Letters About Literature

Frequently Asked Questions

    Eligibility and Deadlines

  1. Who is eligible to participate?
    Letters About Literature is open to legal residents of the 50 United States, District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Students must be in grades 4 through 12 during the 2018-19 school year to participate. Students under the age of 13 (as of 11/1/18) must obtain and upload a permission form signed by a parent or legal guardian to be eligible for entry (download permission form here).

  2. When can the student submit his/her letter?
    Entries will be accepted online starting November 1, 2018.

  3. What is the deadline to submit letters?
    Each state has selected midnight, Eastern time on either December 14, 2018, or January 11, 2019, as the state-level contest deadline. Select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters to find your state’s deadline, online submission form, and state-level recognition and contest details.

  4. Can a student submit more than one letter?
    No. Only one entry is allowed per student each contest year. Each student may only apply in one state and competition level.

  5. What can disqualify an entry?
    Please see the official rules and terms of use for full details.
    • Personal contact information such as an address, email or phone included anywhere in the letter, including the header or footer. These entries cannot be distributed to judges and must be disqualified.
    • Not meeting or exceeding the word count; entries must be at least 400 words and no longer than 800 words (including date, greeting, body of the letter, closing, and name/signature).
    • Not formatting the entry as a letter with a date, greeting, body of the letter, closing and name/signature.
    • Submitting multiple entries or submitting in multiple states; students may only submit one letter. Students should submit their letters using the state form appropriate for the student’s school address or, if submitting individually, the student’s home address.
    • Students under 13 not submitting a hand-signed parent permission form; all students under 13, regardless of their grade, must submit a permission form hand-signed by their parent or legal guardian to participate. Download the form here.
    • Submitting previously published or plagiarized work, or work that the student has submitted to other contests.
    • Submitting an entry in the incorrect Level of Competition, which is based on the student’s grade.
    • Submitting a hand-written or illegible letter; at this time Letters About Literature does not require entries to use a specific font or font size, but does require that all entries be typed and legible.

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    Contest Guidelines

  6. Which state form should the student use to submit his/her letter online? Can a student enter in more than one state?
    Students should submit their letters using the state form appropriate for the student’s school address or, if submitting individually, the student’s home address. Students may not enter in more than one state. For the purposes of this program, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories will be considered states.

  7. What are the competition levels?
    Level I: grades 4-6; Level II: grades 7-8; Level III: grades 9-12.

  8. What are the prizes and recognition for winners?
    The Library of Congress will announce all National Winners (1 per Level of Competition) and National Honorable Mention Winners (2 per Level of Competition) and will publish all state-level winners on read.gov/letters. National Winners in each competition level will receive a $2,000 cash award. National Honorable Mention Winners in each competition level will receive a $500 cash award. State recognition of state-level winners varies. For more details on state-level recognition, please select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters.

  9. Is there a word limit for the letters?
    Yes, entries must be no fewer than 400 words and no more than 800 words (including date, greeting, body of the letter, closing, and name/signature).

  10. May a student write to an author who is no longer living?
    Yes, and many do.

  11. What form of literature should students select?
    Students should select a fiction or nonfiction book, short story, poem, essay, or speech (excluding song lyrics) that they have read and about which they have strong feelings. We ask that teachers not assign a particular work to students; rather, allow students to choose a piece of literature that speaks to them personally.

  12. Will letters be published if selected as winners?
    Only the letters of National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners will be published on read.gov/letters. If the entry is selected as a state or National Winner, the student’s parent or legal guardian will be contacted for permission to publish the student’s name, hometown, state and/or letter. If permission to publish is declined for National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners, an alternate winner will be determined.

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    Submitting Letters

  14. Where should entries be submitted?
    Select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters to find your state’s deadline, online submission form, and state-level recognition and contest details, or go directly to the online submission platform at lettersaboutliterature.submittable.com and find your state form.

  15. Can entries be submitted by mail rather than online?
    Some states will accept mailed entries. Select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters to find out if your state accepts mailed entries and the correct mailing address. Do not mail entries to the Library of Congress. Please note that all mailed entries must be added by state-level contest coordinators to the online submission platform in order to be judged and considered eligible for the contest. Students under 13 years who are submitting entries by mail must still include the permission form for use of the online submission platform (hand-signed by their parent or legal guardian) in order for their entries to be eligible. Entries submitted by mail must be postmarked by the state’s deadline. All mailed entries must also have a completed 2018-19 entry coupon to be eligible.

