I Will Always Write Back

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I Will Always Write Back
Written by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, With Liz Welch

Publisher’s Summary:
The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place.

Martin was lucky to even receive a pen-pal letter. There were only ten letters, and fifty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends –and better people–through their long-distance exchange. Their story will inspire you to look beyond your own life and wonder about the world at large and your place in it.

Primary Source Pairing:
The opportunities for primary source analysis are endless with this book.  I Will Always Write Back was essentially created with primary sources – the letters that Caitlin and Martin wrote to each other. While those letters are not images in the book, the text of the letters tells their story. Invite students to take a look at the images included in the book in Part 6. Use these images as a place to start the discussion of the characters and their perseverance.

To understand the correspondence between Caitlin and Martin, students must think of a time before communication was instant with Internet and text messaging. Students must understand the mail systems in both the United States and in Zimbabwe. Students need to create a framework for inflation, currency exchange, and the cost of postage in both countries. Students must think outside of their experiences to garner an understanding of the severe poverty Martin and his family experienced and how this impacted Martin’s ability to correspond. All of these components can be connected to primary sources. These primary sources can include an analysis of postage stamps, airmail systems, postal systems, and the government’s practices of inspecting mail. Students could analyze the currency of Zimbabwe and research the conversion rates and how they have changed over time. A study of the annual incomes of people from different countries would complement this analysis.

For this primary source pairing, invite students to study the maps of the US and Africa to create a geographical framework of the two countries. Additionally, invite students to study a segment of one of Caitlin’s letters to Martin. Encourage students to consider what they would write in a letter to someone who lived somewhere else.

Questions for Discussion:


  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • What size and shape is the map?
  • What graphical elements do you see?
  • What on the map looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • What questions do you have about this map?
  • What connections can you make from this map to the book I Will Always Write Back?

Caitlin’s Letter:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • How are the words arranged?
  • What do you notice about the page the writing appears on?
  • What do you see on the page besides writing?
  • What other details can you see?
  • What tools and materials were used to create it?
  • What can you learn from examining this?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Caitlin’s Letter: WBUR.org
United States Map: Wikimedia.org
World Map: Wikimedia.org
Zimbabwe Map: Wikimedia.org

Additional Resources:
A Pen-Pal Friendship Changes Two Lives Radio Story: WBUR.org
Educator’s Guide: Perma-Bound.com