Journeys: Young Readers’ Letters to Authors Who Changed Their Lives
Annie Schnitzer tells Elie Wiesel, “Reading your story allowed me to connect with my own history,” explaining how reading his memoir deepened her understanding of her grandparents’ plight during the Holocaust. After reading The House on Mango Street, Julia Mueller writes to Sandra Cisneros, “You didn’t tell me how to pull myself back together; you just showed me that I could. I was tired of trying to be somebody else’s definition of beautiful, and you told me that was okay.” Culled from the Letters About Literature contest of the Library of Congress Center for the Book, the fifty-two letters in this collection — written by students in grades four through twelve — reveal how deeply books and poetry affect the lives of readers. Offering letters that are as profound as they are personal and as moving as they are enlightening, this collection, which also features artwork by some of the contest entrants, provides a glimpse into young people’s lives and their connections — both expected and unexpected — to the written word.
Enlightening, Challenging, a Reminder of Why We Read
Journeys is a collection of letters from the “Letters About Literature” program sponsored by the Library of Congress Center for the Book. This program encourages young readers from around the United States to submit letters to authors of books and poetry that have affected them. The book is organized into three sections based on age range: upper elementary, middle, and high school. The writers of the letters describe how works ranging from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to The Diary of Anne Frank, from to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, to Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet LXVI,” have resonated with them, challenged them, and made them who they are.
At times, some of the letters—particularly the ones from the younger children—seem overly polished. I believe the editor that they have been only “minimally edited” for this collection, but I occasionally found myself wondering how much involvement parents and teachers had in the early stages of the children’s writing process. Nevertheless, I never doubted that the voices in these letters speak of genuine connections to the stories and poems described in them.
I would have liked to see more letters from boys (roughly 1 in 5 is from a boy). I was pleased, though, that there was a wide range of ethnicities represented, and living in a multicultural world is one of the main themes that emerges from the collection.
My favorite thing about this book is that it challenges perceptions of readership. The first entry is from a young girl writing to Laura Ingalls Wilder about how The Long Winter helped her understand her Eritrean father’s childhood. A high schooler whose mother died found solace in The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s collection of short stories about the war in Vietnam. This collection is an important reminder that children, like all people, can read both deeply and widely.
I could see some children enjoying this volume, but I suspect it will appeal most to educators. It provides an important reminder of how and why children read and it could serve as a model for students to write letters of their own.
representing a wide range of children
good resource for educators