Frequently Asked Questions
- Eligibility and Deadlines
- Contest Guidelines
- Submitting Letters
- Judging Process
- Additional Information
- Who is eligible to participate?
Letters About Literature is open to legal residents of the 50 United States, District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Students must be in grades 4 through 12 during the 2018-19 school year to participate. Students under the age of 13 (as of 11/1/18) must obtain and upload a permission form signed by a parent or legal guardian to be eligible for entry (download permission form here).
- Can a student participate if their family is stationed abroad?
If the student is a U.S. citizen or legal resident, they may apply in the state of their legal residence. Please use an APO or FPO address when completing the form if you do not have a state address.
- When can the student submit his/her letter?
Entries will be accepted online starting November 1, 2018.
- What is the deadline to submit letters?
Each state has selected midnight, Eastern time on either December 14, 2018, or January 11, 2019, as the state-level contest deadline. Select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters to find your state’s deadline, online submission form, and state-level recognition and contest details.
- Can a student submit more than one letter?
No. Only one entry is allowed per student each contest year. Each student may only apply in one state and competition level.
- What can disqualify an entry?
- Personal contact information such as an address, email or phone included anywhere in the letter, including the header or footer. These entries cannot be distributed to judges and must be disqualified.
- Not meeting or exceeding the word count; entries must be at least 400 words and no longer than 800 words (including date, greeting, body of the letter, closing, and name/signature).
- Not formatting the entry as a letter with a date, greeting, body of the letter, closing and name/signature.
- Submitting multiple entries or submitting in multiple states; students may only submit one letter. Students should submit their letters using the state form appropriate for the student’s school address or, if submitting individually, the student’s home address.
- Students under 13 not submitting a hand-signed parent permission form; all students under 13, regardless of their grade, must submit a permission form hand-signed by their parent or legal guardian to participate. Download the form here.
- Submitting previously published or plagiarized work, or work that the student has submitted to other contests.
- Submitting an entry in the incorrect Level of Competition, which is based on the student’s grade.
- Submitting a hand-written or illegible letter; at this time Letters About Literature does not require entries to use a specific font or font size, but does require that all entries be typed and legible.
Students should submit their letters using the state form appropriate for the student’s school address or, if submitting individually, the student’s home address. Students may not enter in more than one state. For the purposes of this program, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories will be considered states.
Level I: grades 4-6; Level II: grades 7-8; Level III: grades 9-12.
The Library of Congress will announce all National Winners (1 per Level of Competition) and National Honorable Mention Winners (2 per Level of Competition) and will publish all state-level winners on read.gov/letters. National Winners in each competition level will receive a $2,000 cash award. National Honorable Mention Winners in each competition level will receive a $500 cash award. State recognition of state-level winners varies. For more details on state-level recognition, please select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters.
Yes, entries must be no fewer than 400 words and no more than 800 words (including date, greeting, body of the letter, closing, and name/signature).
No. Only letters submitted in English are eligible.
Yes, and many do.
Students should select a fiction or nonfiction book, book series, short story, poem, essay, or speech (excluding song lyrics) that they have read and about which they have strong feelings. We ask that teachers not assign a particular work to students; rather, allow students to choose a piece of literature that speaks to them personally.
For the purposes of this contest, please address all letters about the Bible (or any other religious text) to the known or attributed human author of the particular book of the Bible (or comparable portion of another religious text) read by the student.
Only the letters of National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners will be published on read.gov/letters. If the entry is selected as a state or National Winner, the student’s parent or legal guardian will be contacted for permission to publish the student’s name, hometown, state and/or letter. If permission to publish is declined for National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners, an alternate winner will be determined.
Select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters to find your state’s deadline, online submission form, and state-level recognition and contest details, or go directly to the online submission platform at lettersaboutliterature.submittable.com and find your state form.
