Level 3--1st Place
To George Orwell:
You were right, you were right, you were right. I’m sorry I never saw it before, and I feel like an idiot, sitting here and penning this to you when you were so unspeakably right. You shouldn’t have published those books of yours under the guise of fiction—how could fiction be what’s happening outside my very doorstep! People get so worked up, angry at some imaginary oppressive tyrant when the very dystopias we fear and loathe are being built around us. I’m only just beginning to see them myself—brick and mortar meant to keep worlds apart, shields of hatred and arrows of intolerance, warlords arming for battle while the unwitting peasants continue to live from day to day. Soon only the fortress, a bastion cutting down any hope of love or compassion, will remain, with every citizen gripped tight in the steely apathy of law.
Oh, if only I could make you understand just how important—nay, fundamental!—your work has been to my life! If only I knew I would be able to express such a thing in this letter—and it not come across as the ramblings of a madman! What I enumerated before, but feel I have not adequately expressed, is that you were right. I first read Animal Farm when I was young—too young to understand it. I thought of it as a humorous fable, nothing more. Every day I saw oppression—in the news, on the street, in my home. Every day I watched as underlings tried to rise above their rulers, getting drunk on power and imposing rule harsher than even that of previous tyrant. I saw the denizens, mindless and dumb—waiting to see who the new ruler would be, wondering if they should care. And in my wide-eyed youth I did not think, “Those are Orwell’s words! Those are the very actions, painted on the canvas of reality! That group is made of pigs, and those other fellows’ horses and goats and sheep. Here is where the story starts, and here is where it will end, every word as a he penned it.” My eyes might have been as blind as those vacant stares about me, but to my credit I did observe. I watched people and places and motivations and reactions. I tried to piece my world together through the map you created.
Then came your work 1984. This piece was the key that turned the lock in my mind, allowing me to see that this was real, that vigilance was needed. I saw in my slovenly compatriots the face of Parsons, and in my fellow youth those trained only to follow orders and the herd under the guise of “teambuilding” and crafting “character.” I saw the posing, the scare tactics, the hypes and hysteria. I saw the pain of real terrorism as it happened, and then saw the far more expansive, far more deadly panic and paranoia of imagined threats of terrorism.
Now what do I see when I dare to venture outside my tiny safe haven? Drones circling overhead. Cellphones that track every move; whose conversations are being recorded and analyzed indiscriminately for any sign of suspicion. More and more information has been released, telling evidence of our descent into dystopia—and yet people seem to become ever more complacent! Scandals blow up in a day and are gone the next. Disaster relief gets attention perhaps only a few months. People would much rather live in an era where superheroes and men with guns can solve all the problems in the world. And I must confess, I can’t blame them for that.
I am not saying, sir, that I think that every aspect of society is awful and must be usurped, countermanded, destroyed. I love this world. That’s why I want to protect it. I am saying (as you have always said) that people must always watch the world around them instead of drifting between obligations and pleasure, as so many do now. That’s the reason I wrote this letter—to say (for it must be reiterated this one last time) that you were right. Right to write your books, right to do all that you have done to better the world. I, too, have begun my first steps in the world of writing, describing the world I see around me just as you did. I hope to be, just as you have been, an observer spinning my cautionary tales, and trying to help the world understand.
You are truly an inspiration. Your words will echo in this world for centuries to come.
Goodbye for now,
Level 3--2nd Place
Dear Jim Stovall,
As I accept the sixth place medal at my championship swim meet, my eyes glisten with
tears. I can hardly contain myself as my heart races with excitement. I glance at my teammate
who placed first, expecting her smile to reflect the same elation that I feel. Surprisingly, she
seems pleased but not to the same degree that I am. I question whether I should feel so proud;
maybe this is not such a big accomplishment.
Until I read The Ultimate "Gift, I did not fully understand how the same experiences can
have significantly different values to people based on their amount of investment. Although I
have always understood that the harder I work for something the more I will value it, your book
has helped me develop a deeper understanding of how this applies to even the smallest events in
After reading The Ultimate Gift, I realize that the joy I felt placing at my swim meet was
unmatched by my teammate because of our differing levels of investment in getting there.
Although she works hard during practice, she does not struggle to keep up like I do. After
reading this book, I began to see that it is the effort that I invest in swimming that creates the
significance of placing, and not the outcome itself.
I recognize the same principle when I consider my upcoming trip to Europe. I often
catch myself daydreaming about the moment my plane will depart. Some of my friends seem
animated as we talk about this school trip, but for many it seems like just another vacation. This
trip seems to hold significantly more value to those of us who are paying for the trip with money
we have earned ourselves.
