Sometimes I simply feel like hiding. Just like Virgil, I am afraid to speak up or defend myself. After reading Hello, Universe, my viewpoint changed on how to defend myself. I used to get teased a lot. I would simply laugh it off, and act like I thought it was a joke. Eventually, I felt helpless and tired of the way people would treat me. When I read your book, I decided that I would speak up. I was shy and I am more of an introvert, but I can still try. Even if people sometimes treat me like I am stupid because I don’t talk much, that doesn’t mean that I am. I can be brave, and change the way people view me, and in the process, change the way I view the world. And most importantly, I can change the way I think of myself.
In second grade, a boy kept telling me that he would bring a crossbow to school and shoot me with it. Why? I don’t know. I probably should have known that he was lying, but for some reason I took it seriously anyway. His friend kept telling me that I was stupid, and when I didn’t stand up for myself, they acted like I was a complete weirdo. I didn’t know that when I didn’t stand up for myself, it would make me a bigger target. Eventually, I got sick and tired of it and told my parents. They told me to tell the teacher, and I did. She said I could talk to the principal, and I did. She spoke with the kid who was bullying me. I thought all my problems were solved. They were, until last summer.
After second grade, I was homeschooled. I liked it, and up until near the end of 4th grade, there was no thought of me ever going back to school. Then, I decided I might as well try going back. I had recently started wanting to get out of the house more, so I thought that public school would help. But I was worried that I would get bullied again. Then I read Hello, Universe. I felt very connected to Virgil, and realized that even if I was bullied again, I could stand up for myself.
I ended up going to public school this year, and I was assigned really good teachers. My classmates are amazing, and I feel no possibility of ever being made fun of like that again. It hasn’t happened since, because people know I can stand up for myself. I can thank you for that.
Some books you read, toss in the closet, and never read again. But some books knock you off of your feet, and catch you by surprise, changing your life. Because of the way that Hello, Universe changed me, I think that if the whole world read your book, the world would be a better place because of it. Maybe we all will be called stupid or made fun of in our life. But what if I ask myself: What is the truth? I realize that no matter how much someone says something about me that is untrue, even the 1,000th time, it won’t be true.
And the truth is, I am smart. We are all smart. We’re all bright, clever, and creative.
I just had to find confidence. Because the difference is, I’m different.
Owen A. Wagner
Dear Misty Copeland,
It was a pleasure to read a book that spoke my language. Like you, I am a dancer, and could relate to your dance experiences in your autobiography Life in Motion. This book had a significant impact on me and put things into perspective. During your difficult childhood, I related to your struggles with anxiety, as I too suffer from it. I often feel as though I am trapped in a room that keeps getting smaller and smaller by the second. I get emotional, aggravated, jittery, and breathe much faster and heavier than normal. The only way I know how to cope with my anxiety is to bottle up all of my feelings inside of me, much like you did when you struggled with embarrassment over your unstable living conditions. I also feel as though I have no one to talk to about my feelings. My mother is so kind and helpful, but I never think she understands just how bad I feel – no one in my family does. I am the only one in my family who experiences anxiety, which makes it very difficult to explain my emotions. Saying this reminds me of when you said that you hid all of your emotions from the rest of the world and would not let anyone know how you really felt. The only thing I can do to help myself is to bottle up all of my feelings inside of me; like a jar with a tight lid.
There is no one in my life who can possibly get what I go through every day, I do not have that kind of supportive figure. Because of this, I talk to myself a lot and am a very shy, quiet person. Even though my dance instructors tell me that I have all of the qualities of being a successful dancer. I lack self-confidence, which affects my ability to rise to my full potential. If I cannot figure out a turn or am having a hard time executing a move, I try to be positive and tell myself that I can do it, but there is a voice inside of my head that doubts me and tells me to give up. Half of my brain wants me to believe in myself, but the other half is stronger. It tells me that I am worthless and that I should not even be a dancer because I cannot turn. When you said that walking into your first ballet class was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool, it reminded me of how I often feel when walking into my turns and leaps class each week. I struggle with my alisicone turns, so hearing you say, “It felt like all eyes were fixed on me when I didn’t know what I was doing,” caused me to realize that I was not alone. Seeing as someone like you, someone I look up to so much, had the same doubts about your abilities as I do helped me understand that I am not alone.
My anxiety affects me at school and with friends. I know my friends mean well, but they do not understand the negatives that anxiety brings. Only a few of my friends know I even have it, but have forgotten. I envy other girls at school or at dance because they never have to face the pain I feel during my anxiety attacks. They all have what seems like perfect lives to me and everything works out for them. They always seem happy and never seem to experience any sort of pain or sadness or stress in their lives. They have friends that always understand them because they do not have any problems that may set them apart from their friend groups, or make them feel any less special than they are. They have cute clothes and hang out with each other whenever they want. Meanwhile, I am at home thinking about all of the things that could go wrong when hanging out with other people, when I should be at a sleepover or party. This compares to how you missed your sweet 16 party because of a stress migraine. I feel excluded many times when I see or hear that my friends have been hanging out together without me. I feel like no one wants to spend time with me because they think I am not fun. Because of this, I tend to wonder who my friends really are, and if my friends are really my friends. Sometimes, I cannot blame them, as my anxiety has gotten in the way of my fun personality and get-togethers with friends several times. However, this book has put things into perspective for me, and shown me that you never know what goes on behind closed doors. Like how someone watching you dance would say that you are perfect, and would only see you as a dance prodigy, when really they do not know the difficulties you are facing in your personal life. All of these struggles in my life with friends and dance and school bottled up inside of me have really worn me out up until now, but seeing your struggles have helped me to accept my own.
Writing this letter to you has been very relieving for me. I am finally getting to share my emotions with someone who can understand how I feel, which I have not done in a long time. I am finally getting to take off the rusty lid of my jar of stresses. Hearing that I was not the only one who experiences anxiety was like a key to that continuously dwindling room in which I feel entrapped during my anxiety attacks. I definitely feel like I am behind in dance, so I can relate to your feelings of inadequacy during your first ballet class when you felt that everyone else was better than you. Seeing what you turned into was reassuring to me and reminded me that I will catch up with the rest of my classes and that there is no need to give up. I admire how you overcame adversity, how, even though you had a rough start, you continued to believe in yourself and never stopped chasing your dreams. Although I may have some difficulties, dancing is my passion. I admire how you are able to let go of whatever stress you may be feeling and forget all of your worries when you dance. Even as you got older and struggled with weight issues, you never let that get in the way of your dream. I strive to be that way; to not let my anxiety get in the way of my success. Though you did have a bumpy start with your multiple step-fathers’ extremely different personalities pulling your mother away while your family struggled to make ends meet, you were able to persevere through it all and ultimately come out on top. In this same way, I hope to have the courage to still achieve my goals, despite my anxiety. You also taught me to appreciate the things I have, as your childhood was so difficult, I realize that I am lucky for all of the good things that I have in my life, despite my challenges.
Thank you for your honesty in sharing your story. Reading your autobiography was very inspiring to me and taught me that even the most unlikely can become legendary.
With sincere thanks,
Dear Mr. King,
When I read your first hard-boiled detective story, Mr. Mercedes, I was thirteen years old. I was hardly a person at that point, and this particular book of yours has changed everything.
At the time in my life when I read your book, the world revolved around me. Everything I touched sent the planet spiraling out into the stars and then reeling back in again. I twitched and ran my hands over surfaces, over and over again, stroking them and then pulling away like they were hot, and tapping them just the right way, just the right number of times. Just as my hands carefully touched everything in just the right way, my feet did too. They were dragged, hopped, and skipped in a very particular path across every floor.
All my childhood, I touched the space between my mouth and nose, compulsively. I worried other kids would think I was doing something gross but I wasn’t, I was just touching the place between my mouth and nose, and that was an important thing to do, and I took it for granted that it was important. I never questioned why. And that’s the way all of it was.
Every day, every few minutes, I twitched and blinked, hummed and stood and sat and tapped my head and shoulders and face. There were different, specific routines for every situation. At times, reading was near impossible, my mind sticking to every word, repeating it over and over again. Blinking was no longer natural– I counted. Even numbers were safe, and odd numbers were unacceptable. Four was the safest number– four blinks, four hums, four taps, four breaths.
Every night was consumed by an elaborate ritual that took hours to get right. I faced each wall and then the ceiling, tapping my head, blinking, humming, mumbling, tensing my muscles. All in even proportions. Then I’d touch the stuffed animal hedgehog in bed beside me. He was an old hand puppet, and I’d make him bow a certain number of times, and clap and nod and shake his head. Then I had to kiss him the right amount of times and tell him, in my mind, every detail of my day, before closing out the ceremony with more elaborate tapping of everything around me.
I was convinced I heard everyone reading my thoughts all the time, and I felt wicked and guilty. I imagined people in dark corners and in bathrooms, watching me. New rituals were developed to get them to leave me alone. I was terrified of lying, so everything I said was followed by a repeated muttering of the words “maybe, maybe not” over and over again: a chant, a ritual, a disclaimer that I wasn’t lying in case the thing turned out to be false. I’d say it anytime my family said anything, too, and I desperately tried to force them to agree that whatever they said might not be true. I didn’t want them to be caught lying.
I wanted to protect them from a threat no one else saw: a malevolent, frightening force of what MUST be done. I had to keep the balance, I had to do what felt right, and I never, not once, questioned that force, or where it came from, or whether it must be followed.
I assumed I was normal, or rather, that I was blessed– I assumed that everyone else heard the instructions and just chose to ignore them. I thought that everyone around me had shut out the rules and the commands in order to lead an easy, sinful life of lying and swearing and eating things in odd numbers. I was a martyr, sacrificing my sanity, my time, my focus to save everyone around me, even just for a second. I was protecting them from a vengeful God.
I never questioned the commands until I read your book.
When I read your detective story, Mr. King, one character in particular stuck with me, and that was Holly, the neurotic woman helping the ex-detective solve the mystery. Her character’s constant, miniscule rituals, made up of mumbling and shivering, left me speechless. It wasn’t something I’d ever seen before, in media or in real life. She was odd. She was mistreated. She engaged in compulsive movement and mumbling.
She was like me.
I had never encountered anyone, real or fictional, going through the same thing I was going through. I never questioned the orders in my mind, because I never saw them anywhere else, didn’t know what they were called, why they were happening, what to do about them. I was delusional and uninformed, because the media rarely portrays mental illness honestly and it never, ever shows it to children. I found salvation in a book I was probably too young for, because books written for children and teens don’t often show what we need to see. In that book, I found the comfort of knowing I was not alone. I found the information that what I was going through wasn’t real, that it wasn’t the voice of God or some force I had to follow. Holly showed me that it wasn’t normal, that it wasn’t noble, that it wasn’t blessed– it was illness, and I was allowed to resist. I was allowed to say no. Nothing horrible would happen if I stopped following directions.
I’d truly never known that it was okay to stop listening. It broke my world. Many people talk about how hard it is to break out of compulsive cycles (and it is!) but no one ever mentions the impossibility of living in an illusion of powerlessness. I was completely delusional and unable to get better until someone told me the truth– and too often, no one tells children the truth. I believe this book probably saved my life. I was heading towards a cliff, and I truly can’t say what was waiting at the bottom.
So I’d like to thank you, Mr. King. Thank you for writing a character in whom I recognized myself, and thank you for making her a hero. You showed me I was living a confused lie, but you also showed me what I was capable of. Mr. Mercedes shattered my illusions and I broke free.
Dear Susan Cain,
I just finished reading your book, Quiet Power. When I picked it up in the bookstore, I did not know how powerful it would be in my life. I thought it was an ordinary book just waiting for someone to buy it, flip through the pages and maybe remember a passage or two. However, I did not only read the book, I connected with it. It spoke to me, and told me that I am not alone.
I am a very introverted sixth-grader living in Gettysburg Pennsylvania. I have always been an introvert, but never really understood exactly what that meant. As I read each chapter, I related more and more to this personal story. A lot of times at school, I feel like my friends are leaving me out and that they’re the problem. I learned that they’re not the problem, but rather it is my reaction and fear of speaking up that gets in the way. I never understood why, until I realized that I am best friends with very extroverted girls. They could walk up to a stranger and start talking to them like it’s no big deal. For me to actually have the confidence to even just talk to a close friend/family member feels like a challenge. I am talking about people I have known my whole life. In addition, when I’m not mingling with my closest friends, I really don’t know what to do.
I especially liked the chapter about having a restorative niche to calm down and recharge. I finally knew why I could not just be social every night, or talk to friends all the time. Having a spot like this for me was life changing. Your book told me the ups and the downs of introversion. One quote I will never forget is, “Stay true to your own nature, and don’t try to be someone you’re not.”
Honestly, I didn’t even know what introversion was until I started reading your book. As I read chapter after chapter, I understood that I was this thing called an introvert. I remember thinking one night that my best friend at this moment was your book. I really enjoyed reading all of the students’ interviews. I know this may sound unrealistic, but I have been inspired to write my own book someday, called, “My Quiet Power.” I also want to be on a talk show like “Ted Talks,” just as you were. Maybe we could even collaborate. I know it is a big dream for such a small girl, but I can make it happen…hopefully.
I’m not a class clown, or a social target. I have a new point of view of myself, and I know how to use my strengths to the fullest. Times like presenting a slide show, or ordering my own food still feels tough. I am working on it, and I know I can always refer to your book if I need some inspiration. You would not believe the amount of times I have been called socially awkward. Also, many times, my classmates assume I am mad or upset with them. The truth is, sometimes it’s just too hard for me to speak up or even start a conversation. Now, with the help of your book, I have come to understand that there are several ways to work on being more outgoing. I have already started to try out these new strategies.
I recently bought the book, Quiet, which is sitting in my locker at school, along with, Quiet Power. Although it’s not a fun filled, action-packed adventure story, it’s there when I need it for inspiration or a shout out, saying, “This is who you are and you must embrace it.” The most powerful thing I learned is that our planet is mixed with introverts, extroverts, and people right down the middle. Sometimes they make great teams and sometimes they just don’t mix. Either way, we can learn a lot from each other. Different personalities are what make life interesting. While I might have big hurdles in my life just to speak up in class, other people have their own obstacles to overcome.
I know I am just one reader in a sea of millions, but the difference your book made to me was life changing. Thank you for sharing your story with the other introverts in the world. Silently, we are all standing united with you.
Dear Robert Munsch,
Maybe if you look away from the world for a while things might be less agonizing. As if you refuse to accept it, it will go away into thin air, and it won’t pester in your mind and in your body. Then, the once full life will return. Sometimes though, you cannot escape from the feeling, and you are forced to face it head on. Even though Love You Forever was a short children’s book, it brought me back my full heart and showed me a path that was once covered by bushes. Your magical ink and paper supported me through white hospital rooms, graveyards, and those days when it is just hard to breath.
During my mother’s life, she was strong, inside and out, but when death neared her, her body weakened. She had trouble standing, let alone preparing meals and solving conflicts in our household. In your story, when the mother took care of her son through all stages of his life, I remembered the times my mother helped me through homework, friends, family, and most importantly, life. I cannot count how many times she picked me up when the glass below my feet shattered. That is why I knew I needed to take care of her when she couldn’t do it herself. When I eased her pain a little, I remembered the mature son assisting his mother when she couldn’t help herself. In a way, I could relate to the son. After all the times my mother took care of me, I felt that she deserved the same, and your book showed me that.
There is one thing I know for certain about my mother, that she will like me for always. If I ever am in need of this being reminded, I just flip open your soft pages and echo your words through my head. This reminds me that whenever I make a silly mistake, or even a big one, my mother is still watching over me, maybe even laughing at the way I handle curveballs in life. I don’t need my mother’s voice to tell me that I will never disappoint her because I have your words. This shows me that when things don’t go exactly how they are planned, the ones who remind you that you will never fail them, are the ones whose love will never fail you.
I often ponder what “I’ll love you forever” means. Does it include death? Does it include cancer? Does it include tears, chemo, peeling skin, and weak bones? I now realize that it does. Throughout the story, the mother’s love never wavers, and my mother’s love never did. It really does include death and cancer. She may not be here, with me, to hold me, love me, and tell me everything’s alright, but she is in everything I do, everything I am, and everything I want to be. So thank you, thank you for showing me that type of love will never end.
All in all, the cold reality of death may have knocked on my mother’s door and showed its ugly teeth, but Love You Forever helped through the good, the bad, and the worse. Even though pain can shine through cracks in your body, you handed me some tape and glue and said, “You are not alone.” I sometimes wish with all my heart that my mother could see me accomplish goals in life. You showed me that I do not need her right next to me because some love, including a mother’s, is undying and always forgiving. I thank you, once again, for everyday leading me to the light closer to my mother.
Madison A. Kelleher
Dear James Hurst,
I can relate to that feeling. The feeling of being humiliated by a very sick person. Illness overcomes everyone at one point or another – from the common flu to being paralyzed to a sore throat. It’s just one of those things that happens. But it affects everyone differently. Sometimes it is physical but sometimes it is mental. In your story “The Scarlet Ibis” the narrator has a disabled brother. And he hates his brother because he’s sick.
