R.J. Palacio’s book “Wonder” has inspired millions of kids. It’s the story of a disfigured boy named Auggie who attends school outside his home for the first time as a fifth-grader. And it has prompted many discussions about courage, friendship and choosing to be kind.
For reader Claire Juip of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the book’s message didn’t hit home the first time she read it. But two life-changing events caused Claire to reread it and reflect on it for the Library of Congress’s 2017 Letters About Literature contest.
The first event was finding out that her older brother, Jake, was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Friedreich’s ataxia (FA).
“FA makes your nerve cells die so you can’t walk and eventually you need a wheelchair,” Claire wrote in her letter. “Because I love to read, I was looking for a book where the characters felt how I felt.”
At that point, Claire said she could relate to Auggie’s sister, Via, who appreciated his smarts and humor and didn’t focus on his appearance.
Then Claire was diagnosed with FA. She reread the book, putting herself in Auggie’s shoes. Claire wrote the letter before telling friends and classmates, and she admitted that she worries about how they will react when her symptoms become more noticeable.
“I really hope that everyone in the world will read your book because someday when I am different than I am now, I want people to be nice to me, and I think your book teaches people that,” wrote Claire, who’s now 10.
The letter earned Claire first prize among fourth- through sixth-grade entrants and an opportunity to meet Palacio at this month’s National Book Festival in Washington.
“I probably wouldn’t know what to do with my diagnosis if I hadn’t read ‘Wonder,’ ” she told the author.
Palacio said she was honored that the book had helped Claire and was happy that the fifth-grader was spreading the message about kindness.
“We all have to step up and remind people about what matters,” she said.
(Find out more about FA in a video Claire made: wapo.st/2vTr39a .)
What: Letters About Literature
What you need to do: Read a book, poem or speech and write a letter to the author about how the work inspired or influenced you. The author can be living or dead.
Who can enter: Students in grades four through six; seven and eight; and nine through 12.
What you can win: National winners in each of the three categories above will receive $1,000. Honor winners will receive $200. States award various prizes to their winners.
How to enter: Go to read.gov/letters for state deadlines (December-January) and to download the entry form.
Do you have a passion for drawing or making videos? Here are two more contests in which you can show your creativity and possibly win a prize.
What: Toyota Dream Car Art Contest
What you need to do: Create an original piece of art featuring a dream car.
What you can win: In each category, $750 for first place, $500 for second place and $250 for third place. All winners will receive a framed copy of their artwork and art supplies and, if selected for the world competition, the possibility of more prizes.
Who can enter: Age 7 and younger; ages 8 to 11; ages 12 to 15.
How to enter: Go to tfsinthecommunity.com/dreamcar for details and entry forms, which can be submitted October 1 through January 31.
What: C-SPAN StudentCam competition
What you need to do: Make a video related to a part of the U.S. Constitution that is important to you.
What you can win: $5,000 grand prize for individual or team with $750 for winners’ school. Prizes from $250 to $3,000 for honorable mentions up to first prizes.
Who can enter: Middle school and high school students.
How to enter: Go to studentcam.org for tips and details on how to submit. Entries are due January 18.