Some states will accept mailed entries. Select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters to find out if your state accepts mailed entries and the correct mailing address. Do not mail entries to the Library of Congress. Please note that all mailed entries must be added by state-level contest coordinators to the online submission platform in order to be judged and considered eligible for the contest. Students under 13 years who are submitting entries by mail must still include the permission form for use of the online submission platform (hand-signed by their parent or legal guardian) in order for their entries to be eligible. Entries submitted by mail must be postmarked by the state’s deadline. All mailed entries must also have a completed 2018-19 entry coupon to be eligible.
If you are a student or parent, please see the students page for instructions on submitting your entry. Teachers should see the teachers page for instructions, as well as the teachers section of this FAQ. A video walkthrough of the online submission process for students, teachers and parents is embedded in the instructions section of each online submission form and is also available at this link: https://youtu.be/DEjkwyfTPY4.
Students under 13 years of age (as of November 1, 2018) must have a permission form hand-signed by a parent or legal guardian in order to participate.
Yes. Students under 13 as of November 1, 2018, require a signed and uploaded permission form from a parent or guardian. This protects all entrants, regardless of the entry date.
Home-schooled students may enter individually with parent assistance or may enter with teacher assistance—whichever makes the most sense for their situation. If submitting with teacher assistance, the form will ask for a teacher name and email.
No. The online submission platform automatically saves your progress until you click the submit button. You will have the option to type your letter directly into the online submission platform or to upload a file with your letter (file types accepted: pdf, doc, docx, txt, rtf, jpg, jpeg, gif, tif, tiff, png, wpf, odt, wpd and svg).
Submitting artwork with the letter is optional. Please note that these materials will not be considered during the contest judging process.
Within the online submission platform you may review your submitted entries and request permission to edit a previously submitted entry. Edits may not be allowed after the deadline. You may also contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with any issues.
For technical assistance with online submissions, please visit https://submittable.help or contact Submittable support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judges include authors, publishers, librarians and educators. For state-level judging, entries will be judged against other entries within the same state and competition level by representatives from the state affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book in that state or by other representatives identified by the Library of Congress Center for the Book. For national-level judging, entries will be judged by representatives identified by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
Letters are evaluated based on (1) how well they address the audience, i.e., the author, and the purpose/theme of the contest; (2) grammar; (3) letter structure; (4) personal and reflective content; (5) and creative and unique expression. These criteria are described in the call for student entries flyer as audience and purpose (1), grammatical conventions (2 & 3), and originality (4 & 5).
There are four major rounds of judging: Round 1, Round 2, state-level judging and national-level judging.
- Round 1: Entries are evaluated for basic eligibility and by how well they address the audience and the purpose/theme of the contest.
- Round 2: Entries are evaluated with the Letters About Literature rubric, which examines all five criteria (addresses audience and theme, grammar, structure, content, and expression) and receive a numerical score.
- State-Level Judging: Entries are evaluated with the rubric by representatives from the state affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book in that state or by other representatives identified by the Library of Congress Center for the Book.
- National-Level Judging: Once the top three entries from each state (one per competition level) have been determined, the national-level judging begins. Entries will be evaluated using the Letters About Literature rubric by representatives identified by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. One entry in each competition level (three total) with the highest cumulative point score will be declared the National Winner. After the National Winners are determined, the next two entries with the highest cumulative point scores for each competition level (six total) will be declared the National Honorable Mention Winners. In the case of a tie, entries will be evaluated by a new judge according to original criteria, and the tied entry with the highest cumulative score by the new judge will be declared the winner.
State-level contest coordinators from each affiliate Center for the Book, state library or other organization notify the winners from their state. For more about state-level recognition and contest details, select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters.
The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress notifies National Winners after the national-level judging concludes in late spring 2019. Winners may not be publicly announced until June.
We read tens of thousands of letters! The process of recording and assessing the letters takes many weeks.
If permission to publish is declined for National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners, an alternate winner will be determined. This will not affect the entry’s selection as a state winner.
Research supports the link between reading and writing: children who read, write better; children who write, read more. Letters About Literature challenges students by asking that they write to a particular audience (the author of a book rather than a teacher) with a specific purpose (to explain or describe his or her personal reader response to the work). By encouraging personal reader response and reflective writing, the contest encourages meaningful reading and helps to create successful writers.