When I was younger, my mom became ill. Her illness came from a tragedy that happened when she was six. She started having seizures. She could be walking in from the bathroom and fall and start to shake. It was terrifying to see. I remember my mom was at the table talking to my grandmother and she fell sideways off her chair and started to have a seizure. And my little sister Alayna started to cry. At the time she was about five; she’s five years younger than me. So, I took her into the living room. The house was an open floor plan, so she could still see. My grandma was on the floor holding her head, because if not, she would only bang it off the floor. She finally stopped shaking and she opened her eyes and started crying. I remember her saying, “I’m sorry I’m sick” and my grandma lifted her off the floor and slowly yet carefully got her to the living room where she took a nap to ease the pain in her muscles and head.
She also had a personality disorder. It’s difficult for many people to understand. But one minute she’ll be herself, a twenty-one year old wife and mother, then the next minute, she’ll be a six year old girl named EE. The name EE was given to her from my uncle. When he’d try to say Alicia it came out as EE. She switches to EE when she is scared, happy, or sad. At the time she would switch a lot. And I didn’t care, I was young, and to me EE was a friend. She acted my age. She would throw a tantrum if she didn’t get what she wanted. She loved to watch Mickey Mouse and The Wiggles. For ten year old me, they were favorite shows too. In a way she was just like me. We would play with blocks and talk, and I began to love EE more than I loved my own mom.
My mom has done a lot of embarrassing things when she switched. One time we were sitting in the living room. As usual, Mickey Mouse was on. I got up and walked to the bathroom. I was only gone for like five minutes, if that. And when I came back tears filled my eyes. EE had used nail polish as lipstick. The nail polish was a pretty, light blue, with silver glitter in it. She tried to say something but the nail polish had already dried her lips shut. I ran crying to my “gaga,” and when she got to EE she was crying. The nail polish was burning her lips. My grandma, looking frustrated, ran to the bathroom and got nail polish remover and a Q-tip, and began to go at the dried up nail polish. It took about fifteen minutes for her lips to be able to open. She switched back to being my mom and went to get something for her headache. Switching gave my mom headaches. So she took a pill, and went for a nap.
My house wasn’t the best, but it was home to me. It wasn’t a house at all. It was my Gaga’s basement. It was small. At one point me, my two sisters, and my parents all shared a bed. It was tight, and my dad snored, so I had many sleepless nights. I’d sit there, in the dark, till I finally couldn’t stay awake any longer. We had a lot of floods, and many of my toys and clothes were destroyed. And then we would pack up and go upstairs to my Gaga and Pap’s, and stay there until my pap and dad fixed the basement. We all slept on the floor in the living room. And our necks and backs hurt so bad in the mornings.
As I got older I started to hate EE. She was starting to cause me more problems. I was the oldest out of all my sisters, so when my mom would switch, I became the mother figure; my dad was always working, and someone had to step up. So I had to learn to cook at an early age and clean and do dishes. My sisters began to hate me because they thought I was too pushy and mean. In reality all I was doing was being the mother they didn’t have. I was rushed into adulthood. And it began to put me down, and I slowly developed depression. No one knew because I never talked about my problems or showed my emotions. The one thing that made me despise EE, was not being able to have friends over. I didn’t want them to come over and find a thirty-two years old woman acting like a six year old. It was embarrassing, and what If she’d have a seizure? It wasn’t worth it to me, I didn’t want anyone knowing about it.
When I was fourteen my mother couldn’t stand being sick. She already missed so much of me growing up. When she switches, she goes into her mind and doesn’t remember anything that EE has done. And she hated not knowing what she’s going to come back to, and knowing that when she came back she’d have a really bad headache. So she started taking pills to ease her pain. Slowly my grandma noticed her pills were missing. And then she noticed my mom sleeping more. When confronted about it, she said the bad people in her head made her. We all knew what that meant. It was back to the hospital.
She was in and out of hospital. No one ever helped any. I gave up, I was done. What would make this time any different. I just sat in my bed, with a weird, sad, yet depressing feeling. It was like I was in slow motion, and everything around me was being fast forwarded. I couldn’t keep up at school anymore.
Five days passed by so fast. My aunt and her kids came over, to celebrate my mom coming home. My mom walked in the door and everyone ran over to see her. I kinda just stayed in the back. My gaga then began to tell us what they did to her. They cured her seizures, and they gave her medication for her pain. And then the bomb dropped. She told us that there is no cure for the switching. I was stuck with her for the rest of my life?
To this day EE is still around. She comes out in the morning to say “good morning” and at night to say “good night.” I finally began to love my mom, now that she has gotten better. She now cooks and cleans. She’s the mother I wanted from the start. She is my EE, my mother, and my “Doodle.” Your story showed me that it is okay to love and hate at the same time. As “Brother” says, “There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love.”
February. That was a tough time for me. No, scratch that. A horrible time for me. No, scratch that. A mind breaking time for me. Stress troubles. Family troubles. Anxiety troubles. School troubles. Friend troubles. Depression troubles. Any problem that you can think of, I probably experienced it. At that time, I locked myself away. For days, sometimes even weeks. I wouldn’t laugh, let alone smile, and if I did, it was a miracle. But then I started reading. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. They didn’t affect me. But then I picked up your book, It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
I remember the first time I read that book. Within the first few chapters, I was crying. I never related to something the way I related to your book.
And then I brought it into school. And let me tell you, at my school, when you bring in a book that no one’s heard about, they grab it from your hands like barbarians and start reading the description. But then I saw their faces frown. I can still clearly remember it, “Suicide?” “Anxiety?” “Depression?” “Taylor, are you okay?”
When I researched you, I found out that you were in a mental hospital. And that killed me. So much. I continued reading, and couldn’t stop. Chapter 5. Chapter 6. Chapter 7. And before I knew it, I was done. I didn’t know what to do. I smiled for the first time for months because of your book. It was funny, it was sad, it was even happy for Christ sake!
I couldn’t get your book off my mind. I was longing for more. I wanted to see the words again. I wanted to be happy. I read your other books but I just didn’t connect to them in the same way. So I tried to contact you.
You’re dead. You’re freaking dead. And you didn’t just die from anything. You died from suicide. And at that moment I realized how much your book meant to you, and to me.
You poured your heart into this book and the book poured into mine. The whole entire plot and everything. A biography. But it wasn’t. It was fiction. And I questioned that. For days. Weeks. Months. Was this a biography that you disguised into a fiction book? I read your book over and over again. I couldn’t get enough. People started questioning. But I didn’t care.
Ned, I don’t know if it’s the style of your writing or your interesting plot, but it got me hooked. And I was always recommending it, but they wouldn’t listen, “I don’t know if I’m comfortable reading about this particular topic. I’m sorry.”
I wanted to thank you. For everything. Not only did your book give me joy, but it helped me through those distressing times. You showed me, and others what it’s like to have depression and not be mentally okay. You’ve showed the world that mental illnesses are just as serious as physical illnesses. So thank you. For everything. For saving me from this dark abyss. Thank you.
You must either be a mad man or a magician, because I think you are one of the few people in this world that understands why bad things happen to good people. You have written so many famous classical masterpieces, many of which my family members and I have enjoyed. We are zealous readers, especially my older sister who is a big fan of yours. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had parts of your books memorized as she is known for that sort of thing. She is a student studying to be an editor while helping teach university courses. It’s curious that my favorite book you have ever written isn’t Great Expectations or Oliver Twist or even A Christmas Carol (your more popular books). It’s The Old Curiosity Shop.
I had great expectations for The Old Curiosity Shop at first, but as I was reading, I have to admit, it was difficult to get through. Your book must have weighed at least a hundred pounds! Interestingly, we have roughly 3,000 books in our home, and The Old Curiosity Shop reminds of one of our larger tomes. Usually I eat books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My parents read books with me, and I read to my siblings a lot. However, no matter how many hours spent reading every morning, I always had hundreds more pages of your book awaiting me! It wasn’t until the end that I really started to hate your book, though, because in the end, a very bad thing happens to a very good person.
Why in the dickens did you kill Nell at the end of your book?! You practically killed an angel! You could have let her live like Oliver Twist and Pip did! You could have let her “angelic wings” continue to soar as a glimmer of hope in the midst of the strife of the story. You could have let her live and be part of the social reform that you illustrate in many of your other books. But your book had one of the saddest endings I have ever read. At first, I wanted to sob, and I’m not one to cry easily. Why, next, I was ready to throw your book out of a train window like Daniel O’Connell did when he read it. In addition, I questioned your skill as the great author my family had grown to love so much. I probably felt somewhat like a girl questioning God on the death of a good and gracious friend . . . but, of course, not to the same extent. I have to say, I put that book up on the shelf very disappointed in you (no disrespect intended, Mr. Dickens, but you scared the Dickens right out of me). Nonetheless, I was confused and upset about your ending. It wasn’t until very recently that I began to uncover what you were trying to write with invisible ink along the end of your book.
Recently, one of my sixteen-year-old friends was in a serious horseback riding accident. After suffering several broken bones, two punctured lungs, several surgeries, and a severed spinal cord, she is paralyzed from the hip down. When I first found out, I had the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I did when I finished your book: excruciating sadness, denial, and anger. It was as if I was reading your book again with no happy ending. Where was the sunset? Where was the prince riding with his princess? Where was the beautiful music echoing from the mountaintops? There was none. Everything was silent. Still. Void. I was Nell’s grandfather, the victim of a very bad thing happening to a very good person. Even worse, my friend was Nell’s grandfather. Where was the justice? I didn’t understand. The next few days were spent with a dreary black raincloud pouring over me. I even avoided my favorite lake down the street where I love to read and write and draw. I started thinking about why your book was so depressing. It wasn’t only because Nell died, but also because her grandfather let it destroy him.
As I was thinking of this a light bulb lit up in my brain. Nell’s grandfather sat by her grave every day waiting for her to come back until eventually he died. He let the bad things in his life overcome him, and the book ended with no one living happily ever after. Most authors create characters and stories that we want to live ourselves, but in your book, you let your main characters be overcome by their problems. So I was confused. Human nature does not like what cannot be understood. Why did you let bad things ruin a good story? We have enough of that in our world. My sister died 1 year after 9-11. Terrorists threaten our world. My brother had excruciating and incapacitating migraines for years. My friend can’t walk. She may always have to depend on physical help.
But now I finally understand what you were trying to tell me. Bad things happen to good people because that’s what defines us. That’s what makes us who we are. How we respond and how we help the situation molds us into the people we want to be. You didn’t want us to be like the grandfather; you wanted us to be better than him. Do we want to let the bad things in our lives defeat us like they defeated the grandfather, or do we want to write our own happy endings to our stories?
I know that by writing a sad ending to The Old Curiosity Shop, you wrote a happy ending to your own story. You wrote that book for your sister-in-law, Mary, who died at the young age of just 17 years old. You understood that you couldn’t let this destroy you. You wrote The Old Curiosity Shop so Mary, as Little Nell, could live forever in your writing and help others. You wrote a book that truly has a voice, and all we have to do is listen closely enough to hear it. Books are immortal. In that same sense and with your help, Mary is immortal. Maybe I, too, along with my friend, can be immortal with a just, courageous, kind, and persevering spirit, inspiring and helping each other. We have to depend on love to help us through life anyway. If seen through the correct lens, needing physical help can help share love like we should be sharing anyway. Pondering these themes has inspired me in more ways than one. My family wants to take more trips to help a family member in another state.
Sometimes I wonder what you think of how famous your works are after all these years and all the different ways people portray them. I think you would be proud to see what good The Old Curiosity Shop has done for me. Instead of letting this awful situation get me down, I am making get well presents for my friend, and my family is encouraging her family, who is feeling peace in this time of struggle. We are praying and working on raising money to help with wheelchair accessible routes in the home. I will be visiting her in rehabilitation and encouraging her to beat this situation like you taught me.
When we were both young kids, our moms took us to the local library to story time. We loved Miss JoAnn and the stories she read and picking out books afterward. Our moms have continued the tradition of taking the younger siblings to story time through the years, and the kids still love hearing the stories read and the tradition of selecting books. Perhaps, I’ll stop there as I often do, pick out a book and share it with my friend when I visit her. On the walk over to the library, I’ll think of more ways to share the blessings of life with my friend like you taught me. More important, I won’t ignore her, throw the thought of her out a train window or onto a dusty, old shelf. I’ll read her like a book and get acquainted with her needs. I’ll help her. As you said Mr. Dickens, “It is a pleasant world we live in sir, a very pleasant world.”
Thank you so much for writing a book I will never forget. Even though I hated it at first, it has become one of my favorite books. Not only did you teach me how to deal with bad situations, but you also taught me how to read like a writer, reading a book as if I am reading a person. I’m still not sure if you are a magician or mad man, or maybe neither or both. Either way, you have taught me how to write a happy ending for my story, and trust me, I will.
Christine A. Troll
Dear C.S. Lewis,
When I was small, chapter books tended to stay black and white. I liked picture books with great detail; I thought they were the work of an artist which I strived to be, one day. Without pictures, a book was just meaningless words on paper. For me, it seemed crazy that any author would choose to not include pictures in a story. I had read many chapter books and understood them well, but they were just the most boring things in the universe. My parents and teachers kept saying, “use your imagination.” I knew that I had an imagination, for just about everyone does, but somehow I just couldn’t activate it.
I was assigned to read The Magician’s Nephew in third grade. My teacher told my classmates and me to read chapters one through five. That night, I started reading and for the first couple of pages I thought the same thing: boring. But as I read further, the story came alive, and I had a crisp image of the row of houses; I could even see the painful emotion Diggory had on his grubby face. It was as if those boring black and white pages turned into precious artworks in my mind. I was sucked from the boring farm in Kansas to the magical land of Oz.
Having this new imagination, I thought about things differently. A picture book does have wonderful and magical illustrations, but you can never really make them your own. The pictures you see make you have a definite image of what the story looks like without having any freedom to imagine it yourself, which is really the fun part of reading. On the other hand, a chapter book lets you make the story your own, it lets you imagine the story how you want to imagine it, and you illustrate the book in your mind.
At first, I thought that it was you who had painted the wonderful illustrations in my mind, but I soon realized that I was the artist. People think that to be an artist, you must be good at drawing or painting but I soon found out that you don’t. I realized that art is many things. For example, this writing that I am typing right now is art. When chapter books were black and white, I thought that I would never be an artist, for I could barely draw a stick figure. Your book improved my drawings. Instead of basing my drawings off of things that already existed, I created my own story to draw on the crisp, white piece of paper. It taught me that I didn’t have to be a painter, I could be a sculptor, a writer, a poet, or any other type of artist. Most of all, your book showed me that imagination is the key to literature.
Dear George Orwell,
Once upon a time I read your famous book, Animal Farm. I’ll be honest. I only read your book because I thought it was going to be a nice little story about animals living on a farm with a kind owner and maybe a state fair that they attend. But after the second chapter, I wasn’t so sure. This was no Charlotte’s Web! I found myself caught in a strange world that I couldn’t quite describe or explain…The strange ideas of a mad man? A statement on the world we live in today? A shocking glimpse of the future? I must say, I’m still a little baffled at what crazy thing gave you the idea to write Animal Farm, but I also have to thank you for writing it, because it helped me stand by what I knew was right in times of struggle.
They were all being pigs. They weren’t rolling around in mud or eating slop or anything like that, but they were acting like animals living on an animal farm because of their bullying. I saw them do it almost every day. I saw them giggling behind her back and looking her up and down when she walked by. I heard them make fun of the things she wore saying, “Why are you wearing that?” They would purposely not pick her in games during soccer; then rub it in her face saying, “We don’t want you!” When she sat near the back of the bus and listened to music on her phone, they would taunt and tease saying, “Nobody likes that music. It’s lame.” The way they judged the girl as less than they were because of the clothes she wore or the music she liked infuriated me. To be completely honest, sometimes I wanted to pound those girls all the way to Animal Farm and back! But I kept trying to tell myself that they were probably bullying because something bad was happening in their own life and bullying others made them feel important and above the rest.
One day at soccer practice I was standing at the goal post and the bullies walked up to me. They began to talk bad about the girl. “She’s not a good student or athlete, and she’s always talking bad about others.” they told me. I stood there listening to these bullies making fun of this girl for things they were doing themselves! Although I wasn’t friends with this girl, I was one more comment away from picking up the nearest set of legs and chucking them halfway across the field when something hit me…I remembered a book I had read the year before. Your book.
I don’t know why that hit me then and there. The only thing I thought of your book at that point was a crazy old man’s story that I didn’t quite understand. Suddenly I remembered Napolean, the pig. In your story he got rid of his dictator Farmer Jones by becoming a dictator. He became the very problem that he fought to fix. I remembered how much I hated the ending of your book. A lot of the books I like to read have nice little endings, but yours was no ride off into the sunset! Incredulously I saw myself in your words. I was Napolean, about to become the very problem I hated. I suddenly realized that my story would end the same way if I acted like Napolean.
Napolean reminded me of how the pilgrims fled to escape religious persecution, but then turned around and became the very persecuters they had despised! I was a pilgrim about to persecute those who persecuted others. Then it hit me. We can all be like pigs and pilgrims sometimes. After Hitler had judged so many people less than himself just because they were different, we should have learned our lesson. But still we judge people by what college they go or don’t go to. We judge people by if they’re a laboring worker or not. We judge people who aren’t up to the latest fad in modern technology. We judge people by what they look like or if they have athletic prowess or not. We even judge them by what sports team they may or may not like. We judge people when we don’t like to be judged ourselves.
