When Jisoo Choi moved to the United States from South Korea at the age of 6, all she knew of the English language was the alphabet.
But this week Choi, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School, was honored as the winner of the Letters about Literature national writing contest, which asks students in grades four through 12 to write to an author of a book — living or dead — about how the work changed their perspective on themselves or the world.
Choi won in the seventh- and eighth-grade category for her letter to Holocaust victim Anne Frank, the author of "The Diary of a Young Girl." The book, first published in 1947, is a collection of writings Frank composed while in hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.
"I've always loved reading, I picked that up from my mom," said Choi, who lives in Ellicott City.
More than 50,000 students from across the county competed in the contest, which was organized by the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. There are also categories for students in fourth through sixth grades and ninth through 12th grades.
Choi received $100 for winning at the state level and $1,000 for the national award.
"Reading your account of the two years you spent in hiding, I cried with you, learned with you, dreamed with you," Choi wrote in her letter. "I came to know you, and came to appreciate you for who you were. …
"If only you had known that the 'musings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl' that you thought nobody would want to read, made such a difference on another 13-year-old schoolgirl," Choi wrote.
Choi said she connects with Frank as a girl looking to find her identity. But she is also impressed by the impact Frank made around the world with her writings.
"What she accomplished is what challenges me," she said.
Previously, Choi was a state-level winner and finalist in the contest for letters she had written to Joan Wolf, author of "Someone Named Eva", and Edward Bloom, author of "Tangerine," in sixth and seventh grade, respectively.
"[Writing] lets me find what's important in life and what's beautiful in life," she said. "I want to be able to share that with people."
Choi's sixth-grade teacher, Madlyn McPherson, said her former student's mastery of the English language in the short time she has studied it is nothing short of amazing.
"How can she write like this?" McPherson said. "The thought and the reflection and the reasoning she puts into it — it's really incredible."
McPherson said Choi's letter to Joan Wolf, which she wrote in sixth grade, spurred her to read the book.
"You can see in her writing that's she's talking about things that really touch her soul," she said. "And she wants to share that. [Her writing] really sticks with you."
McPherson added that in addition to being a talented student, Choi is also popular among her peers.
"She leads, but she doesn't lord it over people," she said. "Kids admire her but don't feel intimidated by her."
In addition to her writing, Choi is also a violist in her school orchestra and co-president of her class student council. After graduating from college, she hopes to pursue a career as a journalist and author.
"What I really love about writing is that I get to create my own worlds," she said.
An earlier version of this story misstated where Jisoo Choi was born. The Sun regrets the error.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun