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Letters About Literature National Winners 2003

National Winner, Level 3: Jazlyn Langford

Dear Roald Dahl,

There are some things in life that make you happy just because. A hot bubble bath after a week of camping. A baby's toothless grin. Watching giant snowflakes float down from the heavens and land like butterfly kisses in a children's tousled hair. Finding a crumpled $20 bill in your coat pocket from last spring. Gazing into a star-filled sky. Sometimes things don't need explanations they are simply endearing and wonderful. Matilda is one of these things.

I first read Matilda in first grade when I received it as a birthday present form my mom. It was brand new; the pages were crisp and clean and the spine crinkled when you opened it. I loved Matilda because somewhere deep inside I knew she reminded me of myself. We were both extremely small, spunky, loved hot chocolate, and most of all loved reading. I read it that first time, and never stopped. Sometimes people scoff when I tell them my favorite book is Matilda. But they don't understand. They can't see that the familiarity is a source of comfort in this crazy world. They don't understand that the well-known characters have become real people and the simple unchanging plot still enthralls me. Long so I passed the point where I pick up a new tidbit of information every time I read the book; now, I read it because I love it.

Reading Matilda reminds me that I need to journey to exotic places in books, believe in miracles, imagine the impossible, and laugh at everything. In the past few years a tug-of-war has blossomed between the 'kid world' of mud pies, cartoons, and Sunday morning comics and the 'grown- up world' of house cleaning, the stock market, and reading the newspaper. The adult world approaches faster and faster with every passing year and as I become a more mature and responsible adult, I am choosing to hold onto bits of silly perfection from my childhood. I will always remember the joy of sticking watermelon seeds to my forehead and running through the sprinklers. I will never forget the excitement on the first day of kindergarten, the kindness of my first grade teacher, or the adventure that lurks in each new book.

Matilda is not a new book anymore. Recently, I eagerly introduced my little sister to Matilda, promising a fantastic read. She eyed the book warily and it took me a minute to look at my favorite book through her eyes. The spine is crushed from countless readings and a dark water ring resides on the fraying cover/ Dark splotches adorn the crinkled pages because I always drink hot chocolate while I read and since I always lost my bookmarks the corners are bent and torn. The print is smudged in some places from accidentally dropping it in the bathtub and underlined in others to signify my favorite bits. Although it looks beaten and battered, to me that only adds to its charm because it glimpses the thousands of memories piled between the pages. My sister reluctantly read my book and promptly fell in love. Now we argue about which parts are the best, and whether or not the movie does it justice. I'm starting to realize that every time I share Matilda with a new person, it tugs me further toward the 'kid world' into lands of pixie fairies, unicorns, and make-believe. And that is fine with me.

Something in Matilda makes in inexplicably happy anytime I read it, like the pheromone in babies that makes you want to kiss them. You don't know why, but that's not really the issue. All you know is that you're happy and that's enough. Matilda accurately describes this wonderful sensation as " . . . flying past the stars on silver wings." So I would simply like to say thank you, Roald Dahl, for everything. You gave me my silver wings and now I can fly.

Yours truly,
Jazlyn Langford

What the Judges Had to Say About Jazlyn's Letter

I like her use of imagery and the way it expresses how a book including the physical object itself can matter in a person's life. (Alan Lenhoff, Managing Editor, Writing! magazine, General Learning Corporation)

Not all books are right for all people, and Jazlyn understands this and is prepared to defend her choice for 'favorite book.' What is most interesting about her letter is the context in which she places Matilda: things that are naturally beautiful, things that are spontaneous, things that are life-affirming. While it is sometimes easier to write about the conflicts in our lives and about our personal dramas, it is not quite as easy to capture happiness moments. Jazlyn's essays expresses how the book affected her as a child introduced her to a world of make-believe; but she moves beyond that to express how the book continues to affect her now that she is older reminding her of who she once was. The book in a sense represents two different journeys for Jazlyn one is the journey of adventure and discovery as a child and the other is the journey of going back in time and finding your inner child again. Certainly her use of concrete details helps the reader of this letter to go on both journeys, as well. (Catherine Gourley, National Director, LAL Reading Promotion Program)