
that he wants to do ballet, sewing, playing with dolls
or that he likes pink or purple he’ll risk being teased
and not being accepted by others. I don’t think that’s fair
and it doesn’t make sense. If a boy wants to go and play
dress-up they are limited as to what they can
get dressed up as without being called names
or being made fun of. They can wear a pirate costume or
be a superhero, but if they wanted to wear princess costume or
something girly they will be thought of something less than a boy. I even thought about how sometimes
if a boy doesn’t want to fight with someone and they
want to resolve the issue with words they will
be thought of a wimp because they don’t want to fight. Boys are not supposed
to cry or show emotion, but they are supposed to act tough. That seems so ridiculous
because everyone has emotions and everyone should be able to feel
and show all of their emotions. I also thought about how
many people like George have to live their life scared of
what people will think of them. Forced to hold in this really
big secret their whole life. I thought about how
there was a whole issue about Bruce Jenner Caitlin Jenner
having lived his whole life hiding a big secret for many decades because
of what other people would think. Even though Bruce Jenner was famous,
accomplished, rich and admired by millions he still had to struggle
with what people would think of him for 60 years before he
let out his big secret. If that was so hard for a world-famous athlete it made
me realize how much harder it would be for a child like George to have
such a huge secret in middle school that they couldn’t share with anyone because even their parents may not
understand or accept their feelings. After reading this book I gave
my friends a list of words and asked them to tell me if each
word described boys or girls. The words like blue, green, sports,
science, math, writing, computers, building, getting in trouble, scary,
fighting, teasing, driving fast, inventing and exploring were ones
most people said described a boy. The words Barbie, dresses, hair,
stylish, worried about appearance, quiet, giggling, using correct
grammar, getting along, clubs, driving safely, fancy
clothes, being helpful, pink, purple and following
rules were ones most of my friends chose
as describing a girl. I thought that in a way
society brainwashes us as if everybody should
fit into the boy and girl boxes that they created. I thought of how many people
think that they will be judged because they don’t fit in
with society’s expectations. Society tells us we want to
need to be normal to fit in. I thought about parents and even
my parents how some were brought up to believe these things. Most of the kids that make
fun of people who think, act or look differently are
doing what they have been taught by society and by their
parents who also believe in some of society’s expectations. I believe that it is time that
we change these expectations. We know now that a person’s physical
body does not determine who they are or who they like or what
they like or how they feel. Ever since I read your book I’ve
been more confident in myself and I’ve been trying to put myself in other people’s shoes
before I speak. Your book helped me better
understand how people would feel when they can’t be themselves. I think your book helped
me become a better person, someone who will stand up for people
who are being put down and someone who will accept others
as they want to be. I haven’t found any other book that
talks about this issue of a teenager who feels like they don’t belong
in the body they were born with. It made me realize that not only
should kids be reading your book, but so should adults and parents because even though change
is scary no one should have to feel afraid to be themselves. Thank you Alex Gino, your book
led me to have many discussions with my librarian, my
parents and my friends. Your book and the issues
it raised helped me someone who is more supportive of people
who face serotypes like the ones in your book, about who people
are, how they should act. Your book made me realize that
maybe I can help the next George be accepted throughout their life and
I can also help the next mother of George better accept their
child if they have that challenge. I want to make sure that the
next Bruce Jenner can be Caitlin from the beginning when
they first feel that way. I don’t want anyone to have to live
their whole life hiding the secret of not feeling the gender
that the doctor told them that they were born with. Your book made me want to help
others accept themselves and others without prejudice or
any stereotypes. Finally, your book made me realize
how lucky I am to be comfortable with myself and feel like I belong
in my own skin and to have parents and friends who support
me just as I am. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: Here’s your award
they’re going to take your picture. I’m going to ask you a question
do you want to answer it?>>Aleema Kelly: Sure.>>Carla Hayden: Well
I really get to — this is wonderful to get
to ask you a question. So I wanted to be a shortstop
and was told that might not be such a good idea not
because I didn’t have talent. Have you ever been told
that you can’t do something? You can step up to the mic.>>Aleema Kelly: I think one time that I have been told I couldn’t
do something is I was trying to start a business of selling
sweets and baking things. And I sold stuff at a festival that
my dad like runs at Trinity College and I sold stuff for like a year. And then when I told the people
at my school and I started — I asked the principal if I
could do like a bake sale at our school he said yes, but
