Letters About Literature is a national reading-writing contest offered by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Readers in grades 4-12 are invited to write a personal letter to an author, living or dead, from any genre—fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or classic—explaining how that author’s work changed the student’s way of thinking about the world or themselves.
There are three competition levels: Level I for children grades 4-6; Level II for grades 7 and 8, and Level III for students in grades 9-10. Teachers play a central role, using Letters About Literature as an assignment and working intensely with the students to refine their thoughts and improve their writing skills.
Judging and Notification of Winner
How does it work?
LAL awards prizes on both the state and national levels.
First, all letters are mailed to Pennsylvania, where they go through the first preliminary round of judging. There, the judges read every letter and send on to Maine the top tier of letters—usually about 200 of the total received letters.
Here in Maine, we have 2 more rounds of judging. Our own panel of judges consists of librarians, teachers, and scholars. From the letters sent on to Maine, the judges select a pool of semi-finalist letters, usually between 20 and 30 in each level, to discuss for the purpose of choosing a first and second place winner in each level. First-place winners receive a $100 cash award, and second-place winners receive a $25 gift certificate to Powell’s Online Bookstore. All winners and semi-finalists receive a certificate. The first-place winner in each level is also submitted to the national judging panel for consideration in the national contest.
Nationally, The first-place letters in each level are sent on to a panel of national judges for the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress who will select one National Winner per competition level to receive a $1,000 cash award. The judges will also select one National Honor winner per competition level to receive a $200 cash award.
What educational value does LAL have for my child/students?
Research supports the link between reading and writing: children who read, write better; children who write, read more. LAL challenges students by asking that they write to a particular audience (the author of a book rather than a teacher) with a specific purpose (to explain or describe his or her personal reader response to the work). By encouraging personal reader response and reflexive writing, LAL encourages meaningful reading and helps to create successful writers.
In the classroom, this project can be used for students to:
-Apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate and appreciate texts.
-Adjust spoken, written and visual language for a variety of audiences and purposes.
-Employ a wide range of writing strategies.
-Apply knowledge of language structure and conventions.
-Participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
This contest is unique in that it serves to help students find their voices through an engagement with books that matter to them outside of assigned curricula— and then it amplifies those voices, giving students an autonomous opportunity to deeply explore what moves them.
For more information, look at our resources for teachers and librarians.
Does Letters About Literature meet curriculum standards for reading and writing?
Literature can be a tool to help children achieve curriculum standards relative to reading comprehension and writing persuasively, especially if the instructor challenges students to move beyond mere self-to-text connections and focus instead on critical thinking and creative expression.
What are the competition levels?
Level I: grades 4-6; Level II: grades 7-8; Level III: grades 9-10.
My child is in third grade but reads on a higher level. Can he/she still enter?
Unfortunately, no. Our official rules state that a child must be in at least grade 4 to compete. But we would certainly welcome your child’s letter next year.
If I have a child who wins, will that child’s name and/or letter automatically be published?
Not without the signed permission of a parent or guardian. Rest assured, all children who receive a state or national prize will receive notification via U.S. mail or email, including a permission release form. The parent/guardian signs this release and returns it to the state center (not the national office). Only then are names released and possibly some letters published. If a child prefers to withhold his/her name at the time of publication, that is acceptable, but we must have complete names in order for the child to enter the contest.
When are the winners selected and notified?
State winners are selected near the end of March and notified soon after. Selection of national winners occurs in April and notified in May.
Who notifies the state winners and when?
Each state Center for the Book notifies the winners from its state–here in Maine, that means us, the Maine Humanities Council. The national office maintains communications between the state centers but does not contact each state winner. State winners can expect notification in April. National winners are announced in May.
Who can I contact if I have questions?
Feel free to email Leah Kuehn with any questions or concerns.