Search form

Books Give Us Wings


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts


  • 4-6

Letters About Literature Lessons

This lesson is provided by Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, presented in partnership with Target. Click here for information about this year's Letters About Literature contest.

Brief Description

Students read and discuss letters written by young readers to the authors of books that "gave them wings."


Students will understand that books are more than entertainment; they are windows to understanding our society, other cultures, and ourselves.


Letters About Literature, reading, writing,

Materials Needed


Lesson Plan

Before the Lesson

  • Ask students to name a book or books they remember reading as very young children, or books they remember an adult reading to them. List the books on the chalkboard or overhead projector. Ask students to comment on the books: Which were funny? Which were scary? What feelings do they associate with the reading experience--pride in being able to read the book? affection from a parent or guardian who took time to read to them?
  • Explore with students how their reading experiences have changed over time: Do they now read to a younger child instead of being read to? Do they prefer different types of books? No doubt some children and young adults will complain that reading, while once fun, is no longer so. Explore why that might be the case.

During the Lesson
Say to students:
Books have wings. You can't see them, but they are there just the same. For some readers, books give them wings to understand the world that surrounds them. For others, a book's characters help them rise above bullying and peer pressure to discover pride and happiness in just being themselves. For still others, a book's wings help them cope with difficult situations -- an illness, the disappointment of not making the team, or even the death of a loved one. Below are the first two paragraphs from a letter written by a Hollywood, Florida, fifth grader. What kind of wings did Gut Opdyke's book give her?

Dear Mrs. Gut Opdyke,
Your book is titled
In My Hands, but I know that you found your courage "in your heart." Like the twelve people you saved, my grandmother was also 'hidden' as a child during the war. If her Polish heroes had done nothing, I would not be here today. Your book has inspired me, because it has shown me how to become a more sensitive and compassionate person. It has also shown me how to take the first step to stand up for what I know is right.
Recently, I thought of you when I saw my friends taunting another girl. My friends asked me to join them. I refused. I befriended her and told my friends they were being cruel. They turned against me instead. I felt alone but doing the right thing meant more to me. After reading your book, I understand that it is "in my hands" to make a difference in this world. . . .

Ask students to read, or read aloud to students, this Level I national winning letter from Letters About Literature 2003:

Dear Natalie Babbitt,
If given three wishes, I always thought that my last one would be to live forever. That way I would have enough time to everything I wanted to do and see everything I wanted to see. Living forever seemed like such a good idea, especially when death seems so scary. Reading your book
Tuck Everlasting changed the way I think about living forever versus death.
While reading the book, I started wondering. At what point in my life would I want to drink from the spring--when would I want to freeze myself? If I drank the water now, at ten years old, I would never get to drive, never vote, and never become a father. All my friends and family would grow old and die and leave me here all alone. If I waited to drink from the spring at twenty-five years old, I would never have wrinkles or bad hips, but I would also never get to go fishing with my grandchildren.
No matter at what age I drank from the spring, eventually I would have to move away or hide so that no on would discover my secret. That would be pretty much like dying. I wouldn't want to leave but I would have to leave.
I'm think that maybe living forever wouldn't be such a good idea after all. God's plan includes a time for everything and an end to life at the right time. I guess I'll rethink the last of my three wishes.
Harry Maddox, Grade 5


Ask students:

  • Harry's letter explains how Tuck Everlasting gave him wings of understanding something important about life and death. What new understanding did Harry get from reading the book?
  • What book did you read recently that gave you "wings"--of courage, of understanding, or hope?

Students' answers should reflect the information below:

  • Harry's final paragraph sums up what he has learned. Students will express his ideas in their own words which may include the following: He discovered that living without loved ones would not be living; living in secret would be like dying; and most importantly, at every stage of life there is something wonderful to experience and he wouldn't want to miss those experiences.
  • Focus your discussion on diverse reading experiences and ensure that students comprehend the concept of "wings".

Lesson Plan Source

Letters About Literature

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

What is Letters About Literature?

Letters About Literature is a national reading and writing promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, presented in partnership with Target.

To participate in the Letters About Literature program, young readers write a personal letter to an author explaining how the author's work changed the reader's view of the world or of himself or herself. That contest theme encourages each reader to explore his or her personal response to a work of literature, and to express that response in a creative and original way, rather than merely to write a book report or summary. The contest, which is open to students in grades 4-12, has three competition levels: upper elementary (grades 4-6), middle (7-8), and secondary (9-12) school. State and national winners at each level receive cash awards.

Letters About Literature begins accepting contest entries in September; entries must be postmarked by December 1. Mail completed entries to: Letters About Literature, Post Office Box 609, Dallas, PA 18612. To receive a copy of the Letters About Literature guidelines or to request additional information, contact the project director at [email protected].