then my teacher she didn’t want me to be selling things or
doing things because she said that it wasn’t appropriate for.>>Carla Hayden: Oh appropriate.>>Aleema Kelly: Yeah.>>Carla Hayden: I know that word.>>Aleema Kelly: For kids
to be selling things.>>Carla Hayden: I know I’ve
been told that’s not appropriate. I had to look it up the first time. And what are you reading now that’s
what I’m really interested in too?>>Aleema Kelly: I am reading
a book called Empire Storms by Sarah J. Maas yeah.>>Carla Hayden: What’s it about.>>Aleema Kelly: It is like
the 7th book in that series so I can’t tell you guys too
much because it’ll be a spoiler.>>Carla Hayden: Yeah don’t.>>Aleema Kelly: So it is
about a girl and she is — oh I can’t tell you guys that. But she in the first book she is in
like a slave camp called Endovier and they have to mine salt. And then the prince calls her in to
work for the king as an assassin. And so she has to try
to get out of that.>>Carla Hayden: Yeah
I think she should.>>Aleema Kelly: In the first book. Yeah.>>Carla Hayden: Yeah, yeah. Well thank you so much
and thank you for sharing. [ Applause ] So I said oh now you can
announce the next one and she said oh, you can do it. I don’t think it would be fair. See that’s not appropriate,
but that’s okay. Now for the national
winner at level two for 7th through 8th grade Raya Kenney from
Washington, DC reading a portion of her letter to Maya Angelou
about the poem Old Folks Laugh. [ Applause ] No, no it’s about the poem.>>Raya Kenney: Oh, okay. Hello. Dear Maya Angelou, Old
Folks Laugh how true it is. I love to watch their
cloudy eyes crinkle at the edges and lift just a little. I like to see the spirit
come again to their face. I like to watch their drooping
cheek lift towards the skies. When old folks laugh they
free the world you wrote in your poem Old Folks Laugh and I
couldn’t lift my eyes from the page. Someone like you who can take
something that seems so big, but make it as big
in words as it feels in my heart becomes
an inspiration to me. Every Thursday I volunteer
at a seniors’ home. For nearly two years I have worked
on the third floor with the people who have worsening cases of
dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s hard to watch sometimes as their memory seems
to flow away like water. Oh but how I love to see them laugh. It’s as if they drank a
tall glass of their memories and everything came back. Some days it’s fine and they
remember nearly everything, but other days it’s do I know you. Your poem seems so selfless you
describe the elders perfectly with the right touch of play. You sound as though you
have watched carefully as their smile becomes a giggle
and then a full-fledged laugh. You have really helped
me notice the details. Last week at the seniors’ home I
noticed how the seniors’ pants are often a little too big
and a little too baggy. I have noticed their
yellowing teeth, their scratchy polyester
sweaters and their crooked feet as they struggle with their walkers. I have noticed the fated interior
of their rooms and the pictures that memorialize their past
scotch-taped to their walls. Through the richness of your
descriptions I have noticed things such as how each elder
has their own laugh. Jane in her wheelchair tends to
lightly titter while Rosemary who likes to sew tends
to daintily snort. Robert likes a deep belly laugh where sometimes he
can’t catch his breath and you have to pat him on the back. You have made me realize
just how much soul they have. I like to watch as the
old folks laugh mostly because it makes me happy
watching each person be reminded of the incredible parts
of their life. I like to think I share
with you the tendency to appreciate the small
things, but then again, it isn’t really a small thing
when the elderly laugh to you and I it is like a bar of gold. The old folks generously
forgive life for happening to them you wrote. Though your poem describes old
people laughing I think the content is covering a deeper meaning. It made me realize the
stories behind their smiles and the meaning behind their laughs. Robert might like to
laugh as much as he does because once he was in the war. Through the desperation
— the Great War. Through the desperation,
death and horror he and his friends needed a way to
find happiness among the bleak days. Jane grew up in a proper society where laughing too hard
was considered improper and so she titters rather
than actually laughing. Some days it’s like my elderly
friends and I are riding on top of a wave on an oncoming laugh. Those are the best days. Since reading your poem, however, I have also noticed the
ones who don’t laugh. I have quite shocked by the fact. I’ll say something funny or
one or two might smile a little and one might giggle, but the
rest won’t even turn up their lip. I try to convince myself that they
still feel well enough to laugh and they simply don’t
find me that funny. But I know in my heart of hearts
they have forgotten how to laugh. I try to figure out a way to
teach them again for it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. Because of this in many ways
reading your poem has inspired me to be a better caretaker of the old and helped me see strength
in their fragility. Knowing how delicate they are and how much life they
have already lived and how many laughs they
have already laughed and how many stories they have lived to tell makes me feel more
appreciation for them. Your poem though it describes how
the elderly laugh not only has opened my eyes to their thoughts and
feelings, but it has also caused me to think about how they have lived and how their stories
have affected them. I’m around these incredible
people a lot and I’m very grateful to spend time with them because
