I had the pleasure of helping the Idaho Commission for Libraries, the local sponsor, judge the finalists among 500 entries statewide. Entries in all three categories were impressive. Contestants read a book and wrote a personal letter to an author, explaining how the book changed their views of the world or themselves. Students may select authors, living or deceased, from any genre, fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or classic.
Victor Smith, a 6th-grader at Lewis and Clark Middle School in Meridian, who wrote to Madeleine L’Engle about her book, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Victor competed with others in grades 4 to 6.
Kenadi Swendsen of Middleton and an 8th-grader at Vision Charter School in Caldwell, wrote to Kathryn Erskine about her book, “Mockingbird.” Swendsen competed in the grades 7 and 8 category.
Victor’s letter described his empathy for people with problems and said L’Engle’s classic “solidified that feeling. It was like putting steel on a wall that was much weaker before.”
Kenadi told of choosing “Mockingbird” at a school book fair and how she saw herself in a character who was unkind to others: “I read about Emma, Mia, Anna and Laura, the popular girls at Caitlin’s school, thinking, ‘How could anyone be so mean?’ and I became aware that I was the Emma in Marie’s life. I tried to be nice, but then I would just turn around and ignore her, so she was confused. I answered my own question: ‘I could.’”
Hannah had the guts to ignore the instruction to write to a single author, saying she simply couldn’t pick one book and instead wrote to “Literature.”
“Because life is every color I can see with my eyes and The Color Kittens to gave the world ‘life’ with many buckets and brushes, and life is the ending of Where the Red Fern Grows, while death brings sorrow, out of the sorrow life is sprouted. In the end, love is the little girl who came back and bought Corduroy with her own money, despite his missing button. Books taught me love when all around me there was pain, although no two books are alike, and no two people understand them the same.”
You can read the full essays of the three Idaho winners by clicking here.