Shelton students win contest to connect with award-winning author

Elizabeth Shelton School first graders, left to right, Kendall Harvey, Madeline Smith, Henry Muoio and Connor Freeman show off the letters they sent to author Dan Santat. The entire class earned the chance to connect with Santat as part of winning a special contest.

Elizabeth Shelton School first graders, left to right, Kendall Harvey, Madeline Smith, Henry Muoio and Connor Freeman show off the letters they sent to author Dan Santat. The entire class earned the chance to connect with Santat as part of winning a special contest.

Kristen Zack / Contributed photo

SHELTON — Author Dan Santat has spent years writing award-winning children’s books that are read in classrooms across the country. Now one local first-grade class gets to write to him.

Kristen Zack’s class at Elizabeth Shelton School won the Write to Connect contest sponsored by Follett School Solutions — and that lucky break made them one of 10 classrooms from across the United States to have the chance to connect with Santat.

“I did not tell the kids that I had entered them into this contest until we were chosen,” Zack said. “When I received word from the company that we were chosen, I filled them in on the surprise. They were so excited, they could not believe that they would be communicating via letters, with a real-life author.”

Santat is known for his children’s book “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend,” which won the 2015 Caldecott Medal for distinguished illustration. He has also written “The Guild of Geniuses” and created the Disney Channel animated series “The Replacements.”

The students listened to Santat’s book “How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again,” then wrote letters to him about what they thought of the book and asked him questions.

Some of those questions included:

“Do you ever get tired of writing and drawing?”

“Can you help me write my own book?”

“What is your favorite food?”

“What are some of your fears?”

These were only a handful of the questions the students asked. They also wrote to him about their favorite, and least favorite, parts of Humpty Dumpty’s life “after the fall.”

Once received, Santat will read the letters — most of which come with some the children’s own illustrations — then respond in a video that will be sent to the class.

“There are many benefits to the students participating in this process,” Zack said. “They are learning how to write letters and also how to have ‘book chats’ where they discuss their thoughts on a book. They were also having to really think about what they wanted to ask an author and they came up with very thoughtful and meaningful questions.”

Zack said the class wanted to know more about the process of writing a book and how long he had to go to school to become an author and illustrator.

“Once we sent off the letters, the students were very eager to find out what would happen next,” Zack added. “I informed them that Mr. Santat himself would be receiving our letters and reading all of them. He would then be answering our questions in a video that he will send to us in the coming weeks.”

Zack said she entered the contest — with winners picked at random — because it offered “a very special and unique opportunity for the kids.”

“As first-graders, they love to read books and are just starting to become writers themselves,” Zack said. “This opportunity would be a chance to inspire them and show them that they, too, are authors, and that their ideas can be turned into books.”

Zack said her students would learn a bit more about the writing process as well as get a sneak peek into what it is like to be a published author.

“I think through this,” Zack said, “both they and I learned, always take a chance even if the odds are not in your favor, you never know what may happen.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com