I know they have lot of wisdom to teach me despite
their failing memories. Thank you for writing
Old Folks Laugh. You have helped me notice
and appreciate the stories and small things both
with the elders and the simplicities
of everyday life. Your poem relates to me so
much that it makes me smile to know I’m not the only one
to find pleasure in old folks. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: Can I
ask you a question or two?>>Raya Kenney: Sure.>>Carla Hayden: I think we can all
agree that Maya Angelou is smiling. When you are talking and
this lady is showing me how to be appropriate again. [ Inaudible Comment ] Okay and as usual I’m working on it. I love to know do you
ever hear them — someone tell you a story while
you’re there or working with them?>>Raya Kenney: Yeah they tell
lots of stories, some of them true and some of them not true.>>Carla Hayden: Oh how do you know? But you enjoying hearing
the ones they tell?>>Raya Kenney: Yeah, a lot.>>Carla Hayden: So does it
make you want to write more?>>Raya Kenney: Yes.>>Carla Hayden: In
different poetry or?>>Raya Kenney: I have written
a lot of poems about old people and I should write a story.>>Carla Hayden: I think
you might want to do that. Well thank for sharing your
thoughts and as I said, we thank you for Maya Angelou.>>Raya Kenney: Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: Well
I get to do another one and for the national winner
at level three for 9th through 12th grade Sarah Lurie from
Colorado reading from her letter to Dorothy Parker about
her book Penelope. [ Applause ]>>Sarah Lurie: Dear Dorothy Parker,
the other night I sat with my family around the dinner table
reminiscing and telling old stories. My grandma told one about the
time when mom was eight years old and wanted to play the flute. The story goes my grandma went down
to the music store to rent a flute, but the salesman told her she
needed a man to sign the contract. Being a single mother she asked
her father to go to the music store and sign the papers verifying the
$2.50 bill would indeed be paid each month. I was shocked that such a relatively
short time ago women were not trusted to make a small
simple payment. In my life there’s some
pretty amazing people, but my grandma stands out as
one of the most extraordinary. When my mom and her
siblings were young — when they were young children
their dead left them leaving the protection and care in
the hands of my grandma. She managed to raised four kids,
maintain a stable job, a house and all that one needs to be happy. She was successful on her own
with no male figure by her side. Not to say there weren’t
hard days, even hard years, but in the end my grandma was
still a hero and still is today. Even now at 77 years
old she is the director of a Lifelong Learning
Institute for Elders. She is such an incredible and unique
human being because of her ability to be a strong empowered
woman in the face of hardship. When I read your poem Penelope not
only did my grandma come to mind, but the potential power
of all women did. This extraordinary poem has
altered my perception of the role of women figures in the
traditional male hero stories and in my own life. As I grow older, it has
become apparent that the world around me struggles
with gender equality. Job opportunities, raises,
wages, access woman fight harder and longer every day
to achieve equality. That is why we need constant
clear reminders and guidance to continue the shift away
from how things have been and still are today. Your poem offers such guidance. As seen in Homer’s poem The
Odyssey Odysseus sets sails on a heroic eventful journey while
Penelope tends to the baby and deals with domestic affairs in Ithica. Penelope’s hope and determination
remains constant throughout his absence making Penelope the
true hero much like my grandma. A key to understanding your
poem is the title itself. The Odyssey is titled after
Odysseus the male hero. By titling your poem
Penelope you push the readers to question the belief
that only men are heroes. Although Odysseus led the long and eventful journey his story
could not exist without Penelope. She serves as the rock
that holds the fort down so when Odysseus returns he has the
people of Ithica to deem him hero. While Penelope is an
almost invisible character in the epic story the entire
journey could not exist without her steady presence. We have a concrete image
in our minds of the roles and obligations the male
and female figure hold, but why it takes two to tango. In other words, Penelope’s
presence in Ithica is essential to everyday life yet is barely
acknowledged in the story. I like how your poem concludes they
will call him brave emphasizing the fact that the readers are led
to view the story in the way of Odysseus’ journey during
which he becomes a hero. Penelope serves as proof that
although heroic adventures seems to focus on male actions both
females and males contribute to the successful outcome. I experience gender
inequality firsthand every day. Boys get called on twice as
often as girls in the classroom and when stating the answer don’t
qualify it with I think or maybe. Even something as small as
when the PE teacher yells girls against boys reflects enriched bias. As I went about my sophomore
year you brought to my attention that most clubs, teams and even
some classes are defined solely by gender. When I was young I
had the opportunity to join a boys’ soccer team because there weren’t enough
girls to complete our own. After reading your poem
I finally understood that the coach’s open-mindedness
gave me an opportunity to prove my strength and resilience. This allowed me to
take a small first step into the women empowerment
