I write and I read. When I read something that knocks my socks off, I write to the author. This doesn’t happen often. Perhaps that’s because it takes quite a lot to knock my socks off. Yet when I do write, my letters are handwritten; a typed letter would never do. Heaven forbid an email. In my heart I know that pen to paper is the most personal and sincere way to write. Often remarkable things happen.
Every year in my preschool class I chapter read aloud. The first book of the year is always Charlotte’s Web. When I began reading this year, I opened the book and there was a forward from the Newbery Award winning author, Kate DiCamillo. That was ‘it’, my big push to write to the author. She has been in my life the past two years in many ways. It all started with Inga, my friend and fellow teacher who loaned me her copy of Flora and Ulysses. It is one of the best books I have read. Then, ‘Read Aloud West Virginia’ hooked me up to Kate DiCamillo’s Facebook page. I host a reading group at my public library for second and third graders which put me into another whole world of reading. This opened my window, and then I read Because of Winn Dixie.
I wrote a two-page handwritten letter to Kate DiCamillo. I had to. I told her how she’d come into my life in unexpected ways, and told her about me and my pathway in reading books and reading aloud. I told her how I had found not only her books but many others, such as Wonder, A Week in the Woods, and The Year of Billy Miller. I had discovered a new world beyond picture books. Kate DiCamillo wrote back to me. She thanked me for reading aloud, told me she was grateful, and called me her friend. Her card to me was handwritten, too.
Some years ago I attended a teacher conference and Jim Trelease was the keynote speaker. He is the author of the million copy bestseller, The Read Aloud Handbook. That speech knocked my socks off. It affirmed everything I do and know to be true. After the conference I wrote him a letter. I had to. Yes, it was handwritten. I included a newsletter I had sent to parents in my classroom about reading aloud. He wrote back to me. He wanted to know more. Jim Trelease visited my classroom and wrote about my reading in his recent edition.
Many years ago I read Jack and the Beanstalk by John Howe to my class. When I read the line where Jack’s mother is upset and calls him a ‘stupid boy’, one child asked me why the author wrote and said the word ‘stupid’. Good question. The only way to find out was to ask the author. So, again I wrote a letter to an author, handwritten of course. John Howe responded in kind with an eloquent answer as to his use and the definition of the word ‘stupid’. I still have his handwritten letter stored among my treasures.
Today I told two children at the library to be brave and write to their favorite authors. One child is a huge fan of Patricia Polacco, and I encouraged her to write a letter. Somehow I think the rewards that a letter brings to an author may be just as big as the rewards for the writers. They certainly were for me.