My parents have commented that many oftoday's younger generation have a sense of
entitlement. I recognize this in many of my peers. The Ultimate Gift has helped me understand
that sacrifice and hard work are often gifts in themselves. I have held summer jobs for several
years and have put-my earnings into savings to help fund my college education. Although I often
want to spend some of this money, I know the investment of time and work that I am making for
my college education is more important. It will only make me a more serious student and
appreciative of what my parents are able to contribute. When I receive my nursing degree, its
value will be greater due to the personal investment I made before I even entered college.
I have carried this deeper understanding of devoting my time and effort to create
something of value into my relationships as well. Whether it is the lasting bond with my family,
the supportive network I have created with my friends, or the future relationships that I will
develop with patients, I now realize that it is my personal investment that will create value in the
relationship. Patients in unfamiliar surroundings seek someone who will reassure their worries.
A screaming child or an adult exhausted by treatment can be soothed with a few minutes of care
and attention. It is this investment that creates relationships that have worth and significance.
The Ultimate Gift has given me the gift of understanding. As I place at a swim meet or
apply my hard earned money toward a school trip or college tuition, I now recognize it is the
time and effort I have invested that creates value. This gift has allowed me to understand that the
joy I experience in these life events comes not from the end result but from the sacrifice of
getting there. Thank you for having such a positive influence in my life.
Level 3--3rd Place
Dear Ms. Kate DiCamillo,
Throughout my life I have read many books, and I will tell you that I am a very picky reader. It is
a famous saying that you "shouldn't judge a book by its cover"; however, I can't help myself but
to do just the opposite. I judge covers, summaries, and first sentences. I don't mean to be so
critical, I just tend to have a short attention span when it comes to reading books. However, when
I was of a young age, I would guess around 7 years old, my mother read me your extraordinary
book The Tale of Despereaux. I cannot express to you how much this book has inspired me.
There are many books I have read that I could call unforgettable, but not very often do I find a
book that I refer back to 3 times, years after I have read it.
When I was very young, I was thoroughly intrigued by what you had written about empathy. I
found it quite difficult to comprehend how one is to be empathetic, and for a long time I couldn't
figure it out. I thought maybe the only way you could be empathetic was if you were a princess
being reluctantly taken to a dungeon by a misunderstood servant. Of course, I was very young
then. Still, this idea of empathy, that I had never heard of until your story, puzzled me for a long
while. Until maybe a year or two later, I was finally able to grasp what you meant: even in the
hardest of times, you are still able to step inside someone else's shoes, and feel sympathy for
them. From then on, I decided to make it my small aspiration to be known as an empathetic
I have considered for a long time, how one small decision, or even accident can change a life, or
many lives forever. In your book, the rat fell into the soup, so the queen died, so the king
abolished soup, spoons, rats, and basically happiness and all the land was sad for a very long
time. It's like the overused and cliche dominos metaphor; when one domino falls, every other
one falls until every one is down. I have seen and heard similar things happen in real life many
times. Even just in news stories you will hear of a kid who made one small decision and it ruined
their life forever. However, with hard work the dominos can be picked back up and put in place,
maybe even in a better place than before. In the end, the rat was forgiven, the mouse was
accepted, the princess was happy, and the king was able to let go of his despair so soup was no
longer illegal and the kingdom was happy. Everyone of them ended up in a better place than
before, and because of this book, and much more proof I have discovered in real life, I have been
convinced that even in the darkest of times, your life can be picked up.
When I was 13, 3 days before Christmas, my grandma died of cancer. My grandma was the
closest person to me, and my inspiration for everything. She shaped me as a person and was
always the one to pick me back up when I was down. My whole family was devastated when she
passed away, especially my mom. It got me thinking about a quote from your book. "There are
those hearts, reader, that never mend again once they are broken. Or if they do mend, they heal
themselves in a crooked and lopsided way, as if sewn together by a careless craftsman." This
quote, I could not find more true. Some people, like my mom, may never heal after a broken
heart. Others, like me, may heal, but grow back twisted. I had been expecting my grandmother to
die for quite sometime, and prepared myself thoroughly for it. It took me a long time to get over
the initial shock of the news, but when I did I found myself forcing myselfto cry out of guilt that
I wasn't crying. I felt like I wasn't sad enough. I always expected that when she died 1 would
crumple up and be completely incapable of anything because I would be so sad. Its not that I was
wasn't sad, but I was surprised to find that I wasn't crumpled and instead handling it almost too
well. I worried that because I wasn't sad enough it meant that I didn't love her or miss her, even
though I actually did. She was the most important person in the world to me. I put myself down
all the time and had constant guilt that I needed to be more sad. Still today, I feel slight guilt;
however, when I remembered your quote about broken hearts it made me feel better. I thought
that maybe I had one of those hearts that grew back a little crooked, and I was able to convince
myself that I wasn't a bad person for the way I dealt with my grief.
To some people, The Tale of Despereaux may be just another one of those princess fairy tales you
read as a child, but it was much more for me. Your book has helped shape me as a person, change
my perspective, and comfort me throughout my life. Thank you for that.