Saturday, July 18, 2009

Epistolary Novels

Having recently read both The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Shaffer and Barrows) and 84, Charing Cross Road (Hanff)--both excellent books; I highly recommend them!--I got to thinking about books written in letters, as both of these are. It wasn't hard to think of several more, for all ages.

For teens there is Daddy Long-Legs, by Jean Webster. I reviewed this one once before, so you can read more about it here. Then there is Karen Hesse's Letters from Rifka, about a twelve-year-old girl fleeing Russia with her family in 1919. Rifka knows that her letters will never reach her cousin, whom she is writing to, so this book is more like a diary than a true epistolary novel, but I thought it worth including here anyway. And for a more modern version of the epistolary style, there is the TTYL series by Lauren Myracle. These books (TTYL, TTFN, and L8R G8R) are written entirely as a series of instant message conversations between three teen girls.

There are a few selections for middle-grade readers, as well, including P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More, both by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin; Dear Mr. Henshaw, the Newbery winner by Beverly Cleary; and the Regarding the... series by Kate Klise. The latter is a little different in that the books include things like newspaper clippings among the letters.

And lastly, I even found an epistolary picture book--two, actually: Dear Mrs. LaRue and LaRue for Mayor, by Mark Teague, which are composed of letters from a dog to his owner.

I'm sure there are more--let me know if you've read others! I love to write letters, which is probably why these books have such appeal for me; I'm dreaming of the day when I can exchange long, witty letters with anonymous Englishmen who send me books and invite me to visit their country and stay with their family or the old woman next door. A girl can dream, right?

Books about words (and how to use them!)

I'll admit, I am a word nerd. And a grammar fiend. And a spelling... whatever. I like it all. I've read and loved Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynne Truss) cover to cover, as well as Woe Is I: The Grammarphobes Guide to Better English in Plain English (Patricia T. O'Conner), and David Crystal's By Hook or By Crook (a fascinating, humorous look at the English language). I've even read bits of Strunk and White's Elements of Style for fun.

So over the last year or so I've been delighted to see several similar books written for children. First we have two more books by Lynne Truss: Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts! and The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage Without Apostrophes! Along the same lines, I recently checked in a book at the store called Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale. This should be required reading for anyone who ever writes in the English language--it's funny and it gets the point across. I told my family about this one, and now my younger brothers will see a typo and say, "Is that a greedy apostrophe?"

On a slightly different note, we got a book in a few weeks ago called The Word Snoop (Ursula Dubosarsky). This is a book all about the English language. It starts by telling about the alphabet (how it all began) and the invention of printing; moves forward through American spelling, punctuation, anagrams and pangrams and all sorts of other "grams," oxymorons, Pig Latin, onomatopoeia, tongue twisters, euphemisms, spoonerisms, malapropisms, and more; and ends with a look at "text-speak" and smileys. Everything is explained in a fun, easy-to-understand manner.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Books

What are you reading this summer? I started The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn this weekend--figured it was a good book to start on the 4th of July. Others I've enjoyed during the last couple months include The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) and The Help (Kathryn Stockett).

Last week I finally got around to reading this year's Newbery winner, The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman). I liked it a lot--more than I thought I would, actually, given the title. (I know, I know, you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover! But really, who doesn't?) So I'd recommend that for the age 10-12 crowd--although, be warned, the first chapter is scary.

For the slightly younger set, there's a new Alvin Ho book (written by Lenore Look) called Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters. I haven't read an Alvin Ho book before, but I've heard they're good, and this one sounds like the perfect thing to read during the summer!

And for teens, The Hunger Games is exciting and action-packed, while Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher) is more mysterious and pensive and reveals the impact (whether negative or positive) that people can have on others without realizing it; even what seems like the most harmless action has consequences.