2013 Level 2 State Winners
Letter to Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Dear Mr. Bradbury,
For 13 years now I have sat by and watched as the world has grown more and more dependent on technology. I will admit that I too have fallen victim to the enticement of technology and all it has to offer. But there's always been a part inside of me that yearned to pick up a book every once and awhile. A real book, with real paper pages that I can flip through from front cover, to back. You have reflected to me my own views and perspectives between the text of Fahrenheit 451. Will we ever reach a point where we can never sit down to enjoy a conversation with family? Or will our families be replaced by moving faces on a television screen?
As I began to read your book on that dark, dreary summer day, I was moved from the start.Your very first words set me soaring on a journey of profoundness that I never would have expected. What struck me most was that your view on the future was strikingly accurate. And that striking accuracy was what forced me to reflect on my own life as well as that of those around me. Is this how we are bound to turn out in a few years or so? You made me realize just how disconnected from one another we are becoming. With everyone so engrossed in their cell phones, iPads, and laptop computers, no one ever has time just to sit and chat with friends or family. No one ever takes the time to stop and really think anymore. It made me wonder, how can technology be adapting more and more, providing us with devices to easily connect us, yet we are becoming more and more disconnected from those around us?
The burning of books, now who would ever be possessed to do such a thing? Our Country? Our neighbors? Our family? What if it all suddenly changed and everything went online? No more books, no more stories. Just Kindles and wires and memory chips. What if we went so far as to ban reading entirely? Quite frankly, that thought scares me to say the least. Watching as firefighters become fire-makers and anyone who stands in their way gets burned along with the books. Watching as my family, my friends, and my entire community get brainwashed to the point of no return; these are things I truly hope to never witness. But maybe, just maybe I can be that girl. I can be that girl who still finds time to sit back and watch the world. Who speaks her mind to anything and anyone who will listen. Maybe I can be Clarisse. And maybe there will be a man who will actually stop and listen to what I have to say. And maybe I can change his life, his views, and slowly undo the tight brainwashing that has entangled him for so long. Passing along to him my thoughts, while changing the world one word, one sentence, and one story at a time.
Take care, Sophia Kurowski
Letter to Carolyn Keene, "Nancy Drew" series
Dear Carolyn Keene,
Books are magical, the sheer power of a beautiful book is something we do not yet understand. Books can change you, bend your mind and snap it back like a rubber band. There are those books that you never outgrow, books that you just can't shake no matter how hard you try. No matter what, when I think about a book that changed me, a book that I've never outgrown, I think of The Nancy Drew Mysteries. Smiling at her successes and holding back tears at her failures, sitting in my bed afraid to turn the page, not knowing what Nancy's future holds. Her emotions seeping inside of me like they're my own. Always wondering if she really will solve the mystery, crack the code, or discover the secret.
From a very young age I have always been one of "those readers" the ones who are up until two in the morning on a Tuesday night because they can't bear the thought of not knowing how a story ends. Books are my sanctuary, thrillers, heart-wrenchers, and feel good stories, I've read them all. Dissolving into another world with outrageous characters and mind-boggling endings will never get old. I remembered the day I discovered Nancy, in where else? An attic. Appropriate I know. It was there my six year old self found a large box full of my mom's 1960's Nancy Drew Mysteries, all 56 of them. Lined up so I could see that signature picture of Nancy holding up a magnifying glass on the faded yellow binding. I found number one, The Secret of The Old Clock. Nancy in her vintage green dress on the cover, unscrewing the bolts on the old clock in a creepy forest. From then I was hooked, page after page, of sheer joy.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that these books got me through a devastating time in my life, shaped my destiny or anything like that because if I told you that I'd be lying. You and Nancy have simply kindled my love for reading and I'd say that is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me. You opened up a new world of books to me. Pages and pages of faraway lands and magical worlds. I just wanted to keep reading and reading, and I still do.
Probably my favorite part about these books is the balance, too many of the mystery stories I have recently read have sacrificed well developed characters for a thrilling plot, or vice-versa. Your Nancy Drew books are not like that. You’ve found the best of both worlds, relatable characters hand-and-hand with a plot that keeps me on my toes. These books make my face simply light up with a smile whenever I run my hand across the crisp yellowed pages.
Thank you Carolyn Keene for giving me books I can snuggle up under a blanket and sink my teeth into on a cold winter morning. Thank you for giving me a quick escape from my daily life. Most of all, thank you for Nancy and all that she brings me.
Your reader, Elizabeth Sheldon
Letter to Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Dear Stephen Chbosky,
There are times in our lives when we are unsure of who we are. There are times when we are confused, when we are lost and we can't figure out what to do. A few months ago, I was feeling this way, and I was feeling like this had been going on for too long a time. Oddly enough, this was when I picked up your book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It wasn't what I was expecting - at all.
