Nervous anticipation buzzed in the room as I entered. Children, with proud parents nearby, mingled around a table of cookies and juice, all clutching letters in their hands. They were the authors of the letters and tonight was the night of the 2016 Oregon Letters About Literature Awards. Three of my 6th graders were honorable mentions and this was an event I didn’t want to miss for the world.
They’d written the letters all the way back in December, writing to an author whose book had moved them to some new sort of understanding. I sent them to the Library of Congress, who sent the best back to Oregon for judging. And here we were, five months later, celebrating.
Fonda Lee, local author of Zeroboxer, opened the event. I was interested as she told us about the books and authors who influenced her, and the writing partners and critique groups that made her a better writer. I got weepy as she shared the comments Holly Goldberg Sloan, Renee Watson and Laini Taylor with whom she shared the letters the three First Place winners wrote to. Not ten minutes in and I was emotional!
Pride swelled as my first student stepped bravely to front to read her letter aloud. Her mother, sitting in the same aisle as me, was not the only parent recording her child last night.This girl was very poised and spoke in a clear, confident voice. I chuckled when my second student , the one I think of as my poet, went up. Like the first student, she wore a black dress, but, in her own inimitable style, she had Converse on her feet. I watched her parents, beaming proudly as they held back tears.
I listened attentively as the other students read their letters, but for me, the best had been read. Driving home from the event, I reflected on how much all my students have grown as writers this year. It’s been a year of big changes for me, but, tonight, I know I have done a good job.