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Letters About Literature National Winners 2002

National Winner, Level 1: Allison Shaw

Orange Park, Florida
November 2001

Dear Mrs. Marilyn Sachs,

Watching the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center crash, I felt afraid. Helplessly, I heard the rising death tolls. Where was the happy ending most children come to expect? I was shocked, because I always assume everything will turn out all right in the end, no matter how bad the situation. Since that time, my world has been topsy-turvy. A few days ago, I read your book The Bear's House, and I realized that sometimes a happy ending just isn't in the cards.

Intrigued by the cover illustration, I believed the book was a fantasy. Within the first few pages, my expectations were shattered as I entered Fran Ellen's world of abandoned children, depression, responsibility, and hurt. My emotions rollercoastered from anxiety to relief as Fran Ellen found respite in the Bear's House. As I turned the pages, recounting six miserable months in the life of a suffering child, I found myself attempting to predict how the ending would solve Fran Ellen's predicament. Would Dad return home? Perhaps Mama would get well or Miss Thompson would adopt Fran Ellen. I believed the book would have a happy ending, although a secret fear lurked in the back of my mind that the baby, Flora, would die from neglect.

The book didn't meet my worst fears, but it ended horribly. As I turned the page and realized there was no more writing, my stomach dropped. What would happen to Fran Ellen? That question nagged at me for days, but I think I know the answer now.

Fran Ellen is probably in my class at school. I guess I never noticed her because she is not popular. People don't like to be around her because she doesn't wear cool clothes and she smells bad. Bullies mess with her because they can smell her vulnerability a mile away. Sometimes, I think Fran Ellen lives inside me. I have ADHD and don't hear or see well. My teachers get frustrated with me, I lose my books and assignments, and sometimes I don't know what's going on around me. Feeling stupid and embarrassed, I wish I had a Bear's House to hide in like Fran Ellen.

Wherever Fran Ellen is, I believe she persevered. Even though your book didn't have a happy ending, there is a subtle ray of hope that shines through. No matter how horrible her life was, Fran Ellen tried her best as she muddled along. For myself, I have decided that even though school is difficult, I will keep trying. I will also look out for the Fran Ellens of the world, so I can befriend them. Finally, I believe the people of New York City will persevere just like Fran Ellen. Life will never be the same for them, but they will endure.

Thank you, Mrs. Sachs, for writing a book that made me cry. Thank you for writing a book that made me think. I believe you wrote a book that has changed my life.

Allison Shaw