Frequently Asked Questions
Who judges the letters? Judges include authors, publishers, librarians and educators. The first two rounds of reading determine which letters advance to state-level judging. First place state winners only advance for national judging.
What educational value does Letters About Literature have for my child/students? 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.
Does Letters About Literature meet curriculum standards for reading and writing? Literature can be a tool to help children 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.
What are the competition levels? Level I: grades 4-6; Level II: grades 7-8; Level III: grades 9-12.
My child is in third grade but reads on a higher level. Can he/she still enter? Unfortunately, no. Our official rules state that a child must be in at least grade 4 to compete. But we would certainly welcome your child's letter next year.
What are the word limits for each competition level? The Letters About Literature judges do not count words. However, a letter that is undeveloped without supporting details will be eliminated. Likewise, a letter that is repetitive or includes irrelevant information will be
Can a reader write to an author who is no longer living? Yes, and many do.
Are the letters delivered to the authors? 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.
Who selects the state winners? Each state has its own panel of judges. However, not every letter submitted advances to state-level judging. Letters must first advance through two rounds of reading by the Letters About Literature Central judges. These include former classroom teachers and graduate students with knowledge of children's literature and the reading-writing process.
If I have a child who wins, will that child's name and/or letter be published? Not without the signed permission of a parent or guardian. All children who receive a state or national prize will receive notification via U.S. mail or email, including a permission release form. The parent/guardian signs this release and returns it to the state-level organization promoting the program (not the national office). Only then are names released and some letters published. If a parent prefers to withhold the child’s name at the time of publication, that is acceptable. However, we must have complete names on the entry form.
When are the winners selected and notified? State winners are selected in mid-March and notified soon after. Selection of national winners occurs in April.
Who notifies the state winners and when? Each affiliate Center for the Book, state library or other organization notifies the winners from its state. The national office maintains communications with the state-level organizations promoting the program but does not contact each state winner.
Why does it take so long to select state and national winners? We read thousands of letters! The process of recording then assessing the letters takes many weeks. Each letter is read and scored through two rounds of assessment. Letters that score highest advance to state-level judging, where a new panel of judges reads the letters, determining which will receive the state awards. Once first place winners for each state have been selected, those letters again advance to national judging.
Is a letter ever disqualified for plagiarism? Yes, if a child 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 question the authenticity of a letter. If there is a question that an adult might have written a letter for a child, the teacher or the parent will be contacted to confirm the work is the child's own.
What if a child fabricates personal details, like having a sibling, in order to make his or her letter more appealing? If the details provided by the child within the letter are fabricated and not factual, the letter will be eliminated from competition. Letters About Literature encourages children 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 Lisa Genova:
...Your book helped me understand what is happening with my grandma. I realized that it’s not her fault at all that she can’t remember things. There would be nothing that Alice or my grandma could have done to prevent their memory loss. It’s a tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease. I understand now my grandma’s every day struggles and try to help her as much as I can. Your book taught me to be patient and enjoy every day with my grandma. I try to spend as much time with her as I can now. I praise her for things that she can still do and remember...
Mahwah, New Jersey
2017 National Honor Award Winner – Level 1