I realized that I didn’t want to be a pig. If I bullied the bullies, I would be nothing more than a pork chop. So I didn’t just stand there and let them keep bullying, but I didn’t bully them. Because I wouldn’t grow taller if I made them smaller. I put my foot firmly in the grass and said, “Stop it. She isn’t like that. You should look at youselves.” I walked away in silence, leaving three very confused bullies behind me. The next time I was on the bus, I heard a familiar bully’s voice near the back saying, “Sit somewhere else. Nobody wants to sit with you.” So I got up, marched to the back of the bus, took the crying girl’s hand and said good and loud, “Come on and sit up near the front of the bus with me. I want to sit with you.”
Thank you for giving my story a happy ending. Your book means many things to many different people, but to me it’s a story of ourselves, and the true ending is up to us. I used to think you were just a crazy old man with crazy ideas, but now I agree with you. WE can’t solve a problem by becoming that problem, and we can’t put ourselves higher than others. We’ll never live happily ever after if we think like that. Now I know how to react the right way to people who are bullying. Because of your book I can ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after…the end.
Christine A. Troll
Dear J.K. Rowling,
I must, with the upmost sincerity and respect, disagree with you. “All was well. “ You ended an era and, more importantly, my childhood with these three words. “All was well.” Well, as I read the final lines of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I can assure you that all was not, in fact, well.
On July 21, 2007, I anxiously waited in line outside Barnes & Noble for four hours to get my midnight copy of the last Harry Potter book. I was eleven. It’s funny to think that I ended my journey with Harry at the same age he began his in the books. My sister and I stayed up all night listening to my father read us that final book, laughing as put on the same voices for characters that he’d been acting out for nine years. As he read the final pages of the epilogue, I felt the torrential downpour of salty tears flood onto my cheeks. Maybe it was the exhaustion that caused me to cry, but I don’t think that’s it. Exhaustion doesn’t explain why I’m crying while writing you this letter.
I didn’t cry during the epilogue of the last Harry Potter book because of the number of characters you killed off in the final chapters. I didn’t cry as my father read the last lines because I wanted more books in the series. I cried because I realized Harry Potter wasn’t just the fantastical adventure of my childhood; it was also the herald of my maturation. The fantasy wasn’t over, it had just changed settings.
I cried because I learned that “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” You gave Sirius Black this line in book five and later used it in book seven to define Severus Snape, whose transformation from bad guy to antihero shocked anyone reading the series. Although Death Eaters may only be the term for Lord Voldemort’s followers throughout your books, to me they mean so much more. They represent the evil in the world, and in every human being. You’re right, Ms. Rowling, the world isn’t black and white. It is many beautiful and brilliant shades of gray. It isn’t moral versus immoral or righteous versus corrupt. There is good and bad in every human being. Everyone is a Harry Potter at one point and a Death Eater at another. I cried because I recognized that the simple unconditional thinking of my childhood was over. You helped me come to this conclusion. Or rather, you used Sirius Black to introduce me to it, and Severus Snape to drive it home.
I cried as I finished reading about the last of Harry’s adventures because I, at the tender age of eleven, discovered that I wasn’t scared of dying anymore. After all, if Harry could greet “death like an old friend,” so could I. Now, as an eighteen year-old, I don’t want to live life fearlessly. I would rather be like Harry; I would rather take my fear and use it to make something great so that whenever I die, I don’t have to be afraid that I didn’t do something with the life I was given.
I cried because the entire Harry Potter series taught me to love reading. My mother has a Ph.D. in physics in her second language. My father teaches economics at a local college. I was taught to love learning, just not the imaginative kind. With reading, there are no rules. In stories, calculations don’t matter. Physics does not apply in the wizarding world, whose banking system is too complicated for simple economics. I was introduced to an entirely new playing field. Reading fiction was learning made anew. I cried because I realized that my newfound passion for imagination was a direct result of reading Harry Potter. I cried because Harry taught me that learning doesn’t always come from a classroom. Sometimes, it comes from within us.
Until July 21, 2007, I had never cried over a book. No author had managed to move me to tears with only his or her words before I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And really, if I’m being honest, no author has managed it since.
So, Ms. Rowling, all may not have been well during the days after I finished your book, but all is certainly well now. Thank you.
Dear Ms. Fleurimond,
I’m betting that not many high schoolers write to you about your cookbook. After all, cookbooks aren’t the normal subjects of teenage fan mail. However, though it isn’t a typical novel, it affected me just as much as any other book or poem could. It made me feel excited, happy, and even sad. It brought out emotions that most people would not associate with a cookbook, because yours is not an ordinary cookbook.
I come from a mixed family. My mom is Haitian and my dad is Italian, and we live in the middle of Pennsylvania. I always regret that I didn’t grow up trying lots of ethnic Haitian and Italian cuisine. My parents usually make their specialty dishes for special occasions. My dad makes his clam sauce for Easter, and cans tomato sauce in the summer so we can have it on linguine or spaghetti for the rest of the year. My mom makes her fried banane occasionally, squash soup for New Years, and diri pwa cole whenever my sister comes home from college. (We always fight about who gets the gratin left on the bottom of the pan from the rice.) Most days, we eat typical American foods like pizza, chicken, and hot dogs. The other times that I am exposed to Haitian food and culture are when I go to visit my mom’s side of the family in New York. There, we like to stop at a little Haitian bakery and get beef patties, and sweet dous kokoye if I’m lucky. In addition, my aunt makes delicious griot, using all of the spices that my mom can’t find in our small suburban town. I had no other way to experience authentic Haitian dishes until I read your book.
I yearn to cook more of my mom’s food with her and in the process discover more of her culture. But with school, homework, track, along with my mom’s hectic schedule we could never find the time to cook together. She was going to take me to Haiti in the summer of 2010, but then the earthquake struck in January of that year. It was a scary time not only for Haiti but for my family here as well as for me. The devastating pictures on the news were horrific. Was my family there okay? Would I ever be able to see the country that I had imagined for so long? What if the beautiful places that my mom described had been ruined? Thankfully, our family in Haiti was unharmed. However, it was decided that our trip, and my dream to see my mom’s beloved country be postponed.
When my sister got me your book, Haiti Uncovered: A Regional Adventure into the Art of Haitian Cuisine, I was elated. Just perusing all of the recipes, my mouth started to water. As I flipped the pages, I smelled the spices in the ingredients. I felt the textures of the foods on my taste buds. I could even hear the colorful taptaps going by in the streets. I was especially fascinated with the section on Port-Au-Prince because that is where my mom is from, thus, I had heard about some of the food from that section. I absolutely love pikliz, the spicy tangy condiment that I put on just about anything. It tastes like Haiti, and makes me imagine the hot tropical countryside there. I also made the manba because I am a peanut butter fanatic, and wanted to compare peanut butter here and in Haiti. My favorite dish to make is the gato ayisyen. I have made the Haitian for New Year’s, my brother’s graduation, and my mom’s birthday. I love making it because every time I do, my mom tells my Haitian relatives and they tell her how delighted they are that I am experiencing their culture.
But the recipes aren’t the only reason I love your book so much. I love it because of it’s uniqueness. It’s so much more than a cookbook. It is a tour of Haiti and its history, wrapped up between regional dishes. It has facts about Haitian geography, photos of everyday Haitians, and information about Haitian culture. I learned about the Taino people and how their native places were taken over by the Spanish. I read about the different departments, such as the Nord-Est and Artibonite, while discovering culture and cuisine from each region. I enjoyed all of the extraordinary pictures that accompanied the text, giving me a way to see the people of each region performing everyday tasks, as well as scenic lands, pure and beautiful.
The book is truly a wonderful way for me to experience my mom’s culture. Centre County, Pennsylvania has isolated me from being exposed to different cultures, and because of this, I feel as though I have lost much of my mom’s heritage, but your book makes me feel closer to my mom and to Haiti. I no longer have to wait until I go to New York to have Haitian food. I no longer have to wait until I actually go to Haiti to experience the culture. I can experience all of it through your book. Because of it, my mom and I have even found time to cook together. I enjoy the excitement that come from trying a new Haitian dish, or having my mom say that something I have made reminds her of her childhood. Thank you for giving me a way to share this with her.
Dear Jerry Spinelli,
I’m different. To some, too different. It’s turned so many others against me, and hurt me too many times to be forgotten. Why? It’s relatively simple. I’m your average, real-life Stargirl. However, that can form problems.
From the beginning, I stayed true to myself, being nobody but me, myself, and I. The two things that accomplished that for me were my art and music. I drew the world through my youthful eyes, and sang along with the birds, writing my own songs and training my voice.
Then, I was bullied. Nobody liked my unique traits anymore; first grade was slightly rough. Honestly, I think some kids were just simply jealous. They would be caught questioning how my drawing abilities were so well, and hummed along with each song I wrote. Then, as soon as 3rd grade reached us, something snapped. The hurt was now unbearable. I sat by myself at empty tables, and cried silently every recess. No one ever knew. Those who dared to join me were shunned, similar to Stargirl and Leo. All the piano concertos I performed in couldn’t play away my sadness, and my sketches couldn’t draw me up any new friends.
In 4th grade, I started a new school, telling myself to be “normal,” to fit in, to feel like I belonged somewhere. I strived to be more “popular,” just like Stargirl, scavenging for popularity. Then, Stargirl was discovered—by me, searching my home for a good book to enjoy. The story blew me away farther than any storm could have.
As time, progressed, I jumped at the chances to sign up for instrumental lessons, singing groups, and comic book festivals. I made more true friends being myself than anyone else. I felt at home in my new school, I even loved attending each day. During each August, I even wanted to return to school.
To wrap things up, I now have created around three graphic novels (comics) and write songs every day, as a singer in my band, which hopefully can someday rock the charts (American Idol, beware! I plan to audition!). My bond with my art and music has just grown stronger than ever, and I feel like this whole experience has taught me a lot about who I truly am: nobody other than me, myself, and I.
As for the people who taunted me at my old school, some of them followed me to my new school when the old school closed. Some of them still shoot me cruel looks, even after I try to make up. Some, though, reformed our friendship. My “happily ever after” isn’t perfect, but I’m on the road to fame, friendship, and an overall awesome life.
Stargirl taught me that I was better being myself, and standing up. I’m now one of the most confident people I know—I always speak my mind now. Stargirl has become no less than my guardian angel. Call me crazy, but I’ve rebounded like a true Stargirl.
Dear Herman Melville,
Call me Christopher. I did not want to do it. It was further from my reach than Jupiter. It was as stunning as looking at a head with no body. It was as challenging as carving a monumental city. The danger would almost be as traumatic as serving on the Pequod in Moby-Dick with a captain so totally preoccupied with his revenge that he neglected the care and even life of his crew. 1% chance of survival if I am lucky. People all around me told me I could not do it. However some of my siblings had conquered similar challenges, and they encouraged me. Yet I thought swimming across the seven seas behind Ahab’s boat would’ve been just as harrowing.
The excuses I invented were no match for my teacher’s insistence that I take on this task. My siblings have conquered mammoth books so I had pressure on me just like a sibling of an athletic star when he tries out for sports. I did not know what to do. Except open it up. And read it.
Call me Crazy. Reading has always been my worst nightmare. Some of my siblings speed through books almost as if they eat them as snacks. As for me, I seem to choke on them. But once I reached middle school and the books started getting thicker, I just about had it with reading.
Then your 592-page book, Moby-Dick, like the White Whale within it who took Ahab’s leg and sent him into madness, took my brain and made me mad too. Just the opposite of Ahab’s crew, I really didn’t want to start it. But I did. Next, I really didn’t want to finish it, because it was so long and arduous for me to conquer. I realized that conquering this book was like conquering the Moby-Dick. But then at last, I really didn’t want to leave it unfinished. Captain Ahab just wouldn’t let me sneak off his boat and swim to shore, and I found myself looking for the White Whale, Moby-Dick, with him.
I could smell and taste the salty air. I could feel a cold breeze brushing my hair. I could hear voices from up high screaming, “Thar she blows.” I could see the crazed Ahab, whose leg is half man, half whale’s jawbone. I, too, along with the crew, couldn’t finish chasing the 100 whales which would provide the community with oil to light their lanterns. I saw Ahab, focusing only on vengeance, reroute the ship.
I’m not going to lie to you. Your book was extremely difficult for me to read. It took me awhile to finally reach the end of Captain Ahab’s voyage. But when I did, I knew it had been worth it. Getting through such a big and interesting story, though it took more time and effort than I was at first willing to give, made me realize that I have the ability to read long books and benefit from them if I persevere. In the end Captain Ahab died in his revenge battle with the whale, but I will no longer let big books conquer me. Because now I know that I can conquer them. No longer “Call me Christopher.” Now “Call me Ishmael,” because conquering this challenging book was as difficult as conquering the White Whale. Now I, too, feel like the lone survivor of my adventure. And I live to tell.
Dear Amy Chua,
When I first read your book, I thought it would be just another book on the differences between Chinese parenting and Western parenting and why the Chinese way was better—and definitely harder on the children. I was fully prepared to disagree with the former and nod fervently at the latter. Instead, I got a lesson in life and a viewpoint from a different perspective. As a Chinese-American, I am used to the way that Chinese parents think: “the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence.” This doesn’t always mean it is easy to accept.
I grew up in a Chinese household and a Western society. My experiences in both have revealed to me the glaring differences. I have always been a year, sometimes two years, younger than my classmates because I started kindergarten early. Being constantly looked down on due to my age made me self-conscious even though I was smarter than most of my classmates. My parents taught me to read when I was two years old, and at three, I already knew the multiplication table. In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Sophia and Lulu were expected to be two years ahead of their classmates in math, as I was. By eighth grade, I had already taken the SATs.
At home, my parents were always telling me to study, study, study. Heaven forbid my grade should drop below a ninety-eight percent. So, it always irked me when my American friends told me their parents had given them money or taken them out to eat for an eighty percent. For me, A-pluses weren’t goals. There were expectations. Likewise, most of my friends who played instruments thought that practicing for twenty minutes was a lot, while I was being pushed to practice for an hour and a half. In these moments, I always resented my parents and wished for American parents. What gave my parents the right to constantly be on my case about grades when my friends were in Disneyland because they got an eighty-five on their latest quiz? Yes, my thoughts were definitely justified.
Or so I thought.
When I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, at first, I sided with the daughters, Lulu and Sophia. At first, I was against you, Amy Chua. I thought you were being cruel and even more demanding than my parents. When you whisked Lulu and Sophia out of art and music lessons during school so they could go to piano or violin lessons, I shook an invisible fist. When you forced Lulu to practice violin for hours on end, I compared you to my mother, who made me practice piano as well. When Lulu fought back and cut her own hair after you refused to take her to the salon as punishment for not practicing violin, I cheered. At last, I thought, here is a case where the dominance of the parent is broken.
Through your entire book, I remained obstinately on what I believed to be the underdog side. I never once stopped to consider both sides of the story. It wasn’t until the next time that my mom berated me for idly reading instead of practicing piano that I realized what the message of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was. I had opened my mouth to retort back (another no-no for a Chinese household) when, inexplicably, your book flashed through my mind. I realized for the first time that it wasn’t just about me. It was about my mom, too. The message of your book? It was: Chinese parenting is hard for the parents as well.
I realized that I was supposed to read between the lines when reading this book. Yes, Sophia and Lulu sacrificed most of their average teen experience to take piano and music lessons, but what about your sacrifice? Your time, your energy, your love for your daughters was all spent on making sure your daughters would be successful later in life. I realized I had never thought about what effect all my detested extracurricular activities had on my mother. It couldn’t have been easy for her, driving me to all my piano, math practice, and SAT prep lessons. She probably had to rush to finish all of her work every day in time so that she could leave work early to send me to my lesson. She also spent a lot of money on me. Piano lessons, pianos, and prep books are expensive.
Suddenly, the piano didn’t seem as much of a symbol of parental oppression as I had thought. It seemed more like a testament to all my mother had done for me. All those scoldings, all those pushes to be better than best. They were all for my benefit. Later, I reread your book. Instead of thinking of your book as a comparison to my own life in a bad way, I understood your seemingly overdone actions. I also understood my mother’s hidden meaning when she told me to go practice piano or study for the SATs. Thanks to your book, I realized all of this before I could grow old and regret my resistance to my mom’s attempts to provide a secure future for me.
One quote from your book really sums up what I had ignored: “Chinese parenting is one of the most difficult things I can think of. You have to be hated by someone you love and who hopefully loves you, and there’s just no letting up, no point at which it suddenly becomes easy. Just the opposite, Chinese parenting—at least if you’re trying to do it in America, where all odds are against you—is a never-ending uphill battle, requiring a 24-7 commitment, resilience, and guile.”
Thank you for teaching me to look past my mother’s demanding exterior, and take a glance
within, where all her courage, love, time, and energy is spent on getting me the future she
believes I deserve.
Dear Mr. Wukovits,
I wanted to write and tell you that out of all the books I have ever read, which have been quite a few because I am an avid reader, none have touched me or made me as thankful for my own life as your book did. Reading The Importance of Anne Frank awakened in me realizations and appreciations that stirred my inner soul and will remain with me the rest of my life.
Before reading your book, never had I actually put myself in the shoes of a girl almost the same age as me like Anne Frank. Because I also like to write in a diary or journal I was first drawn to Anne because of that, but as the story continued to unfold, I thanked God that my entries never had to be like hers. While reading, it was as if I was transformed and taken back to the horrendous time of the Jewish persecution. I cannot begin to fathom how Anne mustered the strength to go on when having to live in hiding, nor can I ever imagine my family being torn apart like hers was and suffering the atrocities they did.
