By Heidi Stevens
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A unique writing contest hosted by the Library of Congress invites fourth- through 12th-graders to write to authors and let them know the impact of their work. Close to 47,000 students from across the United States entered this year’s contest, which began a quarter-century ago.
Akosua Haynes, 10, wrote a letter to Margot Lee Shetterly, author of “Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,” letting Shetterly know her book solidified Akosua’s decision to become a NASA astronaut.
Rylee Paige Johnson, 13, wrote a letter to Gabrielle Zevin, author of “Elsewhere,” thanking Zevin for helping her heal after the sudden death of her mother.
The letters, each a thing of beauty, were part of a Library of Congress writing contest that invites fourth- through 12th-graders to write to authors and let them know the impact of their work. Close to 47,000 students from across the United States entered this year’s contest, which began a quarter-century ago.
Out of those tens of thousands of letters, Akosua and Rylee each brought home first place wins. Akosua, a fifth-grader at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Hyde Park, won the fourth- through sixth-grade division, and Rylee, a seventh-grader at Dwight D. Eisenhower Junior High School in Hoffman Estates, won the seventh- and eighth-grade division.
Their letters are night and day, one born of sorrow, the other born of joy. But they share an authenticity and richness that speaks to the ability of books to guide us through life‘s various triumphs and travails.
“One night my siblings and parents were in the living room watching our favorite show,” Rylee wrote to Zevin. “A commercial came on so I got up to make cookies in the kitchen. Then my oldest sister, Sydney, started whispering, ‘Mom? Mom?’ No answer. I looked over to see my dad standing over a shaking body. ‘I’m calling 911!’ She had had an aneurysm and wasn’t waking up. I spent those few days in that hospital room listing all the things I did wrong and what I would change once she woke up. She never did.”