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Jennifer W. Dickey, April 23rd

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:Student Competitions:

River of Words

Coordinated in Georgia by the Georgia Center for the Book and Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), a program of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, River of Words is a national poetry and art competition. Students in grades 4-12 are invited to create visual art or poetry that shows an understanding and appreciation of their natural environment, and specifically of their own watershed.

More than 150,000 entries have been submitted since the program began in 1997. Thousands of students have participated in Georgia; more than 2,000 entries in three grade categories were received in 2009. Entries were judged on a state and national level. Georgia has had several National Grand Prize Winners in recent years.

Letters About Literature

Click here for the Letters About Literature website.

The Georgia Center for the Book, in partnership with the Center for the Book in Washington, DC and Target Corp., sponsors this annual national student competition. In this program, students in grades 4-12 are asked to write a letter to the author — living or dead — whose work has had the most impact on their lives or influenced their view of the world. Thousands of students from around the state have participated in Letters about Literature since 2002. Approximately 1,000 entries were received in 2012. Entries are judged at the state and national level in three age categories. Georgia has produced five national winners including two in the 2012 competition:

Amber-Nicole Watty from Grantville, Ga., is a National Award winner for 2012, one of only six students recognized nationally. She won the Level 3 state and national competition. For her state prize, she received a $75 gift card for books from an independent book shop and a $50 Target GiftCard. For her national prize she received a $500 Target GiftCard. In addition, a school or community library of her choice will receive a $10,000 Letters about Literature Reading Promotion Grant.

Tekiyah Sandford, a student at Westside Middle School in Winder, GA., won a National Honor Award for 2012 and is the state Level 1 winner. Her state prize included a $75 gift card for books from an independent book shop and a $50 Target GiftCard. Nationally she received a $100 Target GiftCard. And a school or community library of her choice will receive a $1,000 Letters about Literature Reading Promotion Grant.

The complete list of Georgia winners in the 2012 Letters About Literature competition:

Level 3

  • First Place — Amber-Nicole Watty, Grantville
  • Second Place — Kaylynn Cook, LaGrange
  • Third Place — Chelsey Guy, Columbus

Level 2

  • First Place — Matthew Delfino, Holy Redeemer Catholic School, Johns Creek
  • Second Place — Will Capriola, Renfroe Middle School, Decatur
  • Third Place — Catalina Arnett, C.A. Gray Junior High School, Moultrie

Level 1

  • First Place — Tekiyah Sandford, Westside Middle School, Winder
  • Second Place — Grace Dwyer, Pace Academy, Atlanta
  • Third Place — Catie Sheley, Holy Redeemer Catholic School , Johns Creek

Here are the three first place letters for 2012:

Level 3 Winning Letter

Dear Jay Asher,

There may be thirteen sides to every story, but for me there have always only been eight. Starting as far back as the third grade, it felt as if my life was sliding down a long, slippery slope that appeared from out of nowhere. From the second I began to read Hannah’s tragic story, it felt as if I was actually there listening to the cassette tapes alongside her friend Clay. Right from the first tape, it made me do a double-take and look at myself honestly. Your book, 13 R3asons Why is one of the reasons why I am still alive today.

You may be thinking that what I’ve told you is a little extreme, a lie even. No, it’s absolutely true. As Hannah joked one: “Why would a dead girl lie?” And she was right. Why would anyone in her position lie about anything she was about to confess? Just as Hannah Baker contemplated suicide, so have I, and in such a strangely similar way at that. It actually became a recurring question in my life. Unlike her, however, I had your book and that has made all the difference.

Every few years, it seems I become the “new kid” again at school. Hannah was classified the same way as she had just moved to Crestmont. Sadly, like her, I also became the subject of much ridicule and slander. It seems, just as she mentioned, that weak people prey on those that are even more vulnerable than themselves. People who mislead you to believe that they are your friends are usually the ones that end up breaking your heart in the first place, which I have seen happen time and time again to good people that I’ve known at school. Hannah had a similar transformation to my own in that she grew from a naïve and trusting person to a hardened cynic, but we both realized that there was a distinction between those truly good, and those who condemn others to misery.

Hannah is a character anyone, I believe, could identify with, from her sweet-tooth to her skill at writing poetry. For me, she was a copy of myself. When she took over the narration, I could hear her voice echoing in my head. Shockingly, it sounded very much like my own internal voice, and as the story unfolded, I began to read aloud as if I was Hannah herself. At times I had to stop and think about what I’d just read, connecting the dots, piecing together the whole picture. Other times I had to blink away the tears because it had resonated with a memory, and the emotion from that time would jump out and hold me in its grip.

As I poured over the paged, I was reminded of my freshman year, of the cliques that surrounded me, and of the people that I tried to please. Much like the main character, I felt no more connection to my parents, and their reactions to my feelings sounded like the scornful comments of her classmates in general. Her snowball of events could have dissolved, yet the finality of it was that it didn’t. it brought up memories of others that I had heard of that may have had another hope for their lives. One of them, Megan Meir, especially stuck with me. In a way we were both betrayed in the worst ways imaginable, with Megan’s statement, “ You’re the kind of boy a girl could kill herself over, “ encompassing most of Hannah’s list. And at one point, my life was exactly like that, exactly like them.

