Letters About Literature in Illinois FAQ Illinois Center for the Book
- Eligibility and Deadlines
- Contest Guidelines
- Submitting Letters
- Judging Process
- Additional Information
Eligibility and Deadlines
Who is eligible to participate?
Letters About Literature is open to legal residents of Illinois. Students must be in grades 4 through 12 during the current school year to participate.
When can the student submit his/her letter?
Entries will be accepted anytime during the current school year until the entry deadline.
What is the deadline to submit letters?
The entry deadline is December 15th. This is an annual postmark deadline.
Can a student submit more than one letter?
No. There is a limit of one entry per student per year.
What can disqualify an entry?
Submitting an entry without an entry form, without a complete or legible entry form, or after the postmark deadline.
What are the competition levels?
Level 1: grades 4-6; Level 2: grades 7-8; Level 3: grades 9-12.
What are the prizes and recognition for winners?
Winners will be announced via an official press release through the Illinois Secretary of State's Office and will be published on the Illinois Center for the Book website.
There will be one winner per competition level. Each winner will receive a cash award. Runners-up will receive certificates that will be mailed to the teachers/librarians for entries received through the schools/libraries or mailed to the home for self-submitted entries. Teachers of the winners receive a certificate and a cash award for their school to purchase books for the school library.
Is there a word limit for the letters?
No, but it is suggested that letters range from:
- Level 1: 100–400 words
- Level 2: 300–600 words
- Level 3: 500–800 words
May letters be submitted in a language other than English?
No. Only letters submitted in English are eligible.
May a student write to an author who is no longer living?
Yes, and many do.
What form of literature should students select?
Students should select a work of fiction, nonfiction or a book series that they have read and about which they have strong feelings. We ask that teachers not assign a particular work to students; rather, allow students to choose a piece of literature that speaks to them personally.
May students write a letter to God about the Bible or any other book of sacred texts or scriptures?
Please address all letters about any religious book of sacred texts or scriptures to the known or attributed human author of the particular book read by the student.
Will letters be published if selected as winners?
Yes. The letters of the winners will be published on the Illinois Center for the Book website. If the entry is selected as a winner, the student's parent or legal guardian will be contacted for permission to publish the student's name, grade, school, hometown, and letter on the website.
Where should Illinois entries be submitted?
Letters About Literature
Competition Level (Indicate Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3)
Illinois Center for the Book
300 South Second Street
Springfield, IL 62701
In the Subject Line, indicate the following:
- Class Entry: LAL, Competition Level (Indicate Level 1, 2 or 3), School Name, Teacher Name and City. (ex. LAL, Competition Level 1, Capitol Middle School, Mrs. Lincoln, Springfield)
- Home School Entry: LAL, Competition Level (Indicate Level 1, 2 or 3), Home School and City. (ex. LAL, Competition Level 2, Home School, Springfield)
- Individual Entry: LAL, Competition Level (Indicate Level 1, 2 or 3), School Name and City. (ex, LAL, Competition Level 3, Individual, Springfield)
How do I submit an entry?
Instructions for submitting an entry are provided on the entry form. New entry forms are made available in the fall.
Do I need an entry form to enter?
Yes. All entries must have an entry form. Students entering on their own must have a parent or legal guardian's signature on the entry form in order to participate. Letters without an entry form will be disqualified.
How should home schooled students enter?
Home schooled students may enter individually with parent assistance or may enter with teacher assistance—whichever makes the most sense for their situation. If submitting with teacher assistance, the entry form will ask for a teacher name and email.
Can I submit artwork?
Yes. Submitting artwork with the letter is optional. Artwork should not be part of the letter. Please note that these materials will not be considered during the contest judging process.
Who judges the letters?
Judges include authors, librarians and educators.
How are the letters judged?
Initially, letters are evaluated individually on whether they qualify for the competition: Was it mailed by the deadline? Does it have an entry form? Is the entry form complete and legible?
Winners and Runners-up are then determined in the next two rounds based on the ability of the student to persuade, support and share reflectively with heart and feeling. Grammar and structure are also considered. In the second round, entries are judged individually by competition level. In the third round, the finalists in the same competition level are judged against each other to determine the winner.
Who notifies the state winners and when?
The Illinois Center for the Book staff will notify the winners and the winners' teachers, if applicable. This usually occurs in late April.
Why does it take so long to select state winners?
We receive thousands of letters! The process of recording and assessing the letters takes several months.
What educational value does Letters About Literature have for my students?
Research supports the link between reading and writing: children who read, write better; children who write, read more. Letters About Literature 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, the contest encourages meaningful reading and helps to create successful writers. For more information, see the Letters About Literature Supports National Language Arts and Reading Standards.
Does Letters About Literature meet curriculum standards for reading and writing?
Literature can be a tool to help students achieve curriculum standards relative to reading comprehension and writing persuasively, especially if the instructor challenges students to move beyond mere self-to-text connections and focus instead on critical thinking and creative expression. For more information on the specific curriculum standards met by participating in Letters About Literature, take a look at Letters About Literature Supports Common Core State Standards.
What is the best way to engage my students with Letters About Literature?
Letters About Literature asks students to connect personally with a work that has changed their view of themselves or the world. The letters with the best reflective, personal writing are from students who have directly chosen a book that they have read and about which they have strong feelings. Teachers should not assign a particular work to students. We also encourage teachers to help students focus their letters on personal reflection and the impact of the book on the student, rather than summarizing the book with book report elements or including many questions to the author. For more resources for teaching with Letters About Literature, please see the Letters About Literature Teaching Guide.
If I have a child who wins, will my child's name and/or letter be published?
When a student's letter is selected as a winner, the student's parent or legal guardian will be contacted for permission to publish on the Illinois Center for the Book website.
My child is in third grade but reads on a higher level. Can he/she still enter?
No. A student must be in at least grade 4 to enter.
Are the letters delivered to the authors?
No. Students who wish to send a copy of their letter to the author will need to make a copy of their letter before sending it off to the contest and send it to the author on their own. Note: Contact information for most authors can be found online.
Is a letter ever disqualified for plagiarism?
Yes. If a student copies significant phrases from past winning letters, the letter will be disqualified. The reader-response concept of this writing assignment makes plagiarism less likely. In some cases, our judges may question the authenticity of a letter. If there is a question that an adult might have written a letter for a student, the teacher or the parent will be contacted to confirm the work is the student's own.
What if a student fabricates personal details, like having a sibling, in order to make his or her letter more appealing?
If the details provided by the student within the letter are fabricated and not factual, the letter will be eliminated from competition. Students are encouraged to think critically about their personal reaction to a book's character or conflict. Letters About Literature may trigger creative thoughts in a young reader's mind, but the student's letter must be honest and factual, as well as creative and original.