Sometimes I would feel so moved when reading that I found it necessary to share out loud some of the passages with my mother, and both of us literally just sat weeping together with sadness and an aching in our hearts for Anne and her family. Many times it was somewhat hard to read on, but I had to because I wanted to desperately know what happened. The book made me feel like I wished I could be there to somehow help Anne and her family. Then learning that Anne and all but one member of her family died so close to liberation of the concentration camps and the end of WW II invoked in me an emotion so strong that it was a cross between sheer devastation and almost an anger that made me want to rise up and do something about what had happened.
Your book ends with a passage that makes reference to the Holocaust being forgotten. Mr. Wukovits, my dear sir, I want to promise you that because of your writing I will never forget what happened! You, so meaningfully and descriptively recreating that horrendous time in history have changed my life forever. The Importance of Anne Frank has made me realize all the more what being an American and having the opportunity to live in the United States as an individual means. It has also given me a new found appreciation for my family and how glad I am to have them surrounding me as I grow up. As part of the generation that will be the leaders of the future, it will be an honor for me to do everything in my power to strive to instill in others tolerance and hope so that with the courage and determination like hers, Anne Frank’s dream will live on.
Dear Laurie Halse Anderson,
This letter is not just a letter. It is an emotional release of my dark days and how I managed to slither through into the silver lining. For what seems like an eternity, I was a cross product of Lia and Cassie. This is not a sad sob story, but it is an account of the bitterness in reality.
Growing up, I was an awkward, short, stocky girl, and the girls in my class made sure I never forgot it. I believe I have three components of my identity (sort of like the id, the ego, and the superego). There’s Cassie, Lia, and then Taylor. In fifth and sixth grade, things took a turn for the worse. I was sent into a world of problems no eleven-year old should ever have to face. All the little comments, text messages, and “jokes” turned into engravings through my head. I remember lying in bed at night, preparing myself for what was about to come the next day. I started to avoid the mirrors at first. I didn’t want to have to look at myself because I knew what the girls were telling me would start to surface. In fifth grade, it started off as eating healthier. That wasn’t enough. Eating healthier soon turned into counting calories and becoming obsessed with not going over that certain number. That spiraled out of control. Like Cassie, I was vulnerable at a young age and met my best friend and my greatest enemy within the same years she did. Only my friend was anorexia, not bulimia. In this way, I was similar to Lia. Everything else was simply my own distortion: Taylor.
Anorexia soon controlled me. I was sent plummeting into depression. I can’t describe how it happened. At the time, I was barely aware of what happened. When describing how it happened to an outsider, I like to use a story we’re all familiar with: Alice in Wonderland. The story simply starts out with a curious young girl gazing into a hole. However, there is an unexpected twist. Curiosity soon turns into her greatest nightmare. She falls into the hole and enters a whole new world. Depression is similar. It starts with just being occasionally upset. Then it happens more often, only this time without reason. Soon, it becomes a daily occurrence: something you can’t control. I was sent into a world of demonic creatures. Demonic creatures that would turn an innocent young being into a wintergirl. “You’re not dead, but you aren’t alive, either. You’re a wintergirl, Lia-Lia, caught in between the worlds” (www.goodreads.com). I was a wintergirl. I wasn’t dead because I would wake up each morning and go through the motions of the day. But on the other hand, I wasn’t living. Truly living is defined by happiness. You can be alive, but you won’t live until you are happy. Therefore, I wasn’t living either because I was constantly feeling the exact opposite.
I came across your novel, Wintergirls, coincidentally at my darkest hour. I was in one of our local book stores looking for new books to read because books quieted the voices in my head telling me how much of a failure and disappointment I was. I was with one of my closest friends who knew about what I was dealing with, and he actually was the one who found it. He told me he didn’t care if I ever read it, or even if I returned it, he was going to buy this book for me, and I was going to have to take it home. At first, I was angry. I yelled and told him that I was going to return it. Nothing was wrong with me. I took the book home and it sat on my desk for about four nights. Then the voices wouldn’t stop, and I hadn’t eaten in what seemed like ages. I told myself I was just going to read a little bit, maybe it’ll stop the voice screaming at me that I’m a complete lard. I started to read. I ended up reading it until three in the morning. I cried and cried and cried. Finally, I came to the realization that my friend was right. I needed help. I know I’m dragging this out, but this letter would be pointless if you didn’t know my story. Your book made me come to my senses. I was a frail skeleton with no color. My hair was thinning immensely, my skin, pale. If I had not stumbled upon this book, I might not be alive. The suicide numbers might be one digit higher. I was at my breaking point, and your book was my diamond in the dust. I don’t know exactly what happened that night. I was so adamant that everything was fine. I was just trying to lose weight and be comfortable with myself, but something moved me on the inside. One of my favorite songs is You Found Me by The Fray. The most powerful line of the entire song is, “lost and insecure, you found me.” This applies perfectly to my fortunate finding of your book. I really started to realize something was wrong when I read one of the lines Lia said. She said, “The number doesn’t matter. If I got down to -070.00, I’d want to be 065.00. If I weighed 010.00, I wouldn’t be happy until I got down to 005.00. The only number that would ever be enough is 0. Zero pounds, zero life, size zero, double-zero, zero point. Zero in tennis is love. I finally get it “ (www.goodreads.com). I realized that even though I had already shed 60 pounds, it wouldn’t be enough until I lost the other 95. Just in realizing this, I passed a huge milestone. I started by eating a full three meals a day, or at least part of them. I hated that I was gaining weight, but I was doing it because it simply needed to be done.
Recovery was not easy and was filled with trillions of relapses along with the emotional roller coaster ride. During those setbacks, I would often look back to your book for guidance and as a reminder. I made Lia and Cassie into real people. They were my friends. Cassie showed me what would happen to me if I didn’t stop, and Lia taught me that it’s okay to ask for help in times of need. I didn’t want Cassie’s ending. Sure, there were days where I wished I could run away from everything, but I didn’t want to die anymore. I wanted to live. People knew what I was going through and wanted to see me succeed. I had a purpose. People wanted me to live. I wanted to be Lia. I wanted to be able to look back at my past and tell people that I got through it. I wanted to help others struggling get through it too. To this day, I still wake up and the first thing I do is look in the mirror. There’s a difference now though. I see my scars and I smile. Why? Because they show how strong I am. I don’t try to hide them. If anything, I flaunt them. People need to realize that this shouldn’t be a hush-hush don’t talk about it subject. Millions of girls and boys all different ages are dealing with anorexia and many other similar disorders/diseases. In reading your book, I saw my own personal struggle. At times, it seemed I was your characters. Wintergirls moved me. Thank you for what you have written. Words are a powerful thing.
Taylor Grace Bean
January 2, 2012
Dear Mr. Robert Frost,
Bullying is a huge problem for adolescents. Because of the threat of getting teased and laughed at, many people try to fit in. Many people would rather bully and tease other people to protect themself from that same thing. After all, who wants to be that kid sitting alone at lunch? Peer pressure and wanting to do what the “cool” kids are doing are big problems that every adolescent faces.
For me, fitting in is extremely difficult. I am in accelerated classes and when I am not in those classes, I am being taught at home by my mother. So I don’t get a lot of time to be in contact with other sixth graders. Last year though, that was all I wanted to do. I wanted to be one of those “cool” kids.
Last summer, my sister entered a poetry contest and before long, my whole family was into poetry. That was when I found your poem “The Road Not Taken.” Your words “But I took the one less traveled by And that has made all the difference” meant a lot to me. They spoke to me and told me that being different was okay. Not only is the speaker of the poem going on the different path, he is choosing to take the different path. He is choosing to be the kid who sits along on the bus, studying, while everyone else is joking or gossiping. He is choosing to be different and avoiding those kids who mock and tease others. He is choosing to be above and resist the peer pressure.
As I read those two lines over and over and over, I began to envision myself on life’s intersection. I had to choose between changing myself to please others and retaining my individuality and uniqueness to rise above the peer pressure. I realized that I didn’t need to make fun of someone because my so-called “friends” were doing it. I didn’t need to do anything for anyone. All I needed to do was be myself, and if someone didn’t like it, they would have to deal with it.
Mr. Frost, I want to thank you for writing this poem and telling individuals like me to take the road not taken and not to change just to please others. Your words impacted me greatly.
December 22, 2011
Dear Mr. Riordan,
I was six years old when I read your book, The Lightening Thief. I lived in a world revolving around Barbies and Disney princesses. I hated school, and spent my free time in dress-up clothes. Then I was introduced to your book, and everything changed. Honestly, I didn’t like it at first. I was expecting a re-telling of the traditional myths I’d read (under duress, of course). Due to peer pressure, I attempted to like it by re-reading it, and in the process, fell in love with it. I finally understood the ingenuity involved in re-working old myths and placing them in modern times. I loved Percy’s sense of humor, Grover’s loyalty, and Annabeth’s frankness, and my imagination began to be shaped by them.
The more engrossed I became in your books, the more I wanted to learn. I began to take a deeper interest in mythology, and became curious about its foundations. As a result, I developed a passion for history and archeology. In order to feed my learning frenzy, my mom signed me up for a Greek and Latin class. My obsession with your characters led me to do every scrap of extra credit in order to be like them—learning the Greek alphabet, reading Bullfinch’s mythology, even memorizing Greek vocabulary words (previously not a favorite subject).
While your book did inspire me to be a better student, it ultimately inspired me to begin writing myself. My stories began on little scraps of paper, and petered out after a page or two, but my sudden burst of creativity didn’t stop. My ideas became mini-novels, and my computer bogged down with short stories, as I continued Percy and Annabeth’s story. My friends and I were swept up into the world of writing, and spent hours poring over our fledgling stories—a much worthier occupation than watching TV!
It has been six years since I first read The Lightening Thief, but the impact it had on me has remained. The way you transformed dusty old stories into the sparkling twenty-first century led me to love the original myths in all their cob-webbed glory. I feel truly excited when I read history, and am considering studying archeology in college. My copy of The Lightening Thief is battered and old, and has been dragged to lots of classes and Percy-themed sleepovers. The positive impact your awesome book has had on my young life will never grow old.
With Sincerest Thanks,
Dear Jodi Picoult,
Every person has something they wish for in life; for some people it’s money, fame, new cars, the list of selfish wants is endless. But a person with cancer has only one wish; one more birthday, one more month, one more week, one more day. There is only one rational thing they can wish for, survival. Normal people, the lucky ones, tend to take life for granted, just because they can. Your book, My Sister’s Keeper, opened my eyes to how precious life truly is when I needed to see this the most.
I read your book after I saw the movie, and I fell in love with it. But in December 2009, my mom and step dad set me down and told me that my grandmother, a woman who doesn’t smoke, has lung cancer. I couldn’t understand it, the only people I’ve ever heard of who had lung cancer were heavy smokers, not my grandma. But that got me thinking, why does anyone get cancer? So, I reread your book, and this time it gave me a different message.
My Sister’s Keeper allowed me to understand what my grandmother was going through; it showed me how a person with cancer thinks and feels. It showed me how lucky I am, because millions of people, just like my grandmother or Kate, fight through this every day. But most importantly, it gave me hope. Kate beats the cancer, so everyone can stand a chance. My Sister’s Keeper also changed my thoughts on the world. Whether it was by thinking about if you would be able to have another child to save the life of your daughter, or losing a child, or thoughts of suing your own parents, this book definitely gave you a different perspective of life to look at.
On July 26th, 2010, my grandmother passed away after a hard fought battle. She’s still the strongest person I know, she’s still my role model, and still over a year later, not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. At first I was angry, so many other people survive, Kate survived, so why couldn’t she? But, My Sister’s Keeper showed me that sometimes in life, things change, and what you are expecting to happen does not, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Anna’s death definitely proved this point, and I could relate to it.
On Tuesday after Cross Country practice, my mom was there to pick me up as always. But there was that look in her eye that she always gets when something is wrong. She told me that my grandfather is dying; his liver cancer has finally beaten him. He only had maybe a few days left, so my dad wanted her to bring us down to Philadelphia immediately to see him, so off we went to say our final goodbyes. At school the next day, my English teacher told me that I had to write an essay on a book that had changed my life. I thought that it must have been fate; God knew I needed a reminder, and that’s when it hit me. My thoughts were yet again on My Sister’s Keeper. Once again, I realized I had been taking life for granted, when nothing is guaranteed. So I went into my closet and pulled your book out to read once again when I needed it most. But this time, it taught me a different life lesson. It showed me that like Kate and Anna, I am so blessed to have so many loving friends and family supporting me in my time of need. After everything My Sister’s Keeper has done for me, it has provided me with an answer to one of the most difficult questions in life. Whenever someone asks me if I could have one wish, anything in the world, what would it be, I know my answer without hesitation. Nothing. I don’t need anything; I am blessed and have everything I could possibly ask for in life, so how could I wish for anything else?
Dear Ms. Cynthia Lord,
I have a little sister with autism. Sometimes she behaves like David did in your book, Rules. These behaviors cause me to often feel embarrassed, just like Catherine, and I want my sister to stop doing peculiar things. At times we get along, but usually we don’t. Most days we just go around avoiding each other, so that we don’t quarrel.
As I mentioned, Ellie behaves very similarly to David. She likes the basement door closed, and seems to enjoy throwing her toys in with the hermit crabs. However, there are also some significant differences between the two. The main difference is that Ellie’s physical senses are not as sensitive as David’s are in Rules. Because of this, loud sounds and getting wet do not bother her very much.
Similar to Catherine’s parents, my parents seem to spend more time with Ellie than with me. They always seem to take her side when we have disputes. That can be very annoying and frustrating to me because it seems like they are choosing a favorite. I know they are just trying to do what is best for us, but it certainly never feels that way.
Rules helped me to understand why Ellie behaves in certain ways. For example, order is important to her, but to a lesser degree than David. If you create a routine, she does it, and becomes confused when she cannot. Reading your words made me realize that rules help autistic people learn and interact with others better.
There are still many things I have to learn, but this book has allowed me to understand my sister’s disability much better. I now recognize the fact that Ellie does many things for a reason, and these reasons only make sense to her. I no longer think of Ellie as a misfit who doesn’t belong with me, but as my sister, who just thinks a little differently than most people.
In closing, I have two other sisters, and I hope as soon as they are old enough to uncover the truths behind the pages of this book, they too will cherish it as much as I do.
Dear Ms. Jiang Ji Li,
I admit, sometimes, when my mom told stories of Cultural Revolution China, I thought that everyone of that generation in China was just a wee bit too self-pitying, or maybe it was just part of her “parental agenda” by telling some imaginary tales. But this changed when I read your book, The Red Scarf Girl. I began to truly understand what it was like in China in the 1960s. I became more interested in her stories and felt the impacts.
My mom is an immigrant from China, born in the early nineteen sixties, and she experienced similar hardships of teasing when she was young. She tells stories that her family would often be publicly condemned because her parents were labeled as “bad elements” of society during the Cultural Revolution. My grandmother, a high school principal, and my grandfather, the young public affairs secretary, appointed by the then popular mayor of Shanghai before the Cultural Revolution, were both denounced and removed from their respective posts overnight. They were assigned to do janitorial jobs at their work places and frequently dragged by Red Guards to mass parades with verbal and physical humiliations in public. Even my mother, her older siblings, and their grandfather were often the targets of rocks, slingshots, and name calling by innocent but deceiving neighborhood kids.
Reading your book Red Scarf Girl certainly has changed my perspective. I was in fourth grade when I first bought the book, naïve to any real sort of violence. When I reached the part where your friend’s grandmother committed suicide, I couldn’t take it. I dropped the book, and didn’t come back until this year. As I read the book, I urged myself to keep reading and learning, and I was determined not to let any of my fears get in the way of it. As I read, imagination images of my mother’s childhood surfaced, and that was the beginning of my understanding.
When I finished the book, I couldn’t seem to get the mental images out of my mind. Then, I reflected on how my own life has been so far, and realized that I have been blessed with a wonderfully peaceful and opportunity-available life. I have had everything that most of the people who suffered during the Cultural Revolution, like you and my mother, did not have at all. My mother and you share a similar childhood, completely different from mine. Your book also made me realize that people of the Cultural Revolution had to be resilient, had to believe in themselves in order to make it through.
These lessons are lessons that no matter how many times a parent tries to tell you, it will never make sense until you go through it, but you have helped me get that much closer to truly understanding. Your book has taught me really to treasure the life that I have, with all my luxuries and opportunities, which I take for granted, but which most people during the Cultural Revolution did not have.
Dear Mrs. Wilder,
In the late spring of 2006, my 84-year-old grandfather—Pop Pop—was hospitalized with a systemic staph infection. In the following months, as the infection spread and attacked his heart and limbs, Pop Pop’s face grew more pinched and white, and his body gradually became weaker. His ordeal in the hospital took a toll on our family life. My sweet grandma became irritable and demanding; my usually-available mom was out of the house many hours each day. With each passing month, I felt more scared, upset, and helpless. As the holidays approached, I realized that, with Pop Pop in the hospital, Christmas would be very different from the happy ones I had known before.
One lonely December night before bed, I was drawn to your book, The Long Winter. Given all that was going on with my grandfather, I felt like I was experiencing my own “long winter.” Although I had previously read the book as a young girl, I found myself feeling the pain of the Ingalls family more deeply this time as I read of their bleak existence and threatened starvation on the desolate prairie. When I read about their sad Christmas Eve, I fought back tears. I could relate to their compromised life, one that seemed so far away from their past happy Christmases in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and in the dugout by Plum Creek. I could understand the hopelessness that prevented them from even daring to hang stockings. I couldn’t, however, understand the family’s contentment the next day with their “make-do” Christmas of homemade gifts and a scavenged dinner.