What I wonder most is why you wrote this book? It may seem obvious to others, but as for myself, I am baffled. The title alone should answer my question, but somehow, it isn’t enough. Why would you choose to write about tragedy and despair; was it to identify with us teens? Maybe it was a way to show us that death wasn’t a solution. But somehow, and answer as simple as that doesn’t seem likely. There must be more to it.

I only ask because to me it is much more than a book; it is more of a reflection on the age we live in. It showed me that the darkest aspect of human nature can destroy as person, and what a single chain of events can do to someone’s life. Most of all, it helped me to cope with the problems and to actively find help from those willing to do so. It is because of Hannah and everything she represented: hope; dreams; support, anything that goes with a happy life, that I felt that I had to begin writing again. It’s why I wrote to you in the first place. It brought up feelings I thought had died with my flawed, idealist interpretation of reality. Most of all it gave me hope even though I was crying.

Sincerely,

Amber-Nicole L. Watty

Level 2 Winning Letter

Dear Mr. John L. Parker, Jr.,

Millions of people enjoy running. Most do it to stay in shape for another sport, to look good at the beach, or they do it for no reason exactly and never find meaning in it. But people who run to set records and devote their lives to simply feel superhuman speed for just a few minutes or less-well, that group of people is much smaller. This group of people has found the meaning of running: that it is different for everyone. This sport has no defined meaning, but how an individual runs puts them on an addictive quest to find their own meaning.

You did an amazing job explaining this in your book, Once A Runner. Through Quenton Cassidy’s journey in running, you showed what it meant to follow your dreams. I was speechless when I read about all the workouts and mileage he ran. I was also astounded when he dropped out of school to go live in isolation with just the company of one friend, Bruce Denton, and train like crazy. Running is also one of my talents, and I enjoy it greatly. On some days, it is more fun to run than it is on others, but whenever I feel like quitting, I think of it as a test of whether or not I really love running. Very few people have it in them to run. This is because running hurts like nothing else; it requires a constant and large amount of discipline and intensity that eventually causes the average man to quit. These same people take the same kind of attitude toward life, and it gets them nowhere close to their full potential. But this discipline and mental strength will guide them to overcome all challenges in life. From your story, I learned that in order to be a good runner, you must have discipline.

Passion and discipline. These two words stuck out in my mind as I read your book. I have always had the dream of setting a world record and I knew it would take much effort and time to get there. However, your book inspired me to work harder toward that no matter how far away it seemed. After I read the part where Cassidy ran sixty 400 meter repeats in 65 seconds, I was immediately inspired to go do a track workout, which I did. I thought about running with the kind of intensity and drive that Cassidy had, and I ran one of my best workouts ever. I was also motivated to go for a good run after reading about the race against Walton. I thought you did an awesome job building up the suspense and pressure Cassidy was feeling as he got faster and faster in his workouts. I really enjoyed reading the part about the race. As I read your story, I felt like I was getting to see the life a of a competitive distance runner up-close, and getting to experience all of the emotional and physical struggles that came with it.

Your book set a fire top my dream of running competitively. On the days when I didn’t feel like running, your story gave me motivation and I thought to myself, “What would Quenton Cassidy do? Every time, the answer was, Quenton Cassidy would work as hard as he could no matter what the result was. I used to think that I worked hard, but your book showed a passion and discipline for running on a whole new level. As I said earlier, how an individual runs puts them on and addictive quest to find their own meaning; Quenton Cassiday ran with an unmatchable drive and dedication. After reading your book, I decided that is how I want to run, and how I want to live my life.

Sincerely,

Matthew Delfino

Level 1 Winning Letter

Dear Sharon G. Flake,

It’s hard for African-American girls like you and me to make it in this world. It’s hard to face all the racist jokes, and others colors constantly thinking they’re better than us. We just don’t get treated the way we should. I used to feel insecure about myself before I read your book, The Skin I’m In. I used to get picked on all the time about my color, until I tried to befriend the most popular girl in my school, just like Maleeka did. I didn’t get picked on as much, but it didn’t feel right. After reading your book, I decided to stand up for myself and be known for who I really am.

Even though I’m not tall, skinny or that much of a dark skinned African-American, I do hear racist jokes all of the time. On time, a young boy had a dark stain of some sort on his shirt, and his brother said, “Your shirt is dirtier than her,” and pointed directly at me. I just tried to let ir go, though. I used to let things like that happen all of the time, but now I don’t. If someone has a joke for me, I come back with another joke for them. I might be the only one who says this, or thinks this way about me, but your book has really changed my life. My family can tell by the way I look, walk, and even talk.

Just like a poem by my favorite poet Gordon Nelson, “Science tells you Black is the absence of light, but your soul tells you Black is the light of the world. “ I really think that’s true! Someone might call us burned, but I really don’t care. Besides, I’d rather be burned raw, or anything else instead of questioning God. I thank him for making me an African-American girl. Other people may think of me in a different way, but every time I look in the mirror, I see beauty. Thanks for helping me stand up for myself, and all of the other African-American girls and boys in the world. But most of all, thank you for helping me be proud and thankful for the skin I’m in.

Love,

A proud African-American

Tekyiah Sanford