Letter to the Author: Part of the “Share a Story, Shape a Future” Blog Literacy Tour

Check out the “Share a Story, Shape a Future” Blog Literacy Tour.  This post relates to today’s theme, “Literacy My Way/Literacy Your Way,” of the Tour, which is hosted by Susan Stephenson at The Book Chook.

I loved to write as a child, but never had someone hand me a book and say, “You write a lot like the author who wrote this book.”  While I know my education was solid, I think I could have been a stronger writer throughout middle and high school if someone had said to me, “Let’s study this author’s writing together and think about what makes it work so well.”  No one did that for me because that’s not typical to look at someone else’s writing in that kind of way.  However, through the years I’ve come to believe that it should be – that it must be – if we are going to help children become better writers.  In fact, it’s my belief that having at least one mentor author, to whom we look toward and learn from by carefully reading their writing, helps us write better.

Ruth recently inspired me to start thinking about the letters children write to an author in a different way.  Instead of encouraging children to write notes to authors that simply tell the author how much they loved the book, perhaps it’s time to encourage children to write to authors to tell them how their writing was inspired by the author’s body of writing.  In this type of letter to the author, children can share their hunches about why they think the author chose to write in a particular way.  (About 18 months ago I personally wrote a letter to an author like this.  I surmised the reasons I thought she wrote in a particular way.  I told her about the craft moves I thought she made and told her how I took what I thought she was doing, as a writer, and taught my students to do the same thing.  I was shocked when I received a response from her, informing me that she hadn’t realized she’d done some of these things, but was excited to see the student work that resulted from using her book as a mentor. )

Additionally, when children write letters to authors, they can include excerpts from their writing that was mentored after the professional author’s writing.   What would be more touching for an author to see than the way their writing inspired a child to lift the level of his own writing?

The internet makes it much easier to contact authors now.  In the old days (when I was a kid), one would have to send a letter to an author’s publisher who would eventually forward it on to the author.  Now, many authors have their own websites, where they publish their e-mail addresses or have “contact us” forms.  Since the electronic letter gets to the author quickly, it is more likely that the author will respond to the student.  Getting a response from the author, no matter what the age is of the sender, is certainly a treat!