A few weeks later, though, I would understand. It was Christmas Eve. My family and I drove to the hospital with my harp loaded in the back of the minivan. My grandpa had always wanted one of the girls in his family to play the harp, and I had begun taking lessons just before he became ill. On this heart-wrenching Christmas Eve, I would play for Pop Pop for the first time, not by the cozy fire in his living room as he had dreamed, but instead while he was suffering terribly in an austere hospital room.
This might as well not even be Christmas! I thought sadly to myself as I walked down Pop Pop’s sterile hospital hallway filled with the incessant, piercing sounds of heart monitors gone awry. But then I remembered the Ingalls family and their “make-do” Christmas. As I entered Pop Pop’s doorway, I decided we would just have to make do and celebrate the only way we could.
“Pop Pop,” I heard my own voice say, strangely high and squeaky. “Would you like me to play my harp for you a little bit?”
“That would be wonderful,” he said as he boosted himself up with his elbows so he could hear.
I hesitantly placed my shaking fingers on the strings, aware of all eyes in the room looking at me. Soon, the strains of “Silent Night” filled my grandpa’s room and hallway. After a few measures, my grandma began to sing. My eyes then fixed on my grandpa, whose tired blue eyes grew soft and shining, who now had a smile twitching on his pasty lips. My own heart felt strangely full, and I too began to smile. On that dark and desperate night, Christmas, real Christmas, had come.
Walking out of the hospital that night, I came to an important realization. Similar to that of the Ingalls family in The Long Winter, my Christmas was far from jolly and care-free. And yet, that Christmas was more memorable than any I have ever known. Stripped of all its usual glitter and gaiety, Christmas was instead pure and profound. That night, I understood for the first time what Christmas really meant to me: the reassuring presence of my family gathered together to celebrate the enduring hope of our faith.
Thank you, Mrs. Wilder, for writing such a wonderful, heart-warming story. It encouraged me to “make do” on the Christmas Eve of my own “long winter.” Although that night wasn’t very merry, it was the most Christmas Eve of my life.
Dear Jung Chang:
I was deeply moved by your story “Wild Swan”. Just like you, I was also born in China, only many years later, so I don’t know that much about the past. My mom took me to the place where Mao ZeDong’s body was kept in a glass case, still lifelike over the many years. I hadn’t read your book at that time yet, so I thought that he was the great leader who formed China.
A few years later, I stumbled upon your book. As I read it, I was fascinated by what Mao did in order to get the results that he wanted. I was surprised that he started the Cultural Revolution in order to receive power and respect from his people; that he claimed peasants were supposed to be respected more than high officials because peasants always listened to what Mao tells them to do, but high officials sometimes argued back. Also, I learned that Mao let Red Guards destroy homes and punish people for things they didn’t do.
Same as you, my parents told me that he was a good man and that he should be known for his bravery and intelligence. I was taught that we should respect him. I know it’s very hard to oppose something after you’ve been taught to believe it all your life, like how you tried several times before actually daring to oppose Mao in your mind. But after I’ve read your book, my thoughts are altering about how “great” Mao was. Now, hurt swells up inside me like the throbbing pain of a bruise when I read about the way Mao treated everyone who opposed his thoughts. Now, I , too, lament over how your family and many others have suffered because of him, and I wonder if Mao’s plan was to form China to make it a better place for everyone, or to form China so he could have more power.
I realize that there isn’t just a good side to someone and a bad side to another. Your story opened up my mind to what some people can really be, like Mao. Even if he did form China, even if he was a great leader of the past, could anyone be that perfect? I know it’s hard to change my mind about Mao because I believed him to be a great leader who formed China, but it’s true. He started the Cultural Revolution, and he made all those innocent people suffer. Thank you for writing such a moving novel that changed the way I think about China’s past.
Dear Barbara Park,
A pale girl sat silently on a red furry carpet. Her kindergarten teacher was reading a
Junie B. Jones book as she sat in her almighty teacher chair with her legs crossed. The girl stared in amazement at the book, interested in every word. The twist was that she couldn’t understand any of those words.
The girl was a Vietnamese immigrant who didn’t know a single word of English. Her dad would read to her every night and teach her how to pronounce words, but school was the most helpful. Reading for her was like solving a puzzle with over 1,000 pieces, slowly putting them together.
Struggling to understand what was happening in Junie B. Jones’s life in a new language was of course difficult. But that unclearness and mystery made her determined to be able to read Junie B. Jones books herself. Until then, the girl’s teacher would break down what was happening to Junie and that made her understand and learn more each day. That frustrated and determined girl was me.
When I was in second grade, I was forced to pick books with yellow stickers – the thin books with big words and pictures. I felt worthless and thought to myself that I was a horrible reader who would never be fluent in English. I couldn’t catch up with my other classmates who were mostly reading the “thick” books with small print and longer words. Some were actually reading chapter books like The Magic Tree House series. But every time I picked up a yellow sticker book, I knew it was going to help me get closer to read the Junie B. Jones series!
During that summer, preparing for 3rd grade, I sat long hours trying to decipher a Junie B. Jones book called Junie B. Junes is a Beauty Shop Guy. I stuttered and sounded out each word until I got it. I would read a chapter over and over again until I understood what was going on.
I laughed at Junie when she had to wear so many hats to hide her haircut mistake. But I felt bad when she didn’t know how to explain her problem. In the end, she ended up with a new haircut same as mine. Sometimes my dad would help me along the way and ask me questions to see if I understood. It was like trying to find my way out of a foggy thick tropical rainforest!
When third grade began, I proudly held that Junie B. Jones book I had read over the summer in my arms. A few months later, my class was divided up into reading groups. There was the group who had to read the thin books which I didn’t want to be in; the group that read the almost thick books, just with smaller words; and finally the group who read the chapter books. When my name was called out, I was shocked. I literally cried. I was chosen to be in the chapter book group.
I felt that the Junie B. Jones series built so much determination inside of me and helped me become the strong reader I am today. I want to thank you for writing such a great series that kids in elementary schools, or some people who are starting to get better at English, could enjoy.
Sincerely, the pale girl,
Dear Agatha Christie,
One of the most painful events a person can experience is his being wronged by someone who is protected by law. This idea, which is a major theme in your book, And Then There Were None, took me back to a very different time in my life. I was nine years old and just beginning to get interested in magic and martial arts, two skills that I would later develop tremendously. I had two loving parents and a brother, and I lived in a beautiful town in which everyone knew each other. It still amazes me how these things were all taken away from me by a simple act of one man. Having read your book, I now have a new perspective on crimes that cannot be punished.
Cletus Finney, a friend of my dad, worked at an auto body shop. Ironically enough, he turned out to be quite a reckless driver. I mean, one would think that a person who fixes cars for a living would pay attention to the road, but I suppose not everything in the world makes sense. One day my mom was driving me home from a karate lesson. As we were approaching our neighborhood, we were surprised to see that a major road was blocked because of an accident. I can remember the event perfectly. “I hope that wasn’t Dad,” I said jokingly to my mom. She must have been thinking about it because there was no response from her. We took the long way home. When I got home, I eagerly ran upstairs to continue practicing my cups and balls routine.
A couple of moments later, my mom yelled up at me, “Adam, get down here!” Thoroughly annoyed at her for interrupting me, I slowly walked down the stairs. She was waiting at the bottom. “Remember that accident on Darius Road? It was Dad. He’s dead.”
My dad’s death affected me in many ways; my mom found that she could not deal with living in the town where he died, so we ended up moving from Brattleboro, Vermont to Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania. This move affected me in several ways. My favorite town and my two hobbies were thus taken away from me. My brother Salim developed some problems that may have been caused by the trauma of being in the car when my dad died, and he was moved into a mental hospital. But most of all, I had to live with the knowledge that the man who took all of this away from me walked away almost as if nothing had happened. My mom explained it to me; we could not have sued Cletus, for we would run the risk of losing the case and our chance to make things right, so the best we could do was make him do community service. Being young and uninformed, I accepted this situation all too well.
When I read And Then There Were None, the story of my dad’s death became vivid in my mind. The murderer in your book was a sensible, law-abiding man like myself who wanted to punish those who committed crimes but were protected by the bulwark of law. I found myself looking back on my dad’s death from a new perspective. I was disgusted that a death directly caused by someone could go so unnoticed. I can only imagine how many people there are in the world who have suffered through a loss and are unable to find justice. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if there were a way to remedy this pain? Certainly, whether or not the perpetrator of the unpunishable crime is chastised, a great number of lives would be touched if justice were somehow found.
Your book directly changed the way I look at the most memorable event of my life. While others may look upon your book as a thrilling murder mystery, I see it as a message about justice to those who have lost someone without feeling amends. Though your book has brought back a painful memory, it has also shown me that not all crimes are punishable, and sometimes we have to live with what the world deems fair.
Mr. Alfred Lord Tennyson
Late of Farringford, Isle of Wight
Dear Mr. Tennyson,
I am writing to you about your poem, Charge of the Light Brigade, which my mother made me memorize for school. In the beginning, I did not want to study your poem because it was long and didn’t look welcoming. However, after I was able to recite your poem, it truly touched my heart, and I was inspired by the bravery of the Light Brigade.
Another thing my mom forced me to do was go out for basketball. I am in sixth grade, have never played before, and do not like physical activity. Like in your poem, I felt that it had been a big mistake and that I should have done something else. I felt like the experienced basketball players around me were giant Russians trying to attack me. I am starting to like it now, because, like the Light Brigade I am persevering in playing the sport.
The cannons to the right and left of me are my shyness and inexperience. I am overcoming shyness by getting to know my teammates. Just like the Light Brigade, we will fight together; I am not alone out there on the court. With my sabers of hard work at practice and my fierce determination to see this through to the end, I am slowly winning the battle against inexperience. Our games may end as the Light Brigade’s battle did, but my own personal battles will be won.
I am glad that my mother made me recite your poem and play basketball. I have discovered that some things do get better if you stick with them and that things aren’t always what they seem. I am looking forward to reading more of your work.
Dear Mr. Paulsen,
I am a seventh grade student at East Pennsboro Middle School in Enola, PA. I have recently read the book Hatchet. It was a very good book and I enjoyed reading it. I like how almost the whole book takes place outside in the Canadian wilderness. I like that because I am a very outdoorsy person. This book meant a lot to me because I am hitting some rough spots in my life just as Brian was stranded in the wilderness.
The rough spot I am hitting in my life is that my parents have recently divorced and I am forced to live with my mother. My mother and I are not the closest and we do not get along very well. This makes living with her very hard and sometimes I feel like just giving up on everything I do. My father does everything he can to try to cheer me up but sometimes it doesn’t work. He’ll tell me to remember the good times we had together but that just makes me miss him more. This does work sometimes but not all the time. The point is that Brian and I are going through very similar situations. But I do not know how to deal with my problems while Brian finds ways during the story.
Sometimes I feel like running away to live in the wilderness like Brian lived. I know it sounds far-fetched but I have thought about it. I tell myself that I could live just as he did. I would just have to read up on wilderness skills. I could learn to live with the woods and provide for myself. Sure there would be times where living is difficult but it would be better than crying myself to sleep almost every night. The pain from a snake bite would not come close to the pain I feel from thinking about what is going on in my life. I think I would live happily alone in the wilderness without anyone to bother me.
After I think of running away and how good I would feel to provide for myself and be self sufficient, I think of how it would effect others. I think of my father, the one who I think loves and appreciates me most, and understands me most. I think of the pain and suffering he would feel if he knew I had gone off to live on my own. He wouldn’t know what would happen to me or if I was even still alive. When I think of this I suffer, just imagining the pain he would feel could bring me to my knees. Because, what he feels I feel and what I feel he feels. It makes me sad when I think how I have to live with my mother when my father and I both long to live with each other.
However, I learned from this book that you have to take what you get and deal with your problems. That you need to be strong, to be strong I mean to not give up and have mental toughness. Brian has these traits and I do not. I wish to learn from him and eventually get over my problems as he did. Maybe someday I will be able to live with my father and be saved from this never ending sadness, like the plane that landed on the L shaped lake. But this day is far from now. I must live like Brian until that special day.
Sincerely, Gregory Miller
Mrs. Randa Abdel-Fattah,
Last summer I read your book Does my Head Look Big in This? I can’t be sure, but I think it was a Saturday afternoon. I remember being encircled by a plethora of snacks that I had abducted from the kitchen cabinets, swathed in a cocoon I had created out of my Harry Potter fleece blanket. I sat down that day anticipating all the cliché elements of a YA fiction:
1) The ever-popular cafeteria scene
2) The introduction of the various cliques
3) The heroine’s first kiss with the dreamy boy she had stalked since 3rd grade but never really thought she had a chance with
4) The big misunderstanding that would lose her a friend
And, above all,
5) The cheerily fake conclusion of it all where everyone went home happy
What I expected was your standard, stereotypical teen novel; a watered down Gossip Girl. What I got was a wakeup call.
Amal Abdel-Hakim was my wakeup call. Amal was that little voice in the back of my head that I had battled my whole life. Amal was me: a teenage girl trying to survive in a racially imbalanced world while striving to hold on to her identity. Amal was me, with one exception: I had been trying to forget.
A year ago, if you had asked me about my race, I would have begrudgingly admitted that I was Puerto Rican and then swiftly changed the subject. The truth is, I was ashamed of my nationality. I did not want to be Hispanic. I resented the fact that I had been born into my big Latino family, so I attempted to conceal it. I did everything in my power to separate myself from the stereotypes circulating the Puerto Rican race. I paraded my obsession with rock music and my obviously punk style in clothing. I made sure everyone knew that my best friend was white and that I thought shaggy haired skaters were adorable. I straightened my overabundance of tightly curled haired whenever I had the chance. Instead of Xiomara or even my usual nickname, Xio, I demanded that everyone call me Mara because it sounded more at home among the mass of Rachel’s, Ali’s and Courtney’s at my high school. And my unbreakable golden rule . . . NEVER EVER SPEAK SPANISH. EVER.
I was embarrassed by myself and by so many aspects of my life. I hated my small, poor intercity school because it swarmed with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Cubans like myself. I constantly and publicly put down “ghetto” kids in hopes of deflecting any notions that I myself was one. Reggaeton, rap, hip-hop and salsa were, to me, nonexistent genres of music. Although I never bragged, I prided myself on the fact that I was number one in my class because I felt that it somehow made up for my “sin” of being Hispanic. When I was nagged once about learning to speak Spanish, I remember yelling, “We are in America! Before Spanish even crosses our minds, we should learn to speak proper English!” I was always paranoid that behind my back, someone would be judging me, stereotyping me, making jokes about me, counting me out because of my race.
What I never realized was that the judgmental, racist, hateful monster I feared was myself.
Your character Amal helped me to see that. When I finished your book, I realized that my entire life had been consumed by an endless, un-winnable race I had created. I was running from myself, from something I could never stop. I realized that my actions and attitude towards myself and towards my people as well as my entire outlook on life had been hypocritical, wrong and ignorant. I realized who I was. I acknowledged the fact that I am and always will be intrinsically, unavoidably, undeniably and wonderfully Hispanic. Spanish coursed through my veins and I had been blocking its path, cutting off my blood supply, slowly killing who I was.
I am Puerto Rican, and I can say that now easily, contentedly even proudly thanks to you and your book. Like Amal made the decision to wear the hijab in public full time, I now also don my own hijab of sorts. I have decided to embrace my heritage and allow it to flower inside of me as well as manifest itself on the outside, for everyone to see. I have learned, with the help of your book, that my race does not define who I am but it will always be a part of me. To become who I truly want to be, I have to embrace who I already am: a tan-skinned, curly haired, rock music loving, SPANISH SPEAKING, puertorriqueña. Thank you for the wakeup call.
Dear J.K. Rowling,
A few years ago my little brother died from a slow terminal disease, and shortly after my dog died. It was much worse than rubbing salt in an open wound. My grief consumed me and it was like I was the one who died. My friends and family were great support, but if I ever smiled at their jokes, it was just another one of the masks I had. And for a while that was it. My family and friends began to believe my masquerades.
Although I was still very shaken, my wounds slowly began to heal. At the time I was following your series closely; the way I saw it they were like new masks for my grief. So my grandfather bought me some of your books as they became available. Reading them provided a sort of safe haven for me; and I let myself cry about all of the tragedies, and laugh at the funnier things I had read.
I found that if you give yourself room to heal over the old scars, you will. I began to start letting the bad memories fade, and new, happier ones replace them. I can’t put into words how your books among so many others helped me put my pain and grief behind me. Some people say that books have wings; I think they have souls like people, and that sometimes you just need a friend to tell you stories to feel better.
Dear Dr. Seuss,
I love your books. I learned to read through the words of your works. I grew up with them. When I was little, my Grandfather used to read me your colorful book Oh the Places You’ll Go. Oh the Places You’ll Go really gave me comfort in a time of need and also taught me important life lessons that I have followed throughout my life.