I was compelled by your book because Charlie was almost an exact depiction of me. I shared many thoughts and ideas with Charlie, and he had a personality very similar to mine. The thing that surprised me about Charlie, though, was that he was more of an observer. Instead of getting into things, he simply watched. He was a wallflower.
I found in this book that so was I.
Now, if you look up what "wallflower" means, you'll get some European vegetable as the first definition. The second definition is what you meant for Charlie to be, "a person who, because of shyness, unpopularity, or lack of a partner, remains at the side at a party or dance". I'm sure, though, that your definition of a wallflower means more than that. A wallflower, to you, is defined as someone who does not speak up or partake in life. I had very mixed emotions when I realized how much this definition fit me. As I finished the book and set it down, it occurred to me that this wasn't exactly a good thing. I didn't want to be just a wallflower.
Bill tells Charlie, in the book, to "participate in life". I had never picked up on that before. I felt like I could just stand by and do nothing and my life would be just the same as everyone else's. I thought I could participate without talking. But this small thing that Bill said affected me in so many ways. I realized that being a quiet person was not what I wanted to be. I wanted to share my ideas, and I wanted to be someone, not just another person. After all, just as you and so many others put it, once we're gone, we're only stories.
I've tried, for quite a while now, to participate in life. I'm still shy and awkward, but it's getting better. I try, at least, to put my ideas into words, even if I'm not sharing them. It's something I both want to do, and don't want to do but I persist and push through. I speak my ideas. I want to be heard.
I think it's high time I had a voice.
Best regards, Jessie Wang
2012 Level 2 State Winners
Letter to Cornelia Funke, author of Inkheart
Dear Ms. Cornelia Funke,
I have always wondered if an author can experience their own writing. Can you, the writer, read your work and feel the tension and suspense? Engross yourself in a different world? Jump at cliffhangers? I find this question pestering me today, long after I first read Inkheart.
Inkheart shaped my childhood and continues to inhabit my thoughts to this day. I first read your book snuggled up with my mom at my grandparents' cabin in Maine. It was the summer of 2004 and I was 7. At the time, as I gazed at the red cover, marveling at the rich illustrations, I didn't know that I was about to embark on a journey that would change my life. I began to read.
A few days later I shut the book quietly, finished. I felt almost shocked. Too many things were happening in my head to comprehend the world around me. I could feel my mind shifting, forming new ideas, new ambitions. I opened the book again. Thumbed through the pages, smiling at passages and re-reading my favorite scenes.
Writing. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to write, and write a lot.
I took to the paper, spilling my feelings onto the page. I was inspired by your characters. The courageous and haunted Mo, the witty and brash Eleanor, and the sneering, vile Basta, a name that rolls off the tongue and reeks with evil. Many scenes still stick in my mind. Meggie's discovery of her mother, the journey to Fenoglio's, defeating the Shadow. I had discovered my passion and there was no going back.
But that was the summer of 2004, seven years ago. The thing is, I didn't forget Inkheart. How could I?
After that summer, I moved from upstate New York to Minnesota and started third grade at a new school. Naturally, I was apprehensive. Moving away from the East coast for the first time in my life was quite a transition. I kept a clear head by writing. Honestly though, my ideas weren't anything special (immature is the better word) but to me, my writing was magic. I wrote of massive wars, nighttime adventures, and fantastic creatures. With great gusto, I read aloud to my parents, who looked on with knowing smiles on their faces, quietly shaking with laughter. Nevertheless, I persevered. By 5th grade I was working on a novel. In 6th grade, I wowed and disgusted my English class with a graphic description of a murder. I wanted to break out of the boundaries around me. I couldn't have cared less about gerunds or prep phrases; I wanted to write!
The only way I knew how to write was to write fast, but I knew I had to regulate myself. Nothing good would come out of pointless, frantic writing. First, I had to learn.
Finally, one day, I noticed Inkheart on my bookshelf. Curious, I opened it and read a passage. Transfixed for the umpteenth time, I read on. That night, I asked my mom to download the book off Audible, so I could listen to it in bed. She obliged and that night I heard Lynn Redgrave's silky voice for the first time. "Inkheart by Cornelia Funke." She said, "Chapter One..."
From then on I listened to Inkheart every night. It became my companion and I continue to listen to the story to this day. Even though I have probably listened to the whole book through about 25 times, it never gets old.
The effect your book has had on me could not be described in words. In Inkheart, characters are magically read out of books to live in the "real" world. When I read, and re-read Inkheart, the effect on me was the opposite. I fall into the book.
