Notes from a Children's Librarian: For the Love of Snail Mail

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Letter writing is one form of writing covered in the language curriculum. These picture books address the epistolary form in different ways—and might inspire some writing from holiday destinations this summer or to penpals. 

Postcards are the chosen form of communication in Flock of Shoes, by Sarah Tsiang, art by Qin Leng. Abby loves her sandals that “invited the wind to come kiss her toes,” but when they fly off her feet, mid-swing, and continue flying south, Abby is sad. She receives postcards from her sandals, proclaiming, “We miss you to the bottom of our soles.” Sarah is forced to transition to snow boots, which she eventually comes to love as much as sandals, until they, too, leave on a train in spring, and send her a postcard showing the Northern Lights.

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Away, by Emil Sher, illustrated by Qin Leng, is told entirely through post-it notes (and sweet illustrations), which makes for a great text to teach inferencing. The reader sees notes from mom trying to prepare Skip for summer camp, convincing her it’s going to be great. Skip’s notes are filled with avoidance techniques and excuses, including mention of a photo of her mom, age 9, crying as SHE leaves for camp. This one’s also a great example of persuasive text.

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Chester, by Melanie Watt, underneath all its red-pen edits and story re-writes, could be considered a correspondence between the author and her protagonist. Chester the cat takes umbrage with Watt’s story starring a mouse and his ego (and red pen) gets the better of Watt’s story as they battle it out. Creative and humourous, this one could also be used to teach point of view and voice in writing.

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Postcards Talk, by Linda Granfield, illustrated by Mark Thurman, is everything you’ve ever wanted to know about postcards: their history, techniques for creating, examples of different types, e.g., circular writing, a folding postcard. There’s a little bit about stamps, (e.g., during WWI, the way a stamp was oriented meant different things, for examples, the king’s head tilted to the left meant “answer at once").

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The Stamp Collector, by Jennifer Lanthier, illustrated by Francois Thisdale, is a powerful story inspired by real events. It follows the lives of two men, one, a prison guard from the city, the other, a prisoner from the countryside. The prisoner is jailed for writing stories and the guard collects stamps from the increasing number of letters written to the jailed writer. The guard, in an act of bravery and empathy, takes the journey to make sure the writer’s stories live on. This one is about letter-writing to bring about social and political change. The afterword by Lanthier tells a bit about PEN and their work to free imprisoned writers. For grades 3+

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On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

July 25, 2019
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