When I was in fourth grade, my grandfather died of cancer. He was my role model and my best friend. He filled my life with joy and happiness. When he died that happiness was taken away from me and I felt empty inside. I just couldn’t move on. I started to become scared of leaving my family in fear that they would leave me too. It got to a point where I was afraid to leave home. This fear soon took over my life and my personality. I became shy, scared, and afraid of the future. My family tried to give me comfort, but after my obsession persisted for a while, nobody wanted to deal with me, and they soon became impatient. I felt lost and confused. It felt like I was fighting a battle alone.
The summer of my tenth year, I went to visit my grandmother in Chicago. While I was lying in bed at her house, the memories of my grandfather reading to me Oh the Places You’ll Go made me pick up the worn and creased book. The pages spoke the answers to my problems. I learned that throughout life, I will experience wonderful times and times when I will feel lost and alone. Sometimes “[I] can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And [my] gang will fly on. [I]’ll be left in a Lurch.” I will feel defeated and I will feel left behind, but I just have to keep going and push through it.
The haze of sadness was swept away and I felt like the world was waiting for me to shine, and so I did. I was more confident and content. I took little steps at first but then I began to take leaps. I started to become less shy and I went to a four week long acting camp in Virginia and met new friends. I spent that time away from home. My life began to change for the better, and I created my non-profit organization Hives for Lives.
My sister and I are beekeepers, and we sell honey, candles, and lip balm to donate the profits to help find a cure for cancer. I started the company because I did not want other families to be torn apart by the horrible disease that killed my Grandfather. I wanted to help make a difference. I have donated over $36,000 to help find a cure. Speaking in front of cameras and hundreds of people is an important part of my business and the new confidence I got from your book allowed me to be social and comfortable in front of huge crowds. I have now met the President, spoken in front of four hundred Whole Foods representatives including the CEO, and I have spoken on many news shows too. Without the confidence your book gave me, I would have never been able to get this far. It just goes to show how effective a book can be, even a children’s book.
I would just like to say thank you, Dr. Seuss, for helping shape the person I am today.
Dear Mr. Wiesel,
“When you think that something is the end, it is really only the beginning.” To me, this means that when one chapter ends in your life, good or bad, you can be sure that a new chapter is about to begin. Death has been one dreadful ending to a chapter of my life and the beginning of a new one. Earlier this year my twenty-one year old brother, Zach, died in a tragic hiking accident in the Alps, forty-five minutes from his Air Force base in Aviano, Italy. I couldn’t get past the timing: his tour of duty was up and my parents and I were to meet him at the Pittsburgh airport in three days! In your book Night, you shared your personal struggle to survive during the Holocaust with me. You lost your family, friends, and your faith. This year I lost my brother, my best friend, and, for a time, my faith, but the chapters continued after I closed your book and with your help, turned the page in my own life.
Zach passed away in April, and I had not seen him in eighteen months. My whole family was yearning for his homecoming, but not the one that would happen by way of a flag-draped coffin with military escort. Through reading your tragedy, I found a connection with my own, especially where you had to say goodbye to your mother and sisters. I remember the last time I said goodbye to my brother in early January 2006. After one of the best Christmas and New Year’s holidays our family had ever had, my parents, Zach’s best friend Chris, and I took him to the airport, sending him back to the Air Force in Italy. In the car, the silence was as oppressive as the longing we all had for one more day with each other. We arrived at the airport, and walked, reluctantly, with Zach to security. I clung to my brother and then watched, tearfully, as he walked through the gate. Saying goodbye is always a hard thing; but when it’s for the last time, nothing really compares to it. Hugging and waving goodbye to Zach back then will always be cemented into my “hardest-moments” memory, but like every ending chapter, another chapter follows.
If the chapter in my life that began with Zach’s death had a title, I think it would be “Surviving.” It began in darkness as I went through all the necessities accompanying Zach’s death: visitations, the funeral, memorials; and then all his belongings coming home, followed by dark days of looking for him on IM and not being able to call him; not hearing from him on my birthday. I questioned God. If there was a God, how could he have let the ground fall from beneath Zach’s feet? Why did he let him venture onto the ledge alone? Why did my brother, who seemed to love God with all his heart, fall ninety meters into a ravine with no rescue possible? He’d been so safe there in Italy rather than in Iraq; was God just cruel to have him die right before he would be safely home? You also questioned God, and I knew your answer: “Your eyes were opened and you were alone—terribly alone in a world without God.” My fingers fumbled as I turned page after page in Night, waiting, wanting, along with you, for God to intervene, but he didn’t. Instead you were beaten, worked, starved, cold, and moved from camp to camp. You waited for the end, whether it came by rescue or by death. I waited for an answer to my “Why” questions, but they didn’t come either.
As I turned the last page in Night, depravity became a tangible feeling that flowed from your book up my arms and into my heart. Then, I looked out my window at the trees glowing orange and red and yellow; the sun was setting behind them and clouds wisped white across the pink sky. Stunning! The warmth of the picture before me soothed my aching soul and God’s presence, like the sun, lit up the room. The magnificent masterpiece before me was proof of God’s goodness, and I realized that no matter how many ghastly events happen, His goodness will always outweigh the hatred and darkness that sometimes emanates from the soul of mankind.
Although I greatly miss Zach, I know that it is time to turn the page in my life and start to read, no live, the next, exciting chapter. Reading how you answered your questions about God helped me to realize the mistake I was making in my own answers. I want to thank you for sharing your story, and I hope both our stories will have happy endings.
Dear Mr. Adams,
I have enjoyed reading your comic strips in our local newspaper so much that I purchased and read several of your anthologies featuring Dilbert and the gang. I especially liked What Would Wally Do?
My reading experience has been shared with my dad because we read your books out loud together. You need to understand that my dad is an engineer and my friends tell me that I am an engineer’s kid. I’m not sure that is always a compliment. My dad and I agree with Dilbert’s view of the world, and belly laugh out loud when we read what happened to us that day in one of your books. Dilbert had to tell his boss to turn his Etch-a-Sketch upside down to make his boss think that he had re-booted his personal computer. I recently butted heads with my 6th grade science teacher over keeping units straight in a math problem. Let me put it this way, if we had followed her logic, the answer would have been “400 kilowatt-chickens.” My middle school is a lot like Cubeville, where Dilbert works.
Dilbert is my hero because he helps me see the humor in situations that might otherwise be frustrating and ridiculous. For example, last week I had to be at school 45 minutes early for a 7:00am student council meeting. All we got done was to schedule another meeting for the same time, same place, the next week! I sat there and thought about what Wally did in a boring staff meeting. He leaned back in his chair and flipped the light off and made a dash for the door. I looked around in my student council meeting, but the light switch was too far away . . .
My friends and I are very similar to Dilbert and his co-workers. I love Alice! I loved it when she sent an email to Wally under ‘Human Resources’ password telling him to wear foil pants on Friday. An “Alice” that I know at school recently told a “Wally” that I know that the lunch lady was giving out free cookies. When my “Wally” friend asked for his free cookie, the lunch lady demanded money to his amazement.
Dilbert has helped me because having a sense of humor helps me cope and greatly eases the pain of dealing with all the “doom clouds” that sometimes follow me around at school. If you need ideas, please come visit my school.
6th Grade Engineer, Knoch Middle School
Dear Sue Monk Kidd,
Your book brings a smile to my face as well as tears to my eyes. My two heroines are represented in your book: my mother and my Cucu (grandmother), who share many similar morals with each other. My parents were born and raised in Kenya, and your book highlights the pride I take in my history and heritage. Your book gave me a broader view of grief and how it affects everyone, but in different ways. It gave me a different perspective about the suffering in the world, as well as the arrogance we hold towards others in pain, such as the arrogance we hold towards those involved in the modern day genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
My mother is a strong woman, both physically and emotionally; she holds our family together. Rosaleen mirrors my mother; they’re strong at mind, and are kind-hearted. When Rosaleen and Lily take this adventure through life, they encounter many obstacles, which they overcome together. Like them, my family has overcome many obstacles that were thrown at us. My dad died when I was 5 years old. My sister and I were young, and my mom was left to support us emotionally. My mother glowed when it came to handling us. In the end, it was her strength and wisdom that allowed our family to persevere. Through hills and valleys, joy and grief, my mother kept us together.
My Cucu is greatly reflected through August. They both take pride in their history and are very open. Both my Cucu and your August were open to others; my Cucu supported disadvantaged children, allowing them to go to school. She valued education and has lived, and still lives, her life, not only worrying about herself and her family, but also worrying about others. My Cucu witnessed and played a part of the Mau-Mau Rebellion. The Mau-Mau Rebellion (1948-62) was the uprising against the British by Kenyans. As many were killed all around her, she was able to keep her strong mind through hard times. Like my Cucu, August was able to keep a strong mind when she lost her sister. I look up to August and Cucu, as they are able to be concerned about themselves as well as others, when many wouldn’t. Today, my mother takes after her and helps young people go to college and takes pride in her history.
Your book presented a roller-coaster of grief and joy. Grief jumped out at me when each character was coping with loss. You included different ways someone could cope and recover from loss. What truly amazed me was the arrogance of the people around the grieving. This greatly reminded me of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Many have died, and many more will die as the world watches in silent horror. When Rosaleen was taken to jail for a minor offense, she was maimed while the security guard knew what was happening. As the people of Sudan are molested, and die from starvation, our country watches not wanting to take action, for this genocide has little or no affect on America. Even today, I’m sitting here writing to you, and questions are ringing in my head: are we (our country) really that selfish? Or is it instinct? And I conclude, none of the above. Our choice is either to approach with a business sense (as our country has) or take it to heart.
I have continued to appreciate my history, admire my mother and Cucu, and you’ve opened my eyes and made me aware of the world around me.
Dear Mr. Bradbury,
I do not like reading. You may hate me for saying so, but it is true. I never have liked it. Physically and mentally, reading is hard for me. I can never seem to get my mind to sit still and read a whole book . . . even if I’m given months to do so. I loathe reading with my very being. I do not even like the books themselves. I will never understand people who cherish books and have their own libraries in their bedrooms. To them, dying with their books will be their greatest pleasure. I, on the other hand, would die happily without ever having read another book again.
Now, if you’ll please go back over the above paragraph and read it all again in past tense, it will make much more sense as, really, I begin this letter. Because, you see, a more accurate summation of my feelings is that I used to hate books.
A co-worker of mine suggested that I read a novel by you after I had grudgingly admitted that “the short stories we read in school by a Ray Someone-or-other aren’t that bad.” I snorted to myself after his suggestion. Me? Sit down and read a book that I don’t have to? You’ve got to be kidding me. So, I ignored the book in question and plodded through my school days with the occasional sprinkling of “The Pedestrian” or “There Will Come Soft Rains” floating through my life. But, I began to dwell on these stories. I began to think about them, 24/7. “The Veldt” heightened my curiosity about you. I mean, libraries? There was “a sound of thunder” as I shut my English book for the day. One . . . little . . . butterfly . . .
Two days later, I found myself at our local library’s door, my sister practically pushing me in. “If you want to read the book, just get it,” she muttered. After borrowing her library card (I lost mine years ago), I tucked the novel under my arm and trudged home, hoping my parents wouldn’t see. It’s not going to be good, I’m not excited about this book, I’m not, I’m not. . . .Yeah, right.
It was a pleasure to burn. I opened the book at 11P.M. and wriggled in my comfy desk chair with anticipation. Finally, I was alone! I had waited all day, and now the book was poised in my hands, staring me in the face, daring me to read. Burn . . . what had my dad said about paper spontaneously combusting? Didn’t it have something to do with the title of the book? I didn’t remember.
For three hours I sat, rigid at my desk, my jaw clenched, devouring every word as I read. I was terrified, mystified, and utterly engrossed in the story that unfolded before me. I had to remind myself to breathe several times. Save the books Montag! I paused and analyzed my own thought that had just gone through my head: save the books.
Save the books? What was I thinking? They’re not that important. But somehow, I knew they were.
I’ve never understood reading. I never knew that a person could be so wrapped up in a book that she couldn’t put it down. Your work has opened my eyes. It has taken me by the hand and led me into a wonderland full of things I’ve never experienced. The anticipation, the whoosh, the breath, and the end. Books are no longer things to be seen, but things to be touched and heard. I want to grasp them---grasp them as hard as I can and never let go. Right now, I’ve got one finger on them; that’s a beginning. I know that my grip will strengthen, and, I, too, will one day have a library in my bedroom. I will be the old lady who dusts her books every day, and stays with them to the bitter (yet now sweet) end.
Sadie Katarina Eichner
Dear Ms. Temple Grandin,
Several weeks ago, I started reading your book, Emergence Labeled Autistic. My mother suggested I read it because she thought it might help me because I am just like you in many ways. I am autistic too. When I first started reading your book, it made me feel that I was not alone and I couldn't put it down.
Like you, I have problems with an overstimulated nervous system too. I could understand how you feh when you got hugged because I didn't like to be hugged tight either. It made me feel uncomfortable. When I was small, I used to like to crawl, pounding my knees on the hardwood floors. This deep pressure made me feel good inside. I understand how the squeeze chute calmed you because I liked to lay under the couch cushions or curl up in a bean bag chair. These things made me feel calm and safe. Riding my bike, swimming, running and playing basketball help me now that I am older.
I especially enjoyed reading about your fixations because I have had a lot of my own. Some of my fixations were watching the windshield wipers in the car, making roads on the floor with masking tape and the Titanic. The doctors told my parents to take away the things that I was fixated on. When they did that I would cry and take temper tantrums. They were taking away the things I loved. My mother told me that when she met you at a conference she asked you for advice on my fixations. You told her to give them to me, but to turn them into something constructive. That is what she did and I am glad you told her that because it made me very happy when I was able to make models of the Titanic out of construction paper.
I have always liked going to school, but just like you, I have had problems socializing with my peers. I know how you felt when someone called you a retard. I have been called some bad names too. I used to get angry at them, but now I try to just ignore them and walk away. I have also felt sad and rejected when no one wanted to sit with me at lunch or when no one picked me to be their partner for a project. Being in a regular classroom and a buddy lunch program has helped me to make friends.
Ms. Grandin, I really enjoyed reading your book because your success has inspired me to work hard and do my best so that I can be successful like you. It also helped me to understand that there are other people in the world just like me.
Sincerely, Chris Cox
1901 E. Paper Mill Rd.
Oreland, PA 19075
Dear Mr. Spinelli,
I didn't wear the "coolest" clothes. I wasn't very good friends with "popular girls" in my school. I wore glasses and was soon to get braces. I was always immersed in schoolwork.
A young adult author probably understands the numerous worries of a middle schooler. In their adolescent years, many wonderful people change because of the influence of others. Donning the hippest clothes, littering their speech with slang, changing their interests from what they love to what others want them to love, characters become conformists.
The most beautiful personalities are covered with graffiti. Realizing that the paint is still wet, the personalities change themselves before it "dries". The graffiti is gone, but so is the original person. Entering middle school, I almost changed myself in this way, watching students around me modify themselves. Then, I read Stargirl.
When I read the sentence "If we happened to somehow distinguish ourselves, we quickly snapped back into place, like rubber bands," it seemed as if a light bulb had gone on in my head. Was that how our school was? That, I couldn’t answer. But one thing was for certain, that’s not what I wanted our school to tum into. And that's not what I wanted to be.
But another thing captured my attention after reading Stargirl. It was the kindness that Stargirl always showed toward everyone, and the good deeds she did without thanks. I was enraptured by the way she found time to do a little something for everyone smiles, pennies, flowerpots, even things as large as scrapbooks or bikes. Could I ever do such things?
Stargirl didn't affect me all at once. It affected me little by little. For example, sometimes I'll wonder if what I'm wearing is "cool" enough, or if it's from the "right" store. Then, I think to myself: "Do you like what you are wearing'" If the answer is yes, then I try and forget my thoughts, remembering Stargirl's 1920's flapper dress.
Other times, I'll smile just smile at miscellaneous people. Remembering Stargirl, I'll think about how I may have brightened someone’s day, if only slightly.
After reading Stargirl, I realize you can't shut your personality up inside of you, as Susan did. You should always let it shine, with as much brilliance as you can muster. Even though people will still occasionally tease me about my good grades, or "physical inability" in basketball and football, I try to let the comments roll off my back like water, never letting them saturate through my skin.
Nowadays, I comprehend how much Stargirl applies to the real world. Kindness and caring matter so much. Being yourself (instead of someone somebody else chooses) makes you who you are. And, even though I would never go to school wearing a pioneer dress, advertise my crush on a bulletin board, or make a scrapbook of my neighbor's life, I still do my best to be myself.
Thanks for writing such an amazing book.
967 Muirfield Drive
Hummelstown PA, 17036
Dear Lois Lowry,
My copy of The Giver shows many years of love in its careworn cover and bent pages...even in the stain of hot chocolate right across Chapter II. Jonas was the brother I always wished I had, and the Giver was just like my real grandfather. The characters enveloped me in their reality and I loved them as if they were real people. However, The Giver told a story of a future that was- at best -a distant possibility. Though my spirits rose and fell with every trial and tribulation the characters faced, I never could connect to the story of a world without differences. Everywhere I turned, in my reality, there was diversity to be encountered. I have Christian, African, Muslim, and Asian friends. I was born in England, am a descendant of India and I live in America. To me, a world without differences is like a world without the sun.
In recent years, I decided that I 'outgrew' this book. I moved on to lengthy novels with complex plots and obscure language. I thought there was nothing left for this book to offer me, nothing to learn or to feel. I had a lesson coming to me...one that I am glad I learned.