  16. How do I submit an entry?
    If you are a student or parent, please see the students page for instructions on submitting your entry. Teachers should see the teachers page for instructions, as well as the teachers section of this FAQ.

  17. Do I need a permission form to enter?
    Students under 13 years of age (as of November 1, 2018) must have a permission form hand-signed by a parent or legal guardian in order to participate.

  18. If I turn 13 between November 1, 2018, and my state’s entry deadline, do I still need a signed permission form from my parent or guardian?
    Yes. Students under 13 as of November 1, 2018, require a signed and uploaded permission form from a parent or guardian. This protects all entrants, regardless of the entry date.

  19. How should home-schooled students enter?
    Home-schooled students may enter individually with parent assistance or may enter with teacher assistance—whichever makes the most sense for their situation. If submitting with teacher assistance, the form will ask for a teacher name and email.

  20. Do letters need to be written before beginning to fill out the online submission form?
    No. The online submission platform automatically saves your progress until you click the submit button. You will have the option to type your letter directly into the online submission platform or to upload a file with your letter (file types accepted: pdf, doc, docx, txt, rtf, wpf, odt and wpd).

  21. Can I submit artwork (video, picture or audio)?
    Submitting artwork with the letter is optional. Please note that these materials will not be considered during the contest judging process.

  22. What should I do if I need to update my entry or made an error when completing the form?
    Within the online submission platform you may review your submitted entries and request permission to edit a previously submitted entry. Edits may not be allowed after the deadline. You may also contact lettersaboutliterature@loc.gov with any issues.

  23. I’m having trouble with the online submission platform. What should I do?
    For technical assistance with online submissions, please visit https://submittable.help and contact the Submittable team.

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    Judging Process

  25. Who judges the letters?
    Judges include authors, publishers, librarians and educators. For state-level judging, entries will be judged against other entries within the same state and competition level by representatives from the state affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book in that state or by other representatives identified by the Library of Congress Center for the Book. For national-level judging, entries will be judged by representatives identified by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

  26. What criteria are used to judge the letters?
    Letters are evaluated based on (1) how well they address the audience, i.e., the author, and the purpose/theme of the contest; (2) grammar; (3) letter structure; (4) personal and reflective content; (5) and creative and unique expression. These criteria are described in the call for student entries flyer as audience and purpose (1), grammatical conventions (2 & 3), and originality (4 & 5).

  27. How many rounds of judging occur?
    There are four major rounds of judging: Round 1, Round 2, state-level judging and national-level judging.

  28. How is each round of judging conducted?

    • Round 1: Entries are evaluated for basic eligibility and by how well they address the audience and the purpose/theme of the contest.
    • Round 2: Entries are evaluated with the Letters About Literature rubric, which examines all five criteria (addresses audience and theme, grammar, structure, content, and expression) and receive a numerical score.
    • State-Level Judging: Entries are evaluated with the rubric by representatives from the state affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book in that state or by other representatives identified by the Library of Congress Center for the Book.
    • National-Level Judging: Once the top three entries from each state (one per competition level) have been determined, the national-level judging begins. Entries will be evaluated using the Letters About Literature rubric by representatives identified by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. One entry in each competition level (three total) with the highest cumulative point score will be declared the National Winner. After the National Winners are determined, the next two entries with the highest cumulative point scores for each competition level (six total) will be declared the National Honorable Mention Winners. In the case of a tie, entries will be evaluated by a new judge according to original criteria, and the tied entry with the highest cumulative score by the new judge will be declared the winner.

  29. Who notifies the state winners and when?
    State-level contest coordinators from each affiliate Center for the Book, state library or other organization notify the winners from their state. For more about state-level recognition and contest details, select your state from the dropdown menu on read.gov/letters.

  30. Who notifies the National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners and when?
    The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress notifies National Winners after the national-level judging concludes in late spring 2019. Winners may not be publicly announced until June.

  31. Why does it take so long to select state and national winners?
    We read tens of thousands of letters! The process of recording and assessing the letters takes many weeks.

  32. What if I am notified of selection as a National Winner or National Honorable Mention Winner but don’t want my name or letter published?
    If permission to publish is declined for National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners, an alternate winner will be determined. This will not affect the entry’s selection as a state winner.

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    Teachers

  34. What educational value does Letters About Literature have for my students?
    Research supports the link between reading and writing: children who read, write better; children who write, read more. Letters About Literature challenges students by asking that they write to a particular audience (the author of a book rather than a teacher) with a specific purpose (to explain or describe his or her personal reader response to the work). By encouraging personal reader response and reflective writing, the contest encourages meaningful reading and helps to create successful writers.

