Letters About Literature state champions (from left) Emily Maxfield, Joe Jacobsen and Grace Rivkis with Deputy Secretary of State Greg Lane after receiving their certificates during the awards ceremony at the Capitol.
Three Washington students showed how inspiration can be passed forward.
The three state champions in this year’s Letters About Literature contest inspired a large audience at the Capitol Friday as they shared life lessons that they learned from authors who inspired them.
The Office of Secretary of State and Washington State Library honored top contestants during the event covered by TVW, which will air it and post it online.
Sponsored by the State Library and the Library of Congress, the competition encourages students to write a letter to an author of a book that changed their view of the world or themselves. Nearly 3,300 students in grades 4-12 took part statewide.
During the awards ceremony, this year’s three state champions read their letters for Deputy Secretary of State Greg Lane, family and friends in the Legislative Building’s Columbia Room. Winners were:
• Grace Rivkis, a sixth-grader at Pathfinder K-8 School in Seattle, is the Level 1 (grades 4-6) champion. Rivkis wrote her letter to Jennifer Roy about her book “Yellow Star.” From her letter:
I’m Jewish, and have always had some connection to the people who died in or survived that massacre. But Yellow Star brought me closer to this horror because it’s different from the other books I’ve read about the Holocaust. It told what it was like to survive the ghettos instead of the concentration camps or the time spent in hiding. When I read Yellow Star, I cry. I must have read it 20 times by now, but I’ve never gotten tired of it. It touches an emotional wellspring in me and probably every Jew. That drives me to make sure that nothing like the Holocaust happens again, ever, to anyone.
• Joe Jacobsen, a seventh-grader at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, is the Level 2 (grades 7-8) champion. Jacobsen wrote his letter to Frederic Winkowski and Frank D. Sullivan about their book “100 Planes 100 Years.” Joe’s letter points out how the book reminded him of his father, who was diagnosed last summer with Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone cancer:
My dad spent at least 2 weeks at the hospital throughout the whole process of recovery. I would could home from school and he wouldn’t be there. It was very rare that I got to talk to him in October. He was too busy getting blood tests or chemo. I remember finishing my homework one day after school. I went down to my room to change out of my school clothes when I saw a gold book peeking out from underneath my dresser. I reached down to grab the book and began to read. Thoughts and memories swirled in my head. I remembered my old bed, with red covers and an airplane pillow case. I remember all the nights my dad would tuck me in and read 100 planes 100 years. Anytime I couldn’t see the planes, I would pull the book back towards me. This book really helped me think of my dad anytime I couldn’t be around him. I am really thankful not only for the information it provided, but for what it reminded me of: my dad.
My dad is now almost fully recovered, and even to this day, I still peek at the same book I did back in preschool. Who knows, maybe I will be a pilot one day.
Level 3 state champion Emily Maxfield reads aloud her letter as the other two state champions and Deputy Secretary of State Lane listen.
• Emily Maxfield, a senior at Cedar Park Christian School, is the Level 3 champion (grades 9-12). Maxfield penned her letter to Sherman Alexie about her book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” In her letter, Emily tells Alexie how she met children on the Yakama Indian Reservation like Junior, a main character in the book, and how her family later moved from middle-class life in the Seattle suburbs to the reservation:
I hope I’m not who I used to be. The reality of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian brought me to another world, a world within my own and yet one that is entirely different. Little ones call me auntie or cousin here. My idea of community has vastly expanded: I’ve seen that communities not only spend time together, but communities bear one another’s burdens, laugh together, cry together, and strive to love, serve, and share with one another. I have a deep love for this group of people, my family of unrelated children, youth, and adults. The kids like Junior mean the world to me; the preschoolers I work with weekly hold a piece of my heart that I can never lose. I am eager to tell others that there are children like these, youth like the ones I know, and adults who are waiting for someone to love them, waiting to know that there is help and hope. As I’ve learned, you just have to be willing to fall, sometimes headfirst, into those roles of example and supporter. Because those are the roles that kept Junior going in the story.
“Grace, Joe and Emily wrote very thoughtful and moving letters,” Lane said. “It was a pleasure to hear them read their letters aloud and to honor them as our state champions this year. Congratulations not only to the students we honored today at the Capitol but the thousands who competed. They and their families should be very proud.”
State champions and other LAL honorees gather for a group shot after the ceremony.
Lane and the State Library recognized the state champions, three second-place runners up and 27 honorable mention letter writers during the event.
Eighty schools from around the state had entries. The contest ran from September to January.
Students wrote a personal letter to an author, explaining how his or her work influenced their perspective on the world or themselves. Students can write about works of fiction, nonfiction or poetry. They cannot write about music lyrics, comic books or comic strips. National winners will receive a $1,000 cash award.
The Washington State Library and the Office of Secretary of State sponsored the competition as part of Washington Reads, which highlights books about Washington or the Pacific Northwest. The project is also sponsored by The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. This is the 11th year that the State Library has run the contest in Washington. The State Library is a division of the Office of Secretary of State.