Letter to the Reader

This year, students are asked to write about the books they're reading in their Reader's Notebook.  This writing will take the form of a letter, and the students will share with me and each other what the books are about, and what makes them an interesting read.  Below is the letter I gave to the students at the beginning of the school year.  Also, I've listed suggestions for starting their letter, and topics they might write about.

    These letters are to be written in their Reader's Notebook and handed in to me by the due date.  They should be 1-2 pages in length, including a passage from the novel that demonstrates writing/content/plot/characters/etc., as well as personal reflections on the writing/content/plot/characters/etc.  
    This is a place for students to become critics.  What makes a book good?  What makes a book great?  What is it about this particular writing style/author/genre that draws you in and keeps you coming back for more?  Use these letters as a chance to reflect on what you're reading.

September 11, 2014


Dear students,

          Your reader’s notebook is a place for you, me, and your friends to consider books, reading, authors, and writing.  You’ll think about your books in informal essays directed to me and friends, and we’ll write back to you about your ideas and observations.  Our letter-essays and responses will become a record of the reading, thinking, learning and teaching we accomplished together.

          Each letter-essay should be at least two pages long and written as a personal, critical response to one book – in other words, not a series of paragraphs about a series of books, but a long look at one that intrigues you.  You should write a letter-essay to me or a friend in your own journal every three weeks, due on Thursday mornings. 

          Before you write, look back over your reading record.  Which title that you’ve finished would be most enjoyable to revisit as a fan?  What book that you abandoned – or remained hopeful about to the bitter end – would be most enjoyable to revisit in a slam?  Once you’ve decided, return to the book.  Skim it, and select at least one passage you think is significant, in terms of how you reacted to the book’s theme, problem, character development, or plot arc, or the author’s style.  Choose a chunk of text that you think shows something essential.  In your letter-essay, quote – copy – the passage you chose, and write about what you think it shows about the book, the author, or your response to either. 

          What else might you do in a letter-essay?  Tell about your experience as a reader of the book.  Describe what you noticed about how the author wrote.  Tell what you think the themes might be.  Tell what surprised you.  Pose your wonderings – your questions about the author, the characters, the structure, the voice, and yourself as a reader.  Try the sentence openers I provided to help get you thinking and writing.  Be aware that a good letter-essay is one that teaches you something you didn’t realize about the book, or yourself as a reader, before you wrote it.

          Once you’ve written your letter, hand-deliver your journal to your correspondent.  If that’s me, please put it in the “writing to be edited” bin at the front of the room.  When a friend gives you his or her journal, you should answer, in at least paragraph length, by the beginning of the next reader’s workshop.  After you’ve written back, hand-deliver your friend’s journal – don’t simply put it at his or her seat or back on the shelf.  You may not lose or damage another’s reader’s notebook. 

          Date your letter-essays in the upper right-hand corner, and use a conventional greeting (Dear                     ,) and closing (Your friend, Sincerely,).  Always cite the name of the author of the book and its title.  Indicate the title by capitalizing and underlining it – for example, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

          I can’t wait for us to begin reading and thinking about literature together in this serious-but-friendly way.  I can’t wait for your first letter-essays and a year of chances to learn from you, learn with you, and help you learn more about the power and pleasures of books.

                                                                      Happy reading,

                                                                       Mrs. Nicol



Writing About Reading:  Some Openers

    ·        I was surprised when/angry about/satisfied with/moved              by/ incredulous at/ . . .

    ·        I liked the way the author

    ·        I noticed how the author

    ·        I don’t get why the author

    ·        If I were the author I would have

    ·        I’d compare this author to

    ·        This book reminded me of

    ·        The main character

    ·        The character development

    ·        The narrative voice

    ·        The structure of this book

    ·        The climax of the plot

    ·        The resolution of the main character’s problem

    ·        The genre of this book

    ·        I’d say the theme of this book is

    ·        I wish that

    ·        I didn’t agree with

    ·        I understood

    ·        I couldn’t understand

    ·        Why did

    ·        This is how I read this book:

    ·        I rated this one       because


    And always:  I was struck by/interested in/ convinced by this     passage:  “. . .” It shows . . . about this author’s writing.