In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Little House, big reach

Dear Annie,

"Mellow" and "oddball" - excellent choice of words when describing Bob Graham's lovely books.  I'm glad April and Esme was a hit.

Bob found a lovely little story in our neighborhood paper the other day, about a kids' writing contest.  The Library of Congress invites students from fourth to tenth grades to write a letter to an author -- not necessarily a live one -- talking about how the author's books "affected them personally."  49,000 kids sent in letters this year, and the winner is from here in Washington DC.  I thought you'd enjoy this story because she wrote her letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Alessandra Selassie is a fifth grader in a DC charter school; she started reading the Little House books as a kindergartener, and has re-read them over the years.  I can't find the full text of her essay, but here are some excerpts:
When I want water, I turn on the tap.  When it’s dark, I turn on the light.  While my life is so different than yours, I was still so touched by your books because they helped me to finally understand the life of someone I love: my father. 
Her father grew up in Eritrea.  "My dad kept on telling me stories about his childhood, but I wouldn't really understand them," Alessandra told the paper.  He grew up without electricity, sometimes without enough to eat.  "When this contest came up, I thought about my dad, and I realized how I have sort of changed over the time that I had read [the series] because I understood them more, and I related to the books."  Wilder, she writes,
gave me a new way of looking at him. ... I know you wrote these books to help children understand the lives of American pioneers, but for me, it helped me see my father's African childhood as being less foreign.
This makes me think of a discussion you and I had back when the blog was young, about books as windows or mirrors.   Author Mitali Perkins spoke at BEA in 2010, saying that some books will reflect readers' own experiences back at them, while others provide a window into unimagined new worlds.  For Alessandra, Wilder provided the window to a mirror reflecting her father back to her.



Alessandra Selassie, holding a mock-up of her $1,000 prize check, with lots of supportive unidentified grown-ups.

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