One of my favorite childhood authors--Beverly Cleary--wrote a wonderful book about a student writing to his favorite author. Dear Mr. Henshaw is a great story, and it won the Newberry Award. If you've never read it, you can check it out from the classroom bookshelf. Just ask.
I encourage my students to practice authentic writing tasks. My definition of authentic is that the students' writing is seen by a real-world audience other than just me. When you write a letter to a favorite author, you are writing for an authentic purpose because you are hoping for a response.
In fifth grade, while I was attending the Blanchard School in Santa Paula, California, my teacher had us study a favorite author for the purpose of writing to him or her. I chose Scott O' Dell, who wrote one of my absolute favorite books when I was in elementary schools: Island of the Blue Dolphins.
I was unable to find a direct address to Mr. O' Dell, so I ended up sending a letter to his publishing company, asking them to forward the letter to my chosen author. You can see that letter above right. Click on it to see it in larger form.
I had never read a book as good as Island of the Blue Dolphins. I genuinely wanted to know a little more about the great author who'd written it. I sat down and composed a fan letter and asked Scott O' Dell some questions that intrigued me at the time.
At left, you can see the beginning paragraph of the letter I composed to my favorite author. If you click on the image or here, you can read/print my entire letter that I wrote back in fifth grade.
I am a little embarrassed that I didn't edit my final letter a bit better before I sent it off. I hope Scott O' Dell didn't shake his head at my mistakes, which could have been easily fixed if I had just spent a few more minutes before sealing the envelope. Can you find several places in my letter where I messed up? Print out the letter and bring it to me with your corrections.
Before I wrote my letter, I did some research and discovered Mr. O' Dell had written a lot of books other than Island of the Blue Dolphins, the title I had loved so much. Doing the research and writing the letter really made me want to read the rest of Mr. O' Dell's novels, which I ultimately did.
Here's the letter and autographed picture sent to me by Mr. O' Dell It was very exciting to receive a note from an author whose book I loved so much. If you click on either image, you can view them in larger form.
Eight years after writing this letter to me, Scott O' Dell passed away. I never got to meet him, but he took the time to write me when I was one of his biggest fans. I cherish the letter as one of my most important possessions.
I challenge you--my students--to write letters to not only your favorite authors but also your personal heroes. Perhaps you'll end up with a cherished response that you can show your friends today and your children tomorrow.