Dear Author: Letters of Hope

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The idea for this book came while attending the 1999 Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) in Denver, Colorado. As president of ALAN that year, I had the privilege of planning the workshop and its theme, “Saving Our Students; Lives through Literature and Laughter.” Authors who wrote realistic fiction that addresses tough issues for teens shared their writing, their wisdom, their good intentions, and their laughter with us. I asked each of the authors if they had letters from teenagers that they couldn’t throw away because “it was a piece of a childs’ soul and a person can’t throw away a soul.” My request resonated with so many, so Letters of Hope was born.

Each author was asked to send me five to ten letters (though many exceeded that number), and I wrote a composite letter that protected the identities of each and every writer while attempting to capture the voice of a single child. Let it be known that the overriding themes contained in these letters were two very powerful ones: Your book SAVED my life, and I didn’t know that anyone else existed who knew me!

Authors were then asked to write a “letter of hope” to the child so that their wisdom and writing talent could reach kids who are hurting.

I’m best known in the field on young adult literature for my work with teenagers who are both illiterate and in pain. Statistically, about 25% of our nation’s youth, have inordinate emotional issues (See Adolescents At Risk: A Guide to Fiction and Nonfiction for Young Adults, Parents and Professionals and the six-volume series Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope, Greenwood Press). Many people resort to quick fixes or unhealthy escapes—alcohol and drugs, gangs and violence, cutting, eating disorders, rampant sex, even suicide—to get away from their pain.

We need to give teenagers better options—production of art (music, dance, theater) and crafts, athletics, a belief in a Higher Power, acts of service to humans and/or animals, and LITERACY. I am proud to say that books saved my life! In reading these children’s letters, over and over again, the same themes emerged: “You Saved my life!” “I’m not alone.” “You wrote about me.” “Thank you!”

So thank you for picking up this book. Reading (and writing) are healthy escapes until a person is able to or old enough to address her or his pain. For those who like what a particular author has to say, information about the author, his or her books and website address is included. Remember, there’s hope in a book!!!

Be well and create peace,

Joan F. Kaywell

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