Which brings me here, trying to illustrate to you how important Inkheart is to me. There isn't a sentimental story that explains why the book has changed my life, but I think that is what makes Inkheart that much more powerful. It can change me by itself, using just words. Black ink on white paper. But let's be honest. They're much more than just words.
Here's to reading, writing, and a book that I will never forget.
Much appreciated, Will Kaback
Letter to Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games
Dear Suzanne Collins,
Fighting for your life in the Hunger Games is just the same as trying to survive in the craziest place on earth; I call this place middle school. Now I know that you are probably thinking "How is middle school like the Hunger Games?" Well, fighting off the "mean girls" is like dodging arrows and knives. They know exactly what to say or do that will hurt you the most. They know what makes you weak and they target that.
But, in my life experience, there is always that one person who stays by your side through thick and thin. They don't leave you hanging, even if you're just about to make the biggest mistake that can make you a very easy target. Together we are the perfect team. She cleans and repairs my wounds while I guard her from harms way. I guess you could say we are kinda like Katniss and Rue were when they stayed with each other in the trees. They knew that they were both small, and didn't have very good weapons, but they needed to stay together to survive.
Unfortunately, "they" always find a way to hurt you and I know it. There would be days when I was scared to come to school; I was afraid of what new thing they would find to make fun of me for. But, after reading your book, I learned that I just had to put myself back together again and stand tall. I realized that I can't let other people run my life, and make the calls about what I can and can't do. I couldn't continue to live in fear so I had to be like Katniss and stand up for myself when they were teasing me for what I was wearing that day.
No, I didn't have to kill people like Katniss had to, but in a way I was killing off the bad feelings that they had for me and that I had for them. Katniss taught me to be strong, when she fought to get the medicine to save Peeta, even in the worst possible scenario. She had a goal, and a reason to live. My goal was to stop the teasing and live my life to the fullest. She never let anyone or anything bring her down and, I want to be like that!
It's has been months, almost years since I was last teased. How I made it stop still to this day kind of makes me feel bad, but I knew that it needed to be done. One day when I saw the clique of girls who usually tease me and I walked up to them and flat out told them I wasn't gonna take the teasing any longer. I told them they had no reason to pick on me. I hadn't done anything to them. Some tears were shed, including some of my own, but I knew after that day it was done; they wouldn't be teasing me any more, and guess what? I was right. I finally stood up for myself, just like how Katniss stood up for what she knew was right. She knew that it wasn't right for the capitol to lie about having two winners, so she fought back. I fought for a time when I would be able to wake up in the morning and want to come to school. Thanks for helping me gain my courage. It means the world to me.
Sincerely, Megan Lysford
Letter to George Orwell, author of 1984
Dear Mr. Orwell,
I know that even long into the future after having read this book, I will still be thinking about it. Its ideas have penetrated the divides of generations, and even now students like me are reading your work, 1984, and still learning from it. This book showed me how easily freedom can be destroyed by a corrupt government, and how our vulnerability to second guessing ourselves can lead to such a state. 1984 opened my eyes to a dark, alternate reality that may have become real more easily than we might expect. This made me look around and have a greater appreciation for our nation's founding ideals, especially the freedoms that we enjoy, and can sometimes take for granted.
In 1984, there are telescreens in every room that are constantly monitoring individuals, making it almost impossible to protest or speak out against the government. While reading the book, it became clear how much this really limited the people's freedoms, and that I was fortunate to have a government that allowed its citizens to form their own opinions. After thinking about that fact, I realized that I really hadn't formed many opinions about current issues. So I took it upon myself to be informed about hot topics in the government, and to find where I stand on these issues.
Yet, what really struck me was not how controlling the government was in the book, but how oblivious the citizens were to the corruption of their own government. At first I had no idea how the community could not realize the horror that was taking place right in front of their eyes. Then it hit me: how could you realize what corruptness is, if it's all you've ever known? I realized that our cultural backgrounds and the environment in which we were raised is crucial because it defines our perception of normality.
As Winston's complicated mind was slowly corrupted by government agents, and he was convinced that some of his childhood memories were lies manufactured by himself, it dawned upon me the nature of our minds to second guess ourselves. It was child's play for the government to play tricks on Winston's mind, and to make him question the reality of everything he had ever known. Similarly, the government was able to become so corrupt by manipulating the mass psyche of the public. Because of this crucial theme in your book, I became aware of the importance of trusting ourselves. It is our job to make up our minds on issues important to us, and then for our government officials to represent those interests on a national level.
1984 focused my attention on how important the individual is in any successful government system, and that in order for me to do my part as a citizen, it is my responsibility, even as a teenager, to decide for myself where I stand on the crucial moral and ethical issues of our day. Your ideas in 1984 have found a place inside of me, where they will grow, and stay with me for the rest of my life.
Sincerely, Ryan Broll