Today’s youth are bombarded with technology.
They have nearly constant access to each other and the world via Internet, cell phones and text messaging. When they have a question about almost anything, they can easily find the answer using a computer or some other electronic device.
Even so, many teens still enjoy reading a good book.
Letters About Literature is a national contest spearheaded by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The initiative aims to encourage students in grades 4-12 to read. Students write letters to authors and tell how the writers’ work affected them.
“Every year we submit at least some students’ entries for the Letters About Literature competition,” said Emily Race, who teaches language arts at Crawfordsville High School. “This year, Indiana had about 1,250 submissions from grades 4-12. The judges chose 139 semi-finalists, 49 of whom were high school students. Twenty-one of those high school students are from Crawfordsville High School.”
After the semi-finalists were selected, judges chose state finalists. Hannah Chalmers, a freshman at CHS, was chosen the first place winner for Indiana. Chalmers’ letter will now advance to the national level. She will find out how she fared in early April.
Chalmers wrote her letter on Virginia Lee Burton’s 1939 children’s book “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.”
Emily Shirar, an 18-year-old senior, received an honorable mention award in the state finalist competition for her letter about Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a collection of related stories.
“It’s about the Vietnam War,” Shirar said. “It starts out by listing the things the soldiers carried with them, and goes on to tell about the experiences of the soldiers and the things they went through,” she said.
Considering the subject matter, Shirar was surprised by how it was presented in the book.
“(O’Brien) does it in such a beautiful way,” she said. “It touches your heart.”
Sharir read the book because it was a summer assignment for an honors class, so she has been able to do projects and research relating to it.
“I learned so much about how (O’Brien) wrote it and what made it such a great success,” she said.
Shirar enjoys reading, but doesn’t get to do it as much as she would like.
“I try to get a lot out of the books I have to read,” she said. “This one really got me thinking about things.”
Senior Brian Caraher, 18, was inspired by “The Icewind Dale Trilogy” by science fiction and fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore.
“It’s sort of based on ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’” Caraher said. “It’s about a dark elf who comes from the underworld to above.”
Even though “The Icewind Dale Trilogy” was a fantasy book, Caraher said he very much identified with dark elf ranger Drizzt Do’Urden.
“I moved here in fifth grade,” Caraher said. “So I know what it’s like to try to find acceptance. That’s what (the dark elf) was doing ... trying to adjust to a new place.”
When he reads for pleasure, Caraher often goes for books in the fantasy genre.
“I like J.K. Rowling and (J.R.R.) Tolkein,” he said. “The classic stuff.”
Semi-finalist Ashley Phelps, 15, is a sophomore. She wrote her letter to author Catherine Anderson after reading Anderson’s book “Phantom Waltz.”
“It was just a book I picked up,” Phelps said. “It gave me an escape. The way (Anderson) writes just draws you in.”
Phelps, who counts Jane Austen among her favorite writers, had never read any of Anderson’s books before “Phantom Waltz.”
“I first read it a couple of years ago, and I’ve been re-reading it over and over,” she said.
Junior Abby Rodenbeck, 17, was named a semi-finalist for her letter about “The Choice” by Nicholas Sparks.
“I read (Sparks’) book ‘Dear John’ first, and I liked his style,” Rodenbeck said. “I like romance novels.”
Although she is not a voracious reader, Rodenbeck was struck by how deeply “The Choice” affected her.
“I liked how I could relate the story to my life and connect with the characters,” she said.
Rodenbeck originally read “The Choice” to do a book report.
“Then I had the opportunity to enter the (Letters About Literature) contest, so I did,” she said.
Sophomore Amit Nag, 15, wrote a letter to Kurt Vonnegut about Vonnegut’s 1963 tome “Cat’s Cradle.”
Nag read “Cat’s Cradle,” which deals with issues such as science, technology and religion, after reading Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
“It was such an interesting story,” Nag said. “I could never sit down and think up the amazing stories Kurt Vonnegut did.”
Lyndsy Johnson, 15, is a freshman. The letter she wrote that earned her semi-finalist honors was to “The Secret Life of Bees” author Sue Monk Kidd.
Johnson read a story about Kidd in Guideposts magazine, and decided she would like to read something Kidd had penned.
The book takes place in 1964 South Carolina, and deals extensively with civil rights and bigotry.
“The thing that drew me to it was how women characters played such a big part in it,” Johnson said. “Most of the main characters were strong, black women.”
Most of what Johnson reads are books she is assigned for school.
“I read when I have free time,” she said. “But we’re assigned a lot of books and I’m involved with a lot of activities.”
Other CHS semi-finalists were seniors Sarah Barr, Brock Jahnke and Lauren Roberts; juniors Maria Salter, Morgan Raters, Megan Leech, Maddy Demeter and Hilary Sheets; sophomores Shannon Reese, Jessica Pruett and Emily Guinter; and freshmen Josh Levesque (who received a state level honorable mention), Kristen Albrecht and Patrick Jahnke.
All the state semi-finalists were invited to a recognition ceremony at the Indiana State Library on April 30.