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Bainbridge seventh-grader is state champion in Letters About Literature competition

Julia Batson, a seventh-grader at Woodward Middle School, has been named a state champion in Washington’s Letters About Literature contest.

Julia won the state title in the Level 2 (grades 7-8) competition.

The literary competition, sponsored by the Washington State Library and the Library of Congress, encourages students to write letters to their favorite authors, living or dead. Students wrote a personal letter to an author, explaining how his or her work influenced their perspective on the world or themselves.

The contest ran from September to January, and students could write about works of fiction, nonfiction or poetry.

Julia’s letter was to Randa Abdel-Fattah about her book "Ten Things I Hate About Me."

Julia and the other champions — fifth-grader Cora Tessaro of Seattle and ninth-grader Jordyn Tonkinson of Brush Prairie — will be honored along with the students who won second place and honorable mentions during an awards ceremony in the state capital on May 24.

Julia's letter, as well as the letters from the other two state champions, have been sent to the Library of Congress for the national competition. Winners will be announced later this month.

Bainbridge Island was well-represented in the competition, which drew entries from nearly a hundred schools across Washington, as well as well as Boys & Girls Clubs from around the state.

Roughly 3,400 letters from Washington students advanced to Round 1 judging and 722 moved on to Round 2 judging.

There were 325 semifinalists overall who reached the third round.

Bainbridge boasted eight state finalists in the competition. Other finalists from Bainbridge included Henry Brown, Alicia Campbell, Colleen Campbell, Skye Clark, Olivia Connors, Jesse Thiele and Kameryn Pittenger.

Henry wrote to author Dr. Seuss about his book, "Green Eggs and Ham."

Alicia    penned a letter to N.H. Senzai, author of "Shooting Kabul."

Colleen wrote to Khaled Hosseini, the author of "Kite Runner"

Skye wrote to author R.J. Palacio, the writer behind "Wonder."

Olivia wrote to Jenny Downham, who wrote "You Against Me."

Jesse's letter was to James Patterson, author of the "Maximum Ride" series.

And Kameryn wrote to Carl Hiaasen about his book, "Hoot."

 

Julia's winning letter:

Dear Randa Abdel-Fattah,

Your writing is truly inspiring and has helped me to live differently. Thank you.

We’ve all heard it before: “Be yourself.” Teachers, parents, and counselors constantly bring up these two simple words.  But oh, they’re the cause of torment and teasing, the cause of judgment and harsh actions. I used to ask myself, “Is it worth the consequences, letting my true self shine through?” Ten Things I Hate About Me gave me an answer: YES! I realize it’s easiest to just try and blend in, lay low, but when Jamilah decided to play the darbuka at her formal instead of hiding as Jamie, it became clear to me that even though being myself is hard, the people who will admire me for doing so outnumber those who will make fun of me for it. Being myself feels gratifying and rewarding, like I’m finally free of some heavy burden.

Being in middle school, I’m constantly witnessing people suppressing who they really are. It’s disconcerting, always being looked up and down by fellow students. Am I wearing the “right” jeans? Is my hair in the most popular style? This all creates so much peer pressure which, I’ll admit, I’ve let get to me. Jamilah (or should I say Jamie) also let this lack of tolerance or understanding get to her. By hiding her identity, she dodges bullying and judgment, yet she also keeps a sort of barrier between herself and her friends. Jamie opted for the choice that many would choose: try not to be different.

I have friends who don’t seem to care what others think and who are comfortable being themselves. I really admire that quality in them. I wish that everyone would stop being nervous about what others will say and that we wouldn’t all judge everyone else. People would stop buying clothes just because they’re “in” and they wouldn’t have to act a certain way to be “cool.” Who decides what’s “in” and “cool” anyway?

When Jamilah finally revealed her true self to Amy, she realized that she had found a real friend, someone who loves her for who she is. I have been lucky enough to find friends like this. We’re all very different, but this draws us closer together. When Amy and Bilal supported Jamilah and her decision about playing in her band at her school formal, they proved that they truly loved her. Liz ditched Amy and Jamie for the popular crowd, giving them the message that popularity mattered more to her than their friendship. I’m definitely not one of the popular kids at my school; I never have been and probably never will be. I’m not extremely fashionable and I don’t wear makeup or “go out” with boys, eliminating my chances. But as I watch the popular people, some of their friendships seem forced, based off of gossip and the desire to be on top. Your book showed me how this desire can rip friendships apart. I used to want popularity and I sought after the approval of the popular kids, but I can now say that that is no longer the way that I feel. I wanted them to like my outfits, and I stared longingly at their lunch table. But now, though I know some very nice popular people, I’m perfectly content with my current social status. Jamilah showed me that if my friends look at the real me and don’t love and stand by what they see, they’re not true friends.

I’ve hardly ever seen or experienced racism before. I’m Caucasian, making me part of the majority in my community. I have fair skin, green eyes, light brown hair and freckles.  But by looking at these physical features of mine, you can’t tell what I like to do, what kind of music I like or what I want to be when I grow up. If I’m not teased because people don’t make assumptions about me, then why should people of other ethnicities have assumptions made of them? The island that I live on, Bainbridge, is a quiet, calm community.  There’s not a lot of racism here, so your book opened my eyes to just how racist people can be. You showed me that some people stop paying attention once they see your surface; they don’t wait to see what’s on the inside. Jamilah only covers up her identity because all she thinks people will see is her dark skin, hair and eyes. Yes, some people do only see that, but there are many people (such as Timothy and Amy) who are able to look beyond her surface and love Jamilah, not Jamie.

So I guess that those two simple words are actually extremely complicated, but even more extremely important. I believe that being myself means standing up for what I believe in and following my passions no matter what other people say. You have showed me that in some ways, my life is much easier than some others’, that true friendship conquers all and that my heritage and passions are a part of me; I should let them shine.

All the best,

Julia Batson

 

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