movement alongside my grandma. Ever since I read your poem
women empowerment shows up everywhere I go, in place
I previously looked over. The examples continue
to pop in my head. My middle school principal, a pilot
on the plane on a recent trip, high-profile TV role models
like Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah, the girl who joined the
wrestling team and wins matches. I could go on. My point is you have
made it possible for me to acknowledge amazing
women right before my eyes. Women who take an active role in
the movement toward gender equality. I used to not think twice about
occurrences such as these, but your poem has opened my eyes and now I realize these
women are worth stopping to think about, yet
are not often seen. And now I truly appreciate
strong empowered women and want to become one myself. Since freshman year I’ve been on a
palms dance team at my high school. We perform for football, soccer
games, rallies, competitions, camps, and other sport events. We work extremely hard every
day to get better and stronger, yet our team continues
to be diminished. We don’t receive the funding
or status other teams enjoy. We are constantly brushed
aside when it comes to athletic programming support. As may be predictable we
are an all-girls team. Cheering for the boys’
athletic team isn’t the problem, but not being treated as equals is. Maybe the funded boys’
teams see themselves as cutting the glittering
waves while we brew the team, snit the bread. Our participation is a key part
of the high school sports equation and should be supported as such. We perform, train and do everything
required for the boys’ team yet don’t get nearly the wide
range of support they do. Reading your poem gave me insight
into my personal experience and made it clear to me that
I need to stand up for my team and the amazing young women on it. As the new freshmen join us I
encourage them to view our team as powerful and equals
to all the others. We are rising above the outdated
approach and lack of support and empowering ourselves to
fight for equality in the eyes of the school’s athletic program. This is one palms team, one
school, one athletic program. We may only be a small piece to a larger puzzle,
but every piece counts. The Boulder Valley School
District alone has 56 schools. Within these 56 schools the
fight for equal treatment within the athletic
department must be a priority. Female sports must be treated with
the same support as male sports in an effort to set a precedent
for the bigger picture. The one-sidedness and
lack of equality in the educational
system full of young women at such an essential time in life
is the last thing our schools need to promote and will lead to more
drastic gender inequality issues. If school districts can maintain
gender equality in something as simple as a sport it will start
a ripple effect eventually allowing the young adults within the
school to carry gender equality into everyday adult lives. Your poem has inspired me to look
more deeply into feminist ideas. Maya Angelou once said how
important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and heroes. My point is Maya Angelou, you and
now myself are taking the steps to extinguish the weak
female stereotype and instead encourage
women empowerment. We can live in a world where
all genders live as equals. You have helped me recognize that
beginning with old Greek mythology to present-day gender
bias has existed. Yet there is no real reason for the
bias to exist other than the fact that society has not had the
critical mass to drive the change. That is why I will continue
to work to break down the wall that allows gender stereotypes
to impact schools and sports. Thank you Dorothy Parker for
opening my eyes to the ability to enlighten others to the concept
and reality of women empowerment that will shape our
world to gender equality. Sincerely, Sarah Lurie. [ Applause ] Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: [Inaudible]
to ask you something. So I’m just imagining Dorothy
Parker and Maya Angelou looking down saying wow, what a duo. You mentioned that it’s
inspired you to read more about feminist ideas
or women’s studies. Anything kind of really interesting?>>Sarah Lurie: I’m trying to think. Well I know I mean I read a lot
of like Maya Angelou [inaudible].>>Carla Hayden: Oh you did.>>Sarah Lurie: Her
feminist ideas yeah. But recently at the school
we’re trying to get more funding and do the things necessary
to like be treated as equals, so there’s a lot of work on
that, research on that too.>>Carla Hayden: And
I think that’s an area that we can all agree
that we’ll help with. And I’m so glad you mentioned the
funding because it’s really — how do you feel when you really
just say look at the differences?>>Sarah Lurie: Yeah, it’s
just like really discouraging because as a team like we
spend hours and hours every day and like every year and it’s
a year-round sport and to like not get the same amount of
respect and funding as some teams that are even just seasonal sports I
think is just — it’s discouraging. But we have each other to support
one another and we’re going to try to break out of that pattern.>>Carla Hayden: And one pattern I’m
going to get out of after hearing is to not say I think so much. So thank you so much.>>Sarah Lurie: Yes. [ Applause ]>>Pam Jackson: Right, right. Yes, so I was going to invite Aleema
and Raya back up for a group photo and I’d also like to have Cathy
Gourley, our program director for the Letters About Literature
program join us for the group photo. This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress, visit us at LOC.gov.

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