Illinois Center for the Book

Letters About Literature in Illinois FAQ Illinois Center for the Book

Eligibility and Deadlines

Who is eligible to participate?
Letters About Literature in Illinois is open to legal residents of Illinois. Students must be in grades 4 through 12 during the 2019-20 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?
For Letters About Literature in Illinois 2019-2020, the entry deadline is December 16, 2019. This is a 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.

Contest Guidelines

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 $200 award. All will be recognized at an awards ceremony. Finalists, Semi-Finalists and Honorable Mentions 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 receive a $100 cash award for their school to purchase books for their school library and will also be recognized at the awards ceremony.

Is there a word limit for the letters?
No, but it is suggested that your letters range from:

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 fiction or nonfiction book, book series, etc. 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?
For the purposes of this contest, 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?
The letters of the Illinois 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.

Submitting Letters

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

Can entries be submitted online rather than through U.S. mail?
No, not this year

How do I submit an entry?
Instructions for submitting an entry are provided on the Entry form. The Entry form will be available soon.

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 discarded.

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.

Judging Process

Who judges the letters?
Judges include authors, librarians and educators. Entries are judged against other entries within the state and competition level.

What criteria are used to judge the letters?
Initially, letters are evaluated on whether they qualify for the competition: Whether they are mailed before the deadline? Do they have an entry form? Is the entry form complete and legible? Winners, Finalists, Semi-Finalists, Honorable Mentions and Participants are then determined based on the ability of the student to persuade, support and share reflectively with heart and feeling. Grammar and structure are also considered.

Who notifies the state winners and when?
The Illinois Center for the Book staff will notify the winners and the winners' teachers, if applicable, in 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 Teachers Guide.


If I have a child who wins, will my child's name and/or letter be published?
If the entry 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?
Unfortunately, no. Our official rules state that a student must be in at least grade 4 to enter.

Additional Information

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: The Illinois Center for the Book does not provide authors' addresses.

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. The Illinois Center for the Book encourages students 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.