As I mentioned before, I have Muslim friends. One of them follows shari'a, or the laws of Islam as written in their holy book, the Quran. They wear the traditional headscarf worn by women (called the hijab). As my friend explains it, wearing the hijab is a sign of respect; it preserves a woman's modesty and strengthens her loyalty to Allah and to Islam. No one ever thought about it a lot at our school. ..she was just the girl who was allowed to wear a hat in class! However, recent events made this simple dress a hot topic for discussion at our cafeteria tables. Recently, many European countries have considered banning the hijab in public schools to promote a secular society. Muslim women feel violated by this proposition because it is a moral sin to take off the hijab in Islam.
Jonas took a long time to understand the critical situation of his community. Like him, I was slow to realize the importance of this movement in Europe. In addition to banning the hijab, France and other countries were also planning to ban the Jewish skullcap, the yarmulke, and Christian crucifixes. It was as if their governments were determined to cut out all religion from society. As the argument developed at our table, I began to think about this idea more and more. When I went home, I talked about it with my grandfather, because he always has a few stories to tell to help me decide my opinion on current events.
My grandfather is like the Giver...he imparts tales of past pain and joy to help me gain a better perspective about things happening today. The tale he told me when I came back from school that day was the history of our own family. I come from a state in India called Kashmir which, for the past thirty years, has suffered beneath a lethal war between India and Pakistan and Hindus v. Muslims. My grandfather told me of how Muslims and Hindus lived together for many years in peace, until people from Pakistan and India came to Kashmir to call for a separation of the land according to the citizens' religion. Then, the Muslims and Hindus started fighting over who got Kashmir. Eventually, it broke out into war. Even today, I have never seen my homeland; and my ancestral home has been in ruins for twenty years. What my grandfather was trying to tell me is that if left alone, religion can thrive peacefully, but as soon as government gets involved, people become aggressive and it can lead to conflict.
A few weeks later, my Muslim friend joined an organization called the Muslim Civil Rights Center. Jonas first realized the true situation when he received his first memories of pain from the Giver. When I received the shock of my quiet friend joining an activist organization, I realized the depth of our problem. If this legislation were to take effect, it would be removing huge amounts of diversity from our world. If people were not allowed to wear religious garb, what would be next? Maybe we would all be regulated to uniforms like Jonas and his friends. Could our future be even worse? At this point, I returned to my solace throughout the years: books.
When I finally picked up The Giver again, I nearly put it down. It felt so light in my hands, so inconsequential; I would merely waste my time reading this. Nevertheless, I have a rule: once I pick a book up, I have to read at least a few pages before I quit. So, I started reading. Suddenly I began seeing vast similarities between our two worlds...the distant possibility that Jonas's world used to be was suddenly knocking on the door to my thoughts.
Now, everything is focused on efficiency rather than enjoying life. I actually heard someone say just before last Christmas, "I wish it would never snow, it's such a pain to shovel it all away." What if scientists find a way to stop rain? They did in Jonas's world! There is such uproar about population control...what if we start creating family units? Someone someday may create the "perfect" solution to discrimination: eliminating our hair and skin color. Is it a "trouble" to search for a college or a job for yourself? What if someone, like the Elders, decides it all for you?
That future seems to come straight out of a science fiction novel. The Giver showed me it is, in reality, an imminent future. The progression from present-day to that fabled future and the reasons why man would choose to live in a world where everything is the same are now evident to me. The terrible part about this story is that the reasons The Giver provides are making more and more sense every year. I can connect to the plot of this story...it contains a piercing relevance that eluded it in past years.
Now, when I see forests cut away for roads or people being replaced by automated voice machines, I remember. I remember the mundane reality that is Jonas's world. I remember that no matter how much distress humanity may cause, it is better than not feeling at all. No matter how much individuals can hurt each other with their differences, that hurt can be born. However, vibrant passionate leaders- the people that will create our world's future- cannot endure being the same as everyone else.
Now, when I see the snow, I welcome it. Coldness, sorrow, joy, and warmth are all a matter of celebration...because they prove that I am truly living, rather than sleepwalking through my life. The disasters we face make us stronger. If we did not have those, we would never progress as a species...they are crucial to our survival.
The book surprised me when the Giver said that Jonas will never return to his community. As bleak as their life must be, I could never imagine someone as prodigious and sensitive as Jonas leaving his people behind to find a better future for himself. The very fact that he was selected to be the next Giver proves that he puts others' wellbeing before his desires, as does his attempt to save Gabriel. Even if it were forbidden, someone like Jonas could make a way back to his community. In reality, people like Jonas leave and later return to help their community. Sometimes, they never leave at all and instead attempt to work from the inside to bring on change. People like Jonas seem like they would be emotionally incapable of leaving people they know to an uncertain fate.
I will differ from Jonas in that way; I will never abandon my community. As our society tries to become 'secular' and 'fair', I swear that I will work to ensure (with my vote and my activism) that our culture is not annihilated in the process. Religion, race and beliefs, however controversial, are what make our world diverse...what make it beautiful. Sorrow, pain, joy, and laughter...they are all a part of life. Just as my Muslim friend continues to fight for her right to wear the hijab, I will fight for the things I believe in.
Your book proved to me, I would rather live with everything than live with nothing. A world without differences is a world without meaning. A world without pain is a world without joy. A world without darkness is a world without light. A world without color...is a world without life.
Thank you, Mrs. Lowry, for showing me the way the world should never be. For showing me that no matter how much life puts you through, it is always worth it. Living is the greatest
gift ever given to humankind...I hope I can help a small part of the world remember that.
Sincerely, Natasha Kumar
Dear Mr Sachar,
Your book Holes was one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. It taught me some important lessons about life, and it made me realize that people have control over the decisions that they make It also made me realize that we need to have courage as we
make choices about our future
In your book, Zero was my favorite character. I liked Zero best because he took risks as he tried to learn to read and to write (with help from Stanley), and he believed in himself. Zero conquered his fears, not just with reading and writing, but also on the mountain and with the yellow spotted lizards. I thought the fact that you named him Zero was ironic. Even though society may have thought he was a "zero" and that all he could do was dig, he really wasn't a zero.. Instead, he was a "hero," at least to me.
I would hope that other young people will read this book and realize that they do not have to accept labels or names that society places on them. There are many young people today who are considered "zeroes," and they might feel like exiles. However, they don't have to believe this. Even though our country does not give all children equal chances, they can make decisions about their lives that will help to change their future, much like Zero did. In changing their future, they can change our world so that there are no children who are named "zero." We need to have strength to make choices and courage to follow through on our decisions so that the world can be a better place.
When I grow up, I hope that I can write books that will help to inspire people of all ages, like your book inspired me. Writing can help us to think about things differently and from a different point of view, and it can help us to realize that different choices are available to us.
Luke Edmondson, Age 11
Dear Madeline l'Engle,
Around four years ago I was a child, proven to me by how I had denied it. Four years ago I was young and unaware of the full extent of who I was and what I could do. Nearly four years ago I was persuaded, after a fiercely whispered argument in the stalls of the local library, to read Newberry Award winner A Wrinkle in Time. That grudgingly accepted decision motivated me to read and reread again an author's books over the next four years, during which I grew to eventually become the person I am today.
I sit here now, wondering how I could possibly translate into words how I have altered, and how I appreciated that ground-breaking book that sparked life-changing ideas. Can I express the way one person can stimulate another person to rethink their life, question their values, provide for them the comfort and reassurance of seeing Mrs Whatsit attired in her usual display of mangled scarves and hats? Never before had I longed to live in a story, embrace a character as myself and experience tessering through the Black Thing, or hear the voices of the beasts on Uriel Jaised in song.. Even today, four years later, I pick up that book and smile-- Meg and Calvin are still there, the tesseract hasn't moved, Charles Wallace isn't full grown and out of his room that Meg and Calvin's oldest daughter would temporarily use. How can someone possibly communicate these emotions of the heart using Microsoft Word? But if there is something that you have imprinted on me, it is to hope. If you can win such devotion from a reader, I can try to describe in what ways I have been influenced.
When I first picked up this book, I was transitioning from school to home-school, suspended somewhere in the middle; I was discovering myself, not who others thought I was. In A Wrinkle in Time I was not alone Meg was in an awkward position, Calvin was shining behind the barrier that kept him from being his true self, Charles was so extraordinary that people labeled him "not quite bright." I could always look to A Wrinkle in Time to suck the poison out of my day and be immersed in a world where I wasn't the one burdened by problems. My emotions intermingled with those of the characters, but whether that was because I was engrossed in my reading or simply being myself, I didn't know. I did know it was my escape into the unknown, to a world where the limits of my world didn't restrain me. The ideas posed there sent my mind into shock, and only when I recovered was I fully able to grasp them; I began asking ''what-if' questions.
But the most dramatic change I've recognized is that I want to write.. By recording my way of interpreting a spring breeze, the smell of the fallen leaves in autumn, or the feel in the air when I would be suspended from a chairlift one winter evening, I have not only come into a greater awareness of my surroundings, but probed deep into myself where I can behold those emotions raw. I have come to know myself better than I could have comprehended.
I want to thank you for being the person who encouraged me to question myself and the world (and the universe). For giving me a soft place to land after a hard day; I can only say in so many words how comforting seeing that dust jacket was. I was given a chance to reconsider who I was and who I would become.. For giving me much more than just a childhood memory to look back upon as an adult, I attempt to swnmaxize my vast appreciation. Never, in all my life, has a book not only won over my heart so swiftly, but has inspired me to read virtually all the young adult fiction a single author has ever written. I thank you, as truly and purely as possible, for putting your thoughts on paper, for posing the big questions, for revealing the joy and anguish of being human in a way that a child can understand during a first encounter.
Thank you again,
Dear Mr. Barrie,
When I was a little girl, it seemed that all I wanted to do was grow up. I wanted to go to school and have a lot of homework like my older cousins. When I turned fourteen I believed I had finally gotten my wish. Of course, I realized that fourteen isn’t really a grownup yet, but it seems to be the age at which everyone expects you to act like one. After all, at fourteen you start your first year of high school! But when I reached it, Mr. Barrie, I found myself longing for thirteen and twelve again. The picture that was painted for my future did not match the vision of younger days. I had to do well on my SAT, get accepted into a good college, graduate with honors and then get a job and work until I died. I had reached the height of my younger ambitions, and it wasn’t any fun at all.
But then, while I was volunteering at the library (that’s another thing that I knew I had to do, volunteer hours look good on college résumés) I saw Peter Pan on the shelf. Having nothing better to do, I took it home with me and started reading it. I’m not going to tell you how it made me shriek with laughter and cry buckets of tears, because I’m sure you hear that kind of praise a lot. Instead, I want to share with you two things your book helped me come to grips with. Peter helped me in one of them, Wendy in another. I don’t think one was more important than the other, but I will go in chronological order; for you see, these lessons took a while to sink in.
After my second trip through your book, Peter became my constant companion. I can quite honestly say that, like Wendy, I was completely smitten by him. At a time when I was assailed by deadlines and an insane amount of “grownup” things to accomplish, I felt that Peter was the one safe thing to hang on to. It seemed that, while everyone was bent on pushing and dragging me into the grownup world, Peter had hold of my other arm and stubbornly held me back. I wanted him to! I wanted to stay a child and put off responsibilities for a time. Peter Pan gave me a companion that didn’t worry about the latest fashions or the newest gossip. Peter didn’t mind when I blew off school work, or sang (loudly) in the shower. I had begun to leave “childish” things behind, but now I had found someone to make me linger a bit longer.
In addition to helping me stay young, your book also helped me to grow up. While I read about Wendy’s adventures, I knew in the back of my mind that she would eventually leave the Neverland, go home, and grow up. At first, I didn’t understand why she would even think about leaving! To my mind, she had it made, no grownup worries, no one telling her what to do, and no responsibilities. I was angry with you during the last chapter when you told about how she grew up, and perhaps that’s why I didn’t catch what I think you were trying to say. Childhood is free of worry and responsibility, but if I didn’t follow Wendy and choose to accept the worries and responsibilities, I’d never know the joys that come after them. Wendy’s story helped me realize that if I didn’t
accept the grueling hours of study, I’d never feel the thrill of getting an A+ on my test. Peter Pan does have “ecstasies innumerable,” like you said, but he can never experience the relief that comes after a long night of worry, or the joy of being in love with another person (a joy that I am personally looking forward to). When Wendy understood this, I did as well. Again, I found myself wanting to grow up, but not as I did when I was younger. This time I understood most of it wouldn’t be fun, but there would be spots of joy that I would miss out on if I failed to step up to my responsibilities.
So, that’s what Peter and Wendy taught me. Two lessons, one about staying young, the other about growing up. I’m fifteen now, the age that I set in my mind for irrevocable growing up. Peter Pan rests on the top of my bookshelf, surrounded by sprigs of dried rosemary and model fairies. I don’t have much time to read it now, between all of my classes and my newly acquired job, but I still remember Peter and Wendy. They are still as much a part of me as when I spent hours imagining their “unrecorded” adventures. Perhaps Peter would be angry with me for growing up, but that doesn’t matter much anymore. You see, I’m no longer angry with myself.
I know Peter is impossible to reason with, but if you ever see him, try to explain that growing up isn’t as awful as I thought it would be. And, while you’re at it, say hello to him for me.
Sincerely, Anna Eichner
Dear C.S. Lewis,
Your works have inspired me to do a little writing myself. I would like to become a famous author like you, but I wouldn't want people crowding around me and saying, "There she is!"
I first started reading your books when I was three years old. My mother read the Chronicles of Narnia series to me. We read for an hour before bed every night and I didn’t want her to stop. I could picture all the scenes in my head and the characters came alive to me as if I was there.
My dog named Bogie died while we were on vacation in New Mexico that year. Mom and I were just finishing up The Last Battle at the time. It helped me when we read it because I knew he was in heaven and I could picture him talking like the dogs in the book. I lay in bed that night and started laughing. Mom asked me why and l said, "Can't you just picture Bogie licking God’s face?"
Your books helped me like reading so much that when I had to get visual processing therapy to help me read, I worked very hard at it for nine months... I was desperate to read. I was in first grade at the time. Before the therapy, Go Dog Go was difficult for me to read. A year later, I tested on a tenth grade reading level. The excitement of adventure stories like yours kept me motivated through all the hard work in therapy.
Just this year, I read your Space Trilogy. My favorite book was Perelandra because it was fun and packed with moral ideas. Things would get muddled at times for the characters. It showed me it's worth it to question my assumptions before I act. Things that seem good and feel good aren't always right.
Most of all, I would like to thank you for bringing a love of reading to me. Your books inspired me so much. Thank you. I will be reading some of your non-fiction books soon, though my favorites are always fiction.
Sincerely with thanks,
Fifth grader at Springside
Dear Respected Dalai Lama,
When I first picked up your book, Freedom in Exile, in fifth grade, I read a few pages and put it down. It stayed in my bookshelf, its bland gray spine blending into the background. It was just a hook and a boring one at that. Then something changed, my father passed away. Reading became my outlet to escape the reality around every corner of my life. Suddenly, this bland gray spine stood out on my shelf and history repeated itself. I picked it up once more, hut this time, instead of straight to chapter one like I usually do, I turned to the title page. In the top corner, my father's neat print said, "Ajay Kumar, March 1991." What a strange date, I thought, three months before my birthday, and twelve years and six months before his death. When I started, my purpose for reading this book was to see what my father saw in this book. Yet as I read, my purpose changed. I began to look to you as a mentor, and thought fondly of you as if l had met you in person. The words written on those yellow pages, of events so far away in time and place, offered indirect advice about things that happen every day. I began to look forward to the twenty or so pages I read every night and the thoughts I would ponder until sleep closed my eyes.
I slowly read through the details of your childhood. It reminds me of all I have to be thankful for. It amazed me to see what humble things were such luxuries in Tibet. I look at all my possessions and see things that could go to clothes, food, and toys for another child. So now, whenever I see something I need, I ask myself, "How long will I use this for?" The answer is usually "not for a very long time," so I won't buy the product. I will go home, take a dollar from myself and put it in a jar every time I have to ask myself this question and the answer is like the one above. That jar of money goes to something I will need in the future. I do not know what, possibly something like medical school. That money will pay for something that will enable me to help others, and not myself. Every time I read about your childhood in your book, I pray that some child somewhere, will get one book, preferably one of my favorites, and will see things in the book I have never seen in it before. Since I have read the childhood part of your book twelve times so far. I have prayed that prayer twelve times. So perhaps one day, I will meet one of those twelve (or more as I read the part again and again) children; that book will be one of their favorites too, and we will compare our opinions on it.
Then, I read how you responded to every arrogant Chinese official with respect and humility. That does not astound me. I knew a person like that, one that I wish I could be more like. You may have guessed that person was my dad. The astounding part is that you, as a leader, deserved to be treated with respect. Yet you were not, and you still did not demand what you deserved. So now, I keep a record. Not one on paper, but one in my head. I heard somewhere that the materialistic way of discipline, or the reward and punishment system, is not the system that will change your character; it will change your habits. A dollar could not punish me as well as my own mind does, and so I change, slowly but surely, to become a better person. "N.P.G.," my dad used to say, and in our "code language", it meant nice, polite, and gentle. So finally I listen, not because he is dead, but because I should have all along, and now I see what difference it can make in my life, as it did in yours.