Literature can be a tool to help students achieve curriculum standards relative to reading comprehension and writing persuasively, especially if the instructor challenges students to move beyond mere self-to-text connections and focus instead on critical thinking and creative expression.
Letters About Literature asks students to connect personally with a work that has changed their view of themselves or the world. The letters with the best reflective, personal writing are from students who have directly chosen a book that they have read and about which they have strong feelings. Teachers should not assign a particular work to students. We also encourage teachers to help students focus their letters on personal reflection and the impact of the book on the student, rather than primarily summarizing the book with book report elements or including many questions to the author. For more resources for teaching with Letters About Literature, please see the teachers page.
There are several options for classes submitting entries with the online submission platform. Please note that if any of your students are under 13 years of age, a permission form hand-signed by their parent or legal guardian is required to submit their entry.
- Teachers with older students and a computer lab may prefer to have students create their own Submittable account and submit their entry themselves. When completing the online entry form, these students should select that “a student” is completing the form with “teacher assistance” and enter the school name and the teacher’s email address in the appropriate fields.
- The online submission platform also supports teachers entering submissions on behalf of their students. When you start the form, you will be prompted to set up an account. Please use your contact information. When you complete the address form, please enter your school address with the school name in “Address Line 1.” The form will save this address and autofill these fields each time you complete the form. On the next page of the form, please select “a teacher” is completing this form. You will need to enter the student’s name, age, grade, level of competition, some details about the work the student selected such as title and author, and the student’s letter. If your student is under 13 years of age, you will be prompted to submit a signed parent/legal guardian permission form before you can submit the entry. Once you click "Submit," you will be redirected to the beginning of the form and may begin submitting the next entry immediately. If at any time you wish to review the entries you have already submitted, click your name on the top right and click "Submissions." Each submission's title will be the student's last name. To view a submission, click the student's last name. When viewing the submission, you also have the option to download, request permission to edit, or withdraw the submission.
Regardless of how you submit the entries, each student under 13 as of November 1, 2018, will need a permission form signed by the parent or legal guardian to participate. If you submit all the entries in the online platform on behalf of your students, each time you complete the form for a student under 13, you will be prompted to upload a copy of the permission form to continue.
Yes. You may download or print certificates of completion for your students for their Letters About Literature submission. Start here.
If the entry is selected as a winner, the student’s parent or legal guardian will be contacted for permission to publish. If permission is declined for National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners, an alternate winner will be determined.
Unfortunately, no. Our official rules state that a student must be in at least grade 4 to enter.
In some cases, letters written by National Winners are shared with the author. In general, students who wish to send their letters to the author will need to send them directly to the author, as well as to Letters About Literature. NOTE: Letters About Literature does not provide authors’ addresses.
Yes. If a student copies significant phrases from past winning letters, the letter will be disqualified. The reader-response concept of this writing assignment makes plagiarism less likely. In some cases, our judges may question the authenticity of a letter. If there is a question that an adult might have written a letter for a student, the teacher or the parent will be contacted to confirm the work is the student’s own.
If the details provided by the student within the letter are fabricated and not factual, the letter will be eliminated from competition. Letters About Literature encourages students to think critically about their personal reaction to a book’s character or conflict. Letters About Literature may trigger creative thoughts in a young reader’s mind, but the student’s letter must be honest and factual, as well as creative and original.
Dear Rick Riordan:
...Nico’s struggle with accepting himself really resonated with me, and still does to this day. The first time I read it, I was probably twelve, and going through a struggle of my own. Like Nico, I was trying to navigate my own sexual orientation, and I was having trouble coming to grips with it. But when I saw I wasn’t alone in this, and that it was okay to feel how I felt, I really started to both accept myself and be proud of who I was. You never know how helpful it is to see someone going through the same things you are, even if it’s in a book...
2018 National Honor Award Winner – Level 2