I just posted the following on child_lit in response to some posts directed at teachers who ask their students to write letters to authors:
As a teacher I usually cringe when I see recommendations that children write authors. It is done so casually, too often in a perfunctory manner, and I find it careless and problematic on the part of the teachers.
I remember once being at the HarperCollins’ offices and seeing some of their favorite letters from children posted — to folks like E. B. White and others. Those teachers who had those children write clearly knew nothing about the authors, say that they were long dead. It shames me as a fellow member of the profession that so many teachers don’t read enough themselves or bother to do enough research on this topic. We don’t see what the teachers do, just what the kids do. Then we laugh and discuss yet again how dreadful teachers are. Sigh.
This is not to say I am against any sort of writing to authors. When there is a sincere reason to — because there is a genuine love of the book a child would like to express to its creator or a question — then by all means have the kids write. But they should do so without any expectation of a response. To me that is the most genuine of fan letters. If a response comes it is a delightful surprise, but kids should not write for that reason and be disappointed when none appears (or worse, furious at the author who may not have had any way of responding as Philip describes).
I have occasionally done a letter to an author with my class (fourth graders) when we together felt it was warranted. Most notably, we wrote Gail Carson Levine after I read aloud Ella Enchanted to them the year of its publication. We were studying Cinderella and the kids wrote of their appreciation of how she played with the familiar tropes. They also asked her some great questions. She answered them and offered to visit to hear their own stories (as it turned out she lived nearby). On a couple of other occasions we wrote letters/cards of congratulations when a book we loved won an award. We did that for Gail and for Kate DiCamillo (after The Tale of Despereaux won the Newbery). Since I’m now more known in the children’s lit world and since I’d been a big advocate for the book she called us at school to thank us which was very exciting, as you can imagine. But we didn’t write her for a response, just to congratulate her for winning an award for a book we had loved.