You never hold a grudge. At the end of the book, you say you do not hold bad feelings against the Chinese. You did not think that the few that are doing hmm are like all the Chinese, and that touched me deeply. Many people today base opinions on stereotypes, or just a few people of a race, and that is upsetting. I was glad that you emphasized that “whilst maybe several thousand are participating in acts of cruelty at any one moment, I believe there must be several million performing acts of kindness." Sometimes, I feel like a Tibetan refugee in a strange place. The world looks so unfamiliar without my father. But this book is like your visits to the refugee camps in India, and I finish the book refreshed and ready to face new challenges, just like a Tibetan refugee after your visit at their camp. The refugees beat all the odds and survive, and I plan to do the same. I look to the Tibetans' futures as something to compare my own future with.
Several times since my father's death, I have asked myself, "What does it mean to be alive?" Does it mean to love, or to hurt? If all good things come with bad things attached, what is the point in living? Often, I turn to the last page of your book, where the prayer is underlined several times: "For as long as space endures/And for as long as living beings remain/Until then may I too, abide/to dispel the misery of the world." Those lines have brought clarity to my thoughts and have helped me see past the mist of sorrow to my future · that lies ahead. It reminds me that others suffer too, and some, such as my family, would suffer more if I were to give up.
Before reading your book, I did not personalize the effects of wars and other horrible events. Therefore, I did not realize the true magnamity of the consequences born by the world. Now I look at September 11, 2001, Iraq, Tibet, and countless other places more carefully. Instead of heroes, gallantry, and honor (as I saw in the past), I see my dad. I see him dying thousands of times, one for each person dead. I see a girl like myself, having her world fall apart. I see me, holding my hands over my mouth, piecing together a phone conversation that ripped my world apart...and I imagine all the families and people that have heard the same thing. I see families struggling to get on with life, hidden tears glittering in dark corners, and everyone trying to be brave for one another. This is what happens during war, and your book made me realize that though these things may take place far away, they are very real. However, I also see the brotherhood that holds the humankind together, and that the human spirit is the same in all of us. A11 of us would try to be brave for the people we cared about. All of us love and care about people, and all of us will bear pain that comes with love. That is the human spirit, full of courage, love, honor and strength. In that way, all of us are the same. I think your book has changed my perspective and has made me consider others and things I would not have cared about before. You have made me think, cry, laugh, sigh and made me feel like I understand the people of Tibet, though I do not even come close. But one thing I have done is changed myself, so I am a better person than I was before I read your book.
At one part of the book, you tell a European to tell the world about Tibet when he asks what he can do to help. I promise to share with people the plights of the new Tibets of today, the places that do not have the choices they should. I will keep them all in my thoughts and prayers. As they say "There is always someone better than you in this world," there is always someone with more problems. Reading this book, I learned to think of others, not just myself. I also learned to think about the consequences of our actions more deeply and to really think about the things I do, and whether they are necessary... I now have to ask myself, "What can we do to avoid this?" and "Are any human beings truly bad, and not just corrupted?"' Is there a fair and just punishment for anything?" I have yet to find the answers to these questions, but it is a step in the right direction just to ask them. Dalai Lama, thank you for writing a book I believe has and will change my life.
Mr. Allen Ginsberg,
I read the best beatnik-era poem I've ever encountered: descriptive, mindblowing, affecting me on a subconscious level, tempting me to continue reading further, and yet simultaneously compelling me to reread previously swallowed stanzas that were not yet digested in my stomach, descriptions so sharp that it gave me paper cuts to read, Ideas so initially surreal to a thirteen year old, that it would take years to fully comprehend, A style so unique and profound to its time, serving as the strongest representation of a generation commonly unappreciated, Did you know an eight-page poem could take hours to read, years to fully understand its effects, and seconds to appreciate?
I sat reading, asking myself, "Who is Carl Solomon?" as I entered the labyrinth that is 'Howl" and its many harshly joined clauses, sitting on my bed, curled in the comer for hours, taking time to feel every emotion, every word, every modifying "who" that led me to a new character, a piece of the puzzle that slowly formed a cityscape spectacular, Existing before "Howl" were only mediocre descriptions and an almost-but-not quite reality outside of my rural, moderately populated town. Naively, I thought New York City as nothing but Times Square, Rockefeller Center, FAO Schwartz, and museums, the stories read in the school curriculum were always cooked well done, leaving an uneventful but satisfying taste in my mouth afterwards. Rare and raw and intense, your poem challenged all those with a pen and paper in hand to step up to a new level of portrayal.
Your words were ugly, unclean, and uncensored, but in their grotesqueness and pessimistic accuracy it transformed into something beautiful. Drowning in the immensely deep substance of your work, I screamed for a life vest in order to stay afloat, kicking in the black and cold abyss I was unfamiliar with. In descriptions, depictions, fairy-tales, repetition, run-ons, you portrayed the destruction of your companions as they succumbed to the deeper-rooted evils that live in the dirty and dusty corners of cement alleys, I bridged over into a new level of writing and a new level of life, where descriptions were not written to be decorative; they were written to be real.
Finishing your poem was like jumping off of a city tenement roof and landing reawakening, like an alarm clock that not only roused me from sleep, but also fell repeatedly on my head, as you quite aptly worded. I emerged on the other side of the poem in an altered state, inspired and yet sobered by the startling images you created.
You made me want to be a better writer. You dared me to test the limits of my abilities, and set a new standard for what I read in the future. "Howl" has made me more mature in my thinking, more descriptive in my words, and ironically, more idealistic towards the worlds and those inhabiting it. I could never accurately express how grateful I am to have encountered such a significant piece of poetry. It was an experience that was dramatically eye opening and influential upon my impressionable thirteen-year-old mind. Allen Ginsberg, "I'm with you in Rockland." Thank you.
Cory M. Merrill
Dear Mrs. Pierce,
I know what it feels like to come to a lesson thinking you're really good at something because you did it a little at home, and then find out you're not as good as you thought. Then you have to start over again as the worst in the class. This happens to Alanna when she starts weapon training.
This book makes the past come alive with a boom. You get a glimpse of a totally different world. It takes the cover off the Middle Ages, showing you how hard knights really worked, and what they were really like. You get to know the characters well, and there is never a time when you say "Huh? Who's that?" You get transported back to Tortall in the Middle Ages, and you can't put the book down.
I've always loved fantasy. Tales of magic, knights, dragons, battles, and distant lands always capture my mind. I stay awake at night dreaming about what will happen and what should have happened. I also like books about friendship and people standing up for themselves (like Alanna stands up to Ralon).
Alanna's temper, the way she looks at things, and her attitude makes the book funny, original, and interesting (when Alanna asks Ralon if he has been kissing pigs). It can also be a serious book at times (for example, when Francis dies from the sweating sickness). This book makes you laugh, think, and even cry. You get drawn into the plot, and you want to re-read it many times.
I'd like to tell you that this book, and others that you have written, have changed my life. They have brightened some of my gloomiest days. They make you want to find out more about Alanna. Every time I come home, I pick up one of your books and start to read. They have taught me to work without complaining, and most importantly, that if I try hard enough, I can do anything.
Dear Pearl S. Buck,
Long after I turned the last page of your masterpiece, Imperial Woman, one image lingered. A slim woman stood in her royal chambers, surrounded by ladies in waiting. She was clothed in brilliant silk robes, her haunting grace and beauty accented by gems that sparkled at her every motion. Set in the midst of her raven-black hair was the crown of the Manchu Dynasty. When her jeweled fingers beckoned, servants appeared to attend her every wish. She was surrounded by luxury and beauty, the center of China's world. Despite all that she had, however, she was not content.
As I began your novel, questions filled my mind. How was it possible for Tzu Hsi, Empress of China, to be surrounded by such splendor and not be satisfied? How could she have so many possessions, and not possess what she desired? And how could someone surrounded by so many feel alone? As your book unfolded, I realized how possible it was to be surrounded by everything and everyone, and not have anything.
I was at a loss to understand why Tzu Hsi's life wasn't perfect. I would have given anything to lead a life like hers. Never content with who I was, the way I was, I constantly thought. ..if I were like this, if I owned that, if I did this, everything would be perfect. I was confident that all I needed to be content was the jewelry, clothes, beauty, intelligence and charm that Tzu Hsi possessed. Yet with it all, she was not satisfied. Why?
The more I read, however, the more I slowly understood. What she was missing in her life were emotions. She could never marry the man she loved; instead she was wed to the Emperor, for whom she had no feelings. Her only son bonded more closely with his aunt than his own mother. Her most trusted advisers often turned against her. And although Tzu Hsi had dozens of servants, she had no friends, because none were considered her equals.
All of this deprived her of love, trust and friendship. In a way she lived two lives: one filled with gems, servants, fine clothes and vast palaces. In the other she was trapped in a loveless marriage, betrayed by those she turned to for advice, resented by her own son and without one close friend. The more I read the clearer it became. It was simple: her beauty, jewels, clothes, and servants, could not take the place of emotions and they would never give her a perfect life.
I would be lying if I said that after reading Imperial Woman I never wanted to be different than I am. I still feel sometimes that if I were amazingly beautiful and clever, with all the best clothes and jewelry, I would have the perfect life, although I know I wouldn't. I've discovered that I already have the love, friendship and trust that make a perfect life; I just never knew it.
Kaylyn J. Koberna
Dear Ms. Buck:
For eleven years I prayed for a younger sibling, wished on every star, and threw pennies in every wishing well. Through your adoption agency, Welcome House, my hopes became a reality. In December of 1995, my life changed when my adopted sister arrived from Vietnam. I was not prepared though for the turmoil that followed.
Liana had endured physical abuse, deprivation, and abandonment by her mother in Ha Bac and was compelled to live in the harsh conditions of an orphanage for over two years. When she arrived, I only wanted her to reciprocate the love I already felt for her, but the walls she had built around herself refused to come down. Only eight years old, she already could not trust. Liana was a rose bush, beautiful to look at, but painful to touch.
Her anger became mine. I resented those who had hurt her unable to comprehend how a mother could leave her child. It was not until almost seven years later that I found peace in The Good Earth. Your cultural insights allowed me to grasp the way of life Liana and her mother had to survive.
This story of Wang Lung illustrated to me how the nourishing power of the land controls those who depend on it. This provided me with a glimpse of the life facing poor farmers; little can be done when the earth does not yield crops. When O-Lan gives birth to a daughter, she smothers the baby because it would be an impossible burden on the family. "The round head dropped this way and that and upon the neck he saw two dark, bruised spots. ...'It is better as it is,' he muttered to himself, and for the first time was wholly filled with despair." I forced myself to read this passage several times, its familiarity gripping me.
I was tempted to condemn O-Lan, but when I considered that her actions were necessary for the survival of her other children, I was able to view Liana's mother in a new light. I began to feel sorry for her rather than hate her. I had never imagined the possibility that it was painful for Liana's mother to give her up. Because her actions seemed so cold, I never envisioned her as having suffered. I now believe that she felt trapped by such extreme poverty that abandonment became her only option. Reading about O-Lan's sorrow after killing her daughter made me believe that Liana's mother also mourned the loss of her daughter.
My understanding of the culture that my sister lived in is deepening as I continue to reflect on The Good Earth. The love I have for my sister has been revived, and my anger has slowly subsided. A weight has been lifted off my heart that will finally allow me to press forward in my relationship with the sister I had always dreamed of having.
Dear Mr. Crane,
As a Civil War junkie, I thank you, Mr. Crane, for opening my eyes to what the everyday soldier went through and the fears they faced. I have read several books on the generals and decision makers of the Civil War. This is the first book that I have read from the standpoint of an everyday soldier.
At first when Henry was a coward, I felt for him. At some point, I may have to serve my country as Henry did. War is no game, and this book helped me see this. I believe during a war anyone, including myself, would feel sick and nauseous. Killing a person would not be easy for me; they would have families that care and deeply love them. When I think about what I would do in a war, I do not know if I would be able to face the bullets and missiles and may act cowardly. At the beginning of the war, Henry also acted cowardly.
I think, as in the case of Henry, that I would be toughened after a bit of time in the war. The other side of Henry that appears in the later stages of the book, I believe, would also appear in me.
Henry loved his country, and I do too. Henry, leading his regiment in the charge against the enemy, became a hero instead of a coward. I believe that a person who has the right motives for being in a war will not act cowardly for an extended period. Fear must be overcome, and, as Henry did, one must be able to fight for their country regardless of the hardships. Henry loved his country and at the end of the story was willing to die for it. He overcame fear and was able to help his regiment and to some extent, his country.
This book was especially meaningful considering the current events. One does not know how long this present war may last. My generation may have to go to war. This book showed me a kind of courage that our countrymen will need as they fight this war. It is actually to an extent frightening, but as Henry did, we must be able to overcome this fear.
Thank you, Mr. Crane, your book was insightful and helped me understand better what the soldiers of the United States are going through. It showed me the horror of a war and taught me to appreciate more what the soldiers who fight to defend my freedom are doing. It has encouraged me to be brave and not cowardly during this war.
Geoffrey W. Locher
Dear H. D. Thoreau,
In writing Walden, you set out, if nothing else, “to brag as lustily as a chanticleer in the morning, if only to wake [your] neighbors up.” The effects of your writing have far outreached the call of a rooster. Your proud and vigorous call has reverberated for over a century, and it has awakened much more than your neighbors. The experiences you have had imparted you with a wisdom that you were able to convey succinctly in your work. Your words have spoken to me and have changed my whole perspective on life.
Before reading your work, I gave too much priority to a thousand and one trivial things, such as other people’s perceptions of me. I also needed a personal calendar to schedule all of my extra-curricular and sports activities, and I would fret over each one. It was as if I were sprinting through my youth, trying to become more and more organized, though all I was really doing was adding useless worries to my daily life. I was attempting to live heartily, but I was going about it in the wrong fashion. Life was speeding by me, and I could not taste the essence of anything I did.
Such was the state of my affairs until I read Walden. Your book has given me some profound ideas—concepts that, once introduced, seemed to be woven directly into the fabric of my soul. Through the accounts of your experiences along the shore of Walden Pond, you showed me the “simplest terms of life.” I had always had a plan, and I would review that plan repeatedly. I used to lose sleep by thinking about what I had to do the next day and what that day might hold. You have shown me that such pensive and counterproductive actions are wasted energy. You have told me that the future is not reality, and that “all these times and places and occasions are now and here.” I have realized that the present moment is all that I should worry about because any other moment could exist only in my imagination. Living for the present has brought out the amazing details of life that had gone unnoticed, such as the pith in a handshake, or the beauty of a hawk in flight. My deeper appreciation of love, nature, and genuine people and my aversion to the ridiculous hubbub of society have stemmed from reading your book. Above all, you have taught me the importance and beauty of simplicity.
I have begun to “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” I have reduced my activities, and now I am truly absorbing the value of each experience. I have cut away the superfluous baggage that weighed me down, and I tend to worry less. By ridding myself of this excess, my pace has slowed down. I now enjoy life as it comes and no longer try to control it. Subtleties of my environment, such as the intermingling of clouds in the sky, or the loving eagerness on the face of a curious puppy now touch me in a way that before been foreign to me. I have begun to stroll through the forest of my life instead of sprinting through it. By thus wending, I will have less risk of becoming lost in the woods or provoking the wolves to chase me. I may take longer to get from one point to another; nonetheless, I will arrive at my destination, and will have had a safe and enjoyable journey.
I must thank you for showing me how to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” The people, places, and events in my life, even each leaf that falls around me, have a new and powerful meaning. I no longer feel suffocated by the pressures of something so transparent as the air. Your work has improved my attitude and my life profoundly.
Michael J. Shafer
Dear Anne Frank,
Your diary has touched me more than any words can express. My gratitude to you for making such a powerful, moving book is tremendous. Once, while I was leafing through a Holocaust book, I came across the following statement: "Some even claim it (the Holocaust) never happened." Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, your diary is a powerful reminder of how false this statement is. Despite the horrors you experienced, you never gave up, perhaps this is what I admire of you.
Through my studies of the Holocaust and your life I came across this book. Little did I know, sitting on my bookshelf was the best book in the world, and it was written by a thirteen year old girl—who was not afraid of telling the truth—had a zest for life; a person who deserves to be admired. Your diary made me realize something: Everyone is the same. Black, White, Jewish, Christian, Chinese, Arabian, no one deserves to be treated like you and six million others were. If you look past the skin color, you can see a person just like yourself. You made me remember that, what I have been told so many times.
After I read your diary , I felt such a sense of tragedy, not only for you, but also for six million others. It taught me many things, such as to care a little about mankind. If you care and are willing to stand up for what you believe in, you can save someone's life, or even help them live one day longer. Your diary also made me remember not to take things for granted, like freedom to be able to go as you please, because you never know when someone might take it away from you.
You and I are alike in many ways. We both want to be writers, we are both typical teenagers, we are mature for our age and we both wish we could confide more in our friends. We both deal with the same everyday problems of growing up. Strangely enough, you and I have the same ideas and opinions, although, you were louder and more outgoing than me.
When you wrote your diary, it gave me something from the Holocaust I can connect to. It also gave me a role model. I admire you tremendously. I think that, through your diary, I have made a very special friend. I know more about you, than I do of my best friend of four years. Had you lived in my generation, we could have been great friends.
Whenever I see or hear prejudice of one sort or another, I can see your face, and think of the six million innocent people who have been murdered by the Nazis. Your legend is a symbol to me. A symbol of humanity .Your legend stands for the "triumph of the spirit over evil and death." The Nazis tried to cover up what they did, and others chose to forget. Thanks to you that cannot happen.