  35. Does Letters About Literature meet curriculum standards for reading and writing?
    Literature can be a tool to help students achieve curriculum standards relative to reading comprehension and writing persuasively, especially if the instructor challenges students to move beyond mere self-to-text connections and focus instead on critical thinking and creative expression.

  36. What is the best way to engage my students with Letters About Literature?
    Letters About Literature asks students to connect personally with a work that has changed their view of themselves or the world. The letters with the best reflective, personal writing are from students who have directly chosen a book that they have read and about which they have strong feelings. Teachers should not assign a particular work to students. We also encourage teachers to help students focus their letters on personal reflection and the impact of the book on the student, rather than primarily summarizing the book with book report elements or including many questions to the author. For more resources for teaching with Letters About Literature, please see the teachers page.

  37. How do I or my students submit entries with the online submission platform?
    There are several options for classes submitting entries with the online submission platform. Please note that if any of your students are under 13 years of age, a permission form hand-signed by their parent or legal guardian is required to submit their entry.
    • Teachers with older students and a computer lab may prefer to have students create their own Submittable account and submit their entry themselves. When completing the online entry form, these students should select that “a student” is completing the form with “teacher assistance” and enter the school name and the teacher’s email address in the appropriate fields.
    • The online submission platform also supports teachers entering submissions on behalf of their students. When you start the form, you will be prompted to set up an account. Please use your contact information. When you complete the address form, please enter your school address with the school name in “Address Line 1.” The form will save this address and autofill these fields each time you complete the form. On the next page of the form, please select “a teacher” is completing this form. You will need to enter the student’s name, age, grade, level of competition, some details about the work the student selected such as title and author, and the student’s letter. If your student is under 13 years of age, you will be prompted to submit a signed parent/legal guardian permission form before you can submit the entry.

  38. What do teachers need to do if we have students under 13?
    Regardless of how you submit the entries, each student under 13 as of November 1, 2018, will need a permission form signed by the parent or legal guardian to participate. If you submit all the entries in the online platform on behalf of your students, each time you complete the form for a student under 13, you will be prompted to upload a copy of the permission form to continue.

  39. Do you have certificates of completion for students who enter?
    Yes. You may download or print certificates of completion for your students for their Letters About Literature submission. Start here.

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    Parents

  41. If I have a child who wins, will that child's name and/or letter be published?
    If the entry is selected as a winner, the student’s parent or legal guardian will be contacted for permission to publish. If permission is declined for National Winners or National Honorable Mention Winners, an alternate winner will be determined.

  42. My child is in third grade but reads on a higher level. Can he/she still enter?
    Unfortunately, no. Our official rules state that a student must be in at least grade 4 to enter.

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    Additional Information

  44. Are the letters delivered to the authors?
    In some cases, letters written by National Winners are shared with the author. In general, students who wish to send their letters to the author will need to send them directly to the author, as well as to Letters About Literature. NOTE: Letters About Literature does not provide authors’ addresses.

  45. Is a letter ever disqualified for plagiarism?
    Yes. If a student copies significant phrases from past winning letters, the letter will be disqualified. The reader-response concept of this writing assignment makes plagiarism less likely. In some cases, our judges may question the authenticity of a letter. If there is a question that an adult might have written a letter for a student, the teacher or the parent will be contacted to confirm the work is the student’s own.

  46. What if a student fabricates personal details, like having a sibling, in order to make his or her letter more appealing?
    If the details provided by the student within the letter are fabricated and not factual, the letter will be eliminated from competition. Letters About Literature encourages students to think critically about their personal reaction to a book’s character or conflict. Letters About Literature may trigger creative thoughts in a young reader’s mind, but the student’s letter must be honest and factual, as well as creative and original.

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Dear Rick Riordan:

...Nico’s struggle with accepting himself really resonated with me, and still does to this day. The first time I read it, I was probably twelve, and going through a struggle of my own. Like Nico, I was trying to navigate my own sexual orientation, and I was having trouble coming to grips with it. But when I saw I wasn’t alone in this, and that it was okay to feel how I felt, I really started to both accept myself and be proud of who I was. You never know how helpful it is to see someone going through the same things you are, even if it’s in a book...

Baxter Lowrimore
Austin, Texas
2018 National Honor Award Winner – Level 2