Letters about Literature second place winner Ian Stratton was presented with a state citation from Sen. Jake Oliveira at the May 21 ceremony.
Photo credit: Massachusetts Center for the Book

WILBRAHAM — Seventh grade Wilbraham Middle School student Ian Stratton was honored as the second-place winner for level two of the 2024 Letters About Literature program during a May 21 ceremony at the Massachusetts State House.

For his submitted letter, Stratton wrote to authors Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed about their nonfiction graphic novel “When Stars Are Scattered.” During the ceremony, he read his letter aloud and was presented with a citation by state Sen. Jake Oliveira (D-Ludlow). Oliveira also provided Stratton with a personal tour of the State House, Stratton said.

Letters About Literature is an annual program that asks students in grades 4-12 to write a 200-750 word letter to an author who had an impact on them, according to the Massachusetts Center for the Book, who sponsors the program. Submitted letters are divided between level one with grades 4-6, level two with grades 7-8 and level three with grades 9-12. In each level, first place wins $125, second place wins $75 and third place wins $50. Honorable mentions are also chosen in every level, the organization said.

Stratton first read “When Stars Are Scattered” in fifth grade; two years before his seventh grade English language arts teacher Damion Pisacane gave the assignment to write a letter to an author of a book that “touched” him, he said.

After receiving the assignment, Stratton chose to write about “When Stars Are Scattered” because he felt “very connected” to the story and main characters, he told Reminder Publishing. The book follows brothers Omar and Hassan as they experience living in a refugee camp in Kenya with other children after losing their parents in a conflict, Stratton explained. The eldest brother Omar is able to attend school in the United States and tries to “make the best of the situation.”

One theme in “When Stars Are Scattered” that Stratton connected with was its disability awareness, he said. In the book, the younger brother Hassan is nonverbal and is treated differently for his disability. Stratton, who was born without a left hand, highlighted the importance of addressing this type of discrimination.

Similarly, Stratton also emphasized the book’s discussion of hope. He explained that he lived in an orphanage in China until he was 7½ years old. While there, he remained hopeful that he would be adopted despite doubts and being teased by other children. After he was adopted, Stratton moved to the United States to live with his new family, he said.

In his letter, Stratton noted that having hope was “the greatest lesson I have learned in life” and connected his experience of remaining hopeful before his adoption to Omar and Hassan’s experience of being hopeful while living in the refugee camp for more than 15 years.

When asked why he wanted to highlight hope, Stratton stated that “most people don’t realize that being hopeful can really be a big game changer” and that hope can often help push someone to success.

Twenty-eight students from across the state were honored at the May 21 ceremony. The event was the first to take place in-person since 2019, the organization said. Speakers included author Lynda Mullaly Hunt, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa (D- Northampton) and Massachusetts Center for the Book Executive Director Courtney Andree.

To learn more about the 2024 Letters About Literature program or to read Stratton’s letter, visit massbook.org/current-award.