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Students provide Letters about Literature

Advancing letter writers include, front from left, Samantha Foltz, Emma Thompson, Shelly Fanaselle and Emilee Freeman; back from left, Casey Paskey, Antonio Valdez, Adam Alinder, Natalie Roth and Maddy Schiller. Taylor Bunker was also one of the advancing writers, but she has since moved to Bismarck, N.D. The 10 eighth graders wrote letters to an author about a book that had inspired them and were 10 of 55 Minnesota students whose letters advanced to the third round. Unfortunately none of them placed, bu...

Julie Bartley's eighth grade class is producing quite a few good writers.

Last November, 116 of her students submitted Letters about Literature, letters to authors talking about why a certain book inspired them. The nationwide contest had about 70,000 participants, of which 1,793 were from Minnesota.

With the written letters being whittled down, a total of 176 letters made the first round cut and were sent on to state judging. From there, 55 letters moved on the next level of judging, with 10 of those letters coming from Detroit Lakes Middle School students.

Although none of them took home a state award, "The numbers show that this is a huge accomplishment," Bartley said. tOne-fifth of all the Minnesota letters chosen came from DLMS,

Although they wrote the letters in November, the 10 that advanced weren't aware of that until March. They include Adam Alinder, Antonia Valdez, Casey Paskey, Emilee Freeman, Emma Thompson, Maddy Schiller, Natalie Roth, Samantha Foltz, Shelly Fanaselle and Taylor Bunker, who has since moved to Bismarck.

The Letters about Literature program asks young readers and writers to describe in a letter to the author (which won't be answered) how the book changed their view of the world or themselves.

Fanaselle, who chose to write to Ellen Hopkins for Impulse, said she picked that book because "it's a really good book and has a lot of deep meaning."

This book was different in the sense that it inspired Fanaselle to not be like the main character and instead make wiser decisions.

She said she told the author what an inspiration she is and about how she doesn't want to end up like Hopkins' character.

Schiller wrote to Jodi Picoult after reading My Sister's Keeper.

"It reminded me of my relationship with my sisters," she said was the reason she chose to focus on that book.

When she found out four months later that she was one of the students chosen to advance, Schiller said she was "kind of surprised because I had forgotten about it until Miss Bartley mentioned it."

Valdez wrote to D.J. MacHale for his book The Quillan Games (Pendragon).

"It's what I was reading at the time," Valdez said was the simple reason he chose to write about it.

He wrote to MacHale that he "really liked the book and appreciated the way his characters try to figure out how to fit into the grand scheme of things."

Other books and authors the students chose include: Roth -- Katie DiCamillo's Because of Win-Dixie; Alinder and Freeman -- J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series; Thompson -- Ibi Kasilk's Skinny; Foltz -- Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games; Bunker -- Sarah Dessen's Just Listen.

Bartley said this is her first year teaching in Detroit Lakes, but yes, this will be a permanent assignment for her future classes.

"It was exciting, definitely," she said of the moment when she found out that so many of her students had moved on.

The variety of topics -- sports to imagination to believing in oneself -- were good for the connection the students were supposed to have with the authors or their characters.

"Correspondence and respond -- that's what I pounded into their heads for the two weeks we worked on this," she said with a laugh.

And the result has proven to be a success.

"It's such an accomplishment," she said of her students' achievement.