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Brandywine library patron meets favorite authors after winning essay contest

Joe Bellavia
Rachel Smookler with Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead, the authors of the book "Jack & Louisa: Act 1"


A Brandywine Hundred Library patron recently won the grand prize in a Mid-Atlantic region essay contest.


The contest aims to inspire fifth and sixth graders to continue to read and write during summer vacation.



Rachel Smookler, 11, loves to read. She recently moved from Maryland to Delaware and used one of her favorite books, Jack & Louisa: Act 1, to parallel how she wanted to come out her shell after changing schools.


"Some people thought I never really talked," Smookler said. "When we moved, I wanted to change that label and the book really gave me the courage and inspiration to be brave and to change the label."


Smookler said she was absolutely shocked to win the first place grand prize for Delaware and overall — over $250 in gift cards and a chance to read her essay at the Library of Congress National Book Festival.


She was even more surprised when she got to meet the authors of the book she wrote about when she presented her essay in Washington D.C. this past weekend.


"I still feel it’s not even possible that it could’ve happened, but it was just so amazing," Smookler said. "I’m really, really happy about it."


Smookler was one of 300 rising fifth and sixth graders in the Mid-Atlantic region who submitted an essay. The contest, called “A Book That Shaped Me," is in its fifth year.


Participants were asked to write an essay about a book that has had an impact on their life.


Smookler won over $250 in gift cards and a chance to read her essay at the Library of Congress National Book Festival. She also met the authors of the book she wrote about.


Rachel’s mother Anne said she is proud of her daughter and proud that contests like these inspire children to read and write.


"I think it really validates the value of books," Anne Smookler said. "She was on the same stage as Ken Burns and Stephen King was on the other side of the conference center, so it’s a really amazing opportunity for these young people."


The Library of Congress’ fifth annual “A Book That Shaped Me” summer writing contest was designed to get children to reflect on a book that they relate to. Nearly 300 readers in the Mid-Atlantic Region in fifth and sixth grade submitted essays. Patty Langley, the coordinator for the Delaware Center for the Book, said a contest like this important because it serves as a companion piece to the reading children do during summer vacation.


"I think that one thing we emphasize with the library reading program in the summer is there are no required reading lists," Langley said. "You can read whatever it is — if you love mysteries, if you love joke books — we just want you to read. We want you to find a love of reading because we think once kids find what they love to read, they will read."


Rachel Smookler said she enjoys reading for fun during her free time.


"A lot of kids in my class don't really read all that much and I feel like reading is important to me," she said.


This is the first year that Delaware has had a grand prize winner in this contest.