By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY Imagine writing a letter to a famous somebody and having them answer it. We’re not talking U.S. political figures, actors or rock stars. We’re talking the second longest reigning monarch in today’s world.
Kristen Ford, a third grader at St. Charles Borromeo School, wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth II of England in early March. When she got home from school one day in mid-April, she found a large airmail envelope from Windsor Castle waiting, addressed to her.
“I felt really excited,” Kristen said. “I started to freak out because I didn’t expect to get a response.”
The letter was part of Famous People report and speech project, a tradition at St. Charles. Third graders work all school year on different “traits” of writing: ideas and content, organization, conventions, word choice, voice, sentence fluency and presentation.
Several months ago local children’s author and researcher Lisa Wade McCormick spoke to the students about research and finding credible sources. Parents received guidelines on the project from teacher Nickie Gardner, who teaches writing to both third grade classes. She encouraged her students to contact their “famous person” by email, if the person was living, or a museum or other institution if they were not. Kristen sent Queen Elizabeth II a letter card and a photograph of herself, and then proceeded to research the monarch for her report and speech, never expecting to hear back from her.
Kristen began her report by saying, “Queen Elizabeth II is head of State of the United Kingdom and 15 other countries. She makes sure all of these countries maintain peace among each other.”
According to Kristen’s report, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born April 21, 1926, the older of two daughters born to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The princess was third in line to the throne after her grandfather and father, and was never expected to be Queen.
Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were educated at home, learning French, studying art and music, learning to ride horses and to swim. Elizabeth is an animal lover, and highly knowledgeable about horses.
When she was 21, the princess married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on Nov. 20, 1947. They have four children and eight grandchildren. The oldest, Prince Charles, is next in line for the throne.
Both her grandfather and father died by the time Elizabeth celebrated her 25th birthday. She was crowned at Westminster Abbey June 2, 1953, two years after her ascension to the throne. For the first time, the ceremony was shown on television, at the Queen’s request.
Kristen, who wants to be a teacher when she grows up, wrote,
“Queen Elizabeth II has many public and nonpublic duties. Her public duties include ceremonies, receptions and visits. Her nonpublic duties include reading letters from the public.”
The response, on Windsor Castle stationery, was actually written by Susan Hussey, one of the Queen’s Ladies-in-Waiting.
“Dear Kristen,” the letter said,
“The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for your attractive letter card, and for the photograph you enclosed.
Her Majesty was interested to hear about your school project and, although unable to reply to you personally, the Queen much appreciated your kind thought for her and her family as they all look forward to the wedding of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton on 29th April.
I enclose some information leaflets which you may like to have, and thank you once again very much for writing as you did.”
According to one of the leaflets, the Queen receives hundreds of letters every day and reads a large selection of them before members of her staff answer them.
For her presentation to fellow students and parents, Kristen turned her report into a first-person speech and “became” Queen Elizabeth for the two-three minute talk. She gave her speech dressed in a green summer dress with a pleated skirt, a matching straw hat, white gloves, jewelry and red shoes. Her grandparents, Jack and Toni McEnroe brought the outfit to St. Charles on April 21 as her mother was at work. Toni McEnroe said that in preparation for her presentation they found the dress and hat and accessories. Kristen insisted on wearing the red shoes with the dress and hat, and spent time practicing the Queen’s signature wave. When she gave her presentation early in April, her place in the lineup advanced until she was the first presenter. She didn’t have time to be nervous, but she did forget to wave until the very end of the speech, her grandmother said. As she started back to her seat, Kristen turned around and gave the famous wave.
Kristen’s report: “Queen Elizabeth is involved in more than 600 charities that range from opportunities for young people to wildlife preservation and the environment.
The Queen will turn 85 years old this year. During her lifetime she has seen many changes: television was invented, man walked on the moon, and the Berlin Wall in Germany was built and torn down.”
Queen Elizabeth II, Kristen’s report concluded, is the second longest serving Head of State in the world, being the crowned Queen for almost 58 years. (King Bhumibol of Thailand has served more than 64 years.)
Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 85th birthday April 21. She and Prince Phillip, 90, are in good health. Prince Charles, 62, recently achieved the milestone of the longest wait to succeed to the throne. King Edward VII waited 59 years, two months and 13 days to succeed his mother, Queen Victoria. On April 20, Prince Charles overtook him, by which time he had been next in line to the throne for 59 years, two months and 14 days.
Kristen said she would tell her grandchildren someday about the letter from the Queen of England and about the Famous People project. “I’ll tell them they should do a project like this sometime. It was really fun. And we learned a lot about research and writing.”