Ten-year-old Gillian Blum knew just what to do when she realized that a schedule conflict would prevent her from reading her award-winning letter in person at an April 12 ceremony to recognize the winners of the Letters About Literature contest.
So while Gillian was dancing in a recital in Reisterstown, the crowd that had gathered in the Wheeler Auditorium at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore to see winners read their letters instead saw a video of Gillian reading the letter she had written to Brian Selznick, author of "The Invention of Hugo Cabret."
Gillian had made the video herself.
"I would like to be a professional film editor," Gillian said, reached by phone at her family's home in Pikesville where she lives with her parents, Robyn and Steve Blum, and her brother, Jacob, 8.
Letters About Literature is a national writing contest for students in grades four through 12 that is sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, according to the website of the Maryland Humanities Council, which houses Maryland's Center for the Book at its Mt. Vernon offices in Baltimore.
The contest encourages students to express how a particular book changed their view of themselves or the world.
Gillian submitted her letter to the contest last year, when she was in fourth grade at Krieger Schechter Day School in Pikesville, where her mother is assistant head of the middle school.
Gillian's letter won first place in the contest's level one for entrants in grades four to six. She was one of six student winners in the contest's three levels.
Her interest in "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," as she explains in her letter, was sparked when she saw the book at the Pikesville Library. Knowing that some of her friends had already read it, she checked it out. Then she started reading the book every day after school along with her father, a lawyer and an avid reader. When she finished her work early at school, she read a class copy.
"The Invention of Hugo Cabret" tells the story of an orphan in the 1930s who lives in the walls of a Paris train station.
The story includes nearly 300 compelling drawings by Selznick.
This further stoked Gillian's interest in making films, which already had spurred her to make "films of me and my friends and my brother" on a digital video camcorder.
As Gillian wrote in her winning letter, "The way [Selznick} wove the words and pictures together was just like a movie. I'd never seen a book do that before."
The main character's courage, Gillian wrote, left her "inspired" to pursue her goals inside and outside of school.
Icing on the cake was a $100 cash prize that accompanied her first-place win.
"One of my friends wanted me to split the money," Gillian said, but she declined to do so.