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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the contest theme?

Students select a book about which they have strong feelings. They write a personal letter to the book’s author describing how the author’s work changed their view of
the world or themselves. They explore the personal relationship between themselves, the author, and the book’s characters or themes. Letters should persuade and use details from the work itself.

What are the judging criteria?

  • Content (addressing the theme)
  • Writers Voice (style, originality)
  • Exposition (language skills, organization, grammar)

What is the deadline for submission?

December 15, 2014 is the postmark deadline for Level 3 grades 9-12

January 15, 2015 is the postmark deadline for Level 1 grades 4-6 and Level 2 grades 7-8.

Are there prizes?

Yes. Iowa first place winners each win a $75.00 prize. Second and third place winners each win a $50.00 prize. All Honorable Mention winners win a $25.00 prize. Prizes are also given at the national level for the 4 national winners.

Where are the letters to authors sent?

Letters About Literature

Competition Level (Indicate 1, 2, or 3)

Post Office Box 5308

Woodbridge, VA 22194

Can children write to authors no longer living?

Absolutely. Children can write to authors of fiction or nonfiction, including speeches; poets and playwrights. However, we do not accept letters to musicians or authors of song lyrics.

Can a child write more than one letter?

No. If we receive more than one letter, we simply eliminate all but the first letter received.

Will the letters be answered or forwarded to the authors?

Unfortunately, no. Because of the huge volume of letters received, the staff can neither answer letters nor forward the letters to the authors. Children should make a copy of their letter prior to submitting it to the contest.

Can children write to the authors of poetry and nonfiction books?

Yes. We also accept letters to authors of speeches.

Can children write to the authors of song lyrics or comic books?

Although graphic novels are allowed, comic strips, comic books, and song lyrics are not allowed.

We have just completed studying a novel in class. Can the entire class write about the same book?

We discourage this as we think it misses the spirit of the contest theme, that is how a particular work changed a reader's view of self or the world. Not all books are personally relevant to all readers. Allowing the reader to choose the book that means the most to him/her is one step in the process of reflective writing so necessary to this program.

Is there a maximum number of words or pages acceptable in the letter?


Entries for Level 1 should be no less than 100 words and no more than 500 words.

Entries for Level 2 should be no less than 300 words and no more than 1000 words.

Entries for Level 3 should be no less than 600 words and no more than 1500 words.

Why is the Entry Coupon necessary if the child's name is on the letter?

Very often children forget to write their names and complete addresses on the letter. Also, the coupon information helps us to build a mailing list for subsequent years and to determine the geographic distribution of our program. Teachers should not use one coupon for an entire class set. Each entry must have its own coupon

Must the child's home address be on the letter itself or can the return address be the school's?

We understand the confidentiality that many school districts require to keep students' home addresses private. On both the entry coupon and the letter itself, a return address is necessary, but a school address may be substituted for the home address. Home addresses are not required to enter. However, should a child's letter advance to state-level judging and then take one of the state prizes, home information will be necessary.

Must the letters be typewritten?

Yes. Handwritten entries are sometimes very difficult to read. If our judges can't read the letter, we can't assess and therefore advance them. Most students type their work, double-spaced into a word document.

Is this contest open to home-schooled students?

Yes, and in the past many home-schooled children have taken top state prizes.

What educational value does LAL have for my child/students?

Research supports the link between reading and writing: children who read, write better; children who write, read more. And so the cycle continues. LAL 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, LAL encourages meaningful reading and helps to create successful writers.Students learn to express rather than impress, they develop their natural writing voices and practice important real-world writing skills.

What are the competition levels?

Level I: grades 4-6; Level II: grades 7-8; Level III: grades 9-12.

My child is in third grade but reads on a higher level. Can he/she still enter?

Unfortunately, no. Official LAL rules state that a child must be in at least grade 4 to compete. But LAL would certainly welcome your child's letter next year.

What about ownership and copyright of letters submitted?

All entries become the property of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

About Judging & Notification of Winners

Who judges the letters?

More than 100 judges across the country read the letters. Judges include authors, publishers, librarians, and educators from all 50 states. The first two rounds of reading by national judges determine which letters advance to state-level judging. First place state winners in each level are then returned to the national office where a panel of judges assess the state winners to select six national finalists, two per competition level.

Who selects the state winners?

Each state has its own panels of state judges. However, not every letter submitted advances to state-level judging. Letters must first advance through two rounds of reading by the LAL national office Central judges. These include former classroom teachers and graduate students with knowledge of children's literature and their reading-writing process.

If I have a child who wins, will that child's name and/or letter automatically be published?

Not without the signed permission of a parent or guardian! Rest assured, all children who receive a state or national prize will receive notification via snail mail or Email, including a permission release form. The parent/guardian signs this release and returns it to the state center (not the national office) and only then are names released and possibly some letters published. If a child prefers to withhold his/her name at the time of publication, that is acceptable but we must have complete names in order for the child to enter the contest.

When are the winners selected and notified?

Iowa winners will be selected by mid-March and notified soon after. First place winners in Iowa will then advance to national competition. At the national level there will be two winners plus four honorable mentions at each competition level.  These winners will be announced in April.

Who notifies the state winners and when?

Each state center for the book notifies the winners from their state. The national office maintains communications between the state centers but does not contact each state winner. State winners can expect notification in April. National winners are announced in May.

Why does it take so long to select state and national winners?

The National Office reads every letter! Last year, LAL received 49,000 letters. Just opening and logging letters takes weeks. Then come the rounds of reading. Of the 59,000 letters received last year, the national team of judges eliminated approximately 44,000 letters. That means that approximately 5,000 (or about 10%) advanced to round 3, or state-level judging. From there, a whole new team of judges reads the letters.

About Veracity and Plagiarism

Is a letter ever disqualified for plagiarism?

The reader response concept of this writing assignment makes plagiarism less likely but yes, our judges do question the authenticity of a letter. If we are in doubt or suspect that an adult might have written a letter for a child, we contact the teacher or the parent to confirm the work is the child's own.

What if a child fabricates personal details, like having a sibling, in order to make his or her letter more appealing?

If the details provided by the child within the letter are fabricated and not factual, the letter will be eliminated from competition.  LAL encourages children to think critically about their personal reaction to a book's character or conflict. LAL make trigger creative thoughts in a young reader's mind but when writing their submission letter, they must be honest and factual as well a creative and original. In other words, original doesn't mean making up a fictional story of one's own.

Who should I contact about this program in Iowa?

The Coordinator of the Iowa Center for the Book.

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