A unique twist on book reports had junior English students writing to the novel’s author — living or not — about the personal impact of their work. Two Catholic school students earned the top spots in Arizona.
A pair of Seton Catholic Preparatory rising seniors — they just finished their junior year — are the top state winners in the “Letters About Literature” national competition. It became a memorable retirement gift of sorts for Jane Pearson, their English teacher who inspired them to share their stories via the Library of Congress competition. Pearson retired this week after 30 years on the job.
Raelyn Dickinson placed first in the state for a letter she wrote to R. J. Palacio about “Wonder,” a popular teen novel that was made into a feature film starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. Dickinson’s letter has been entered into the national round of judging for a chance to win a $2,000 cash award.
Dickinson’s loving relationship with her brother, Boe, inspired her author’s letter. “Wonder” is about big sister Via’s complicated relationship with her brother, Auggie, who was born with a facial deformity. Dickinson’s little brother is also different. He was born with Down syndrome.
Dickinson wrote in her letter to Palacio, “Via also feels an enormous weight of being Auggie’s sister and feels extremely guilty for sometimes resenting him. . . I love my brother beyond words, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I did not have to constantly worry about him.” She considers Via a role model because of her selflessness, acceptance and unconditional love for Auggie.
Emma Bratko placed second for a letter she wrote to novelist John Green about “Turtles All the Way Down.” The book is about a 16-year-old girl suffering from anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Bratko called reading it through to the end an eye-opening experience.
“Aza’s ‘thought spirals’ are something I experience often, due to my own anxiety disorder. Although my spirals are on a milder level, reading a story with a main character who struggles with this same process was very comforting,” Bratko wrote. She thanked the author for improving her self-perception by helping her to realize others face similar challenges.