I’m fortunate that my father still lives in the same house I came home to when I was born (many moons ago). The house is teeming with memories of my youth stashed beneath my bed, tucked into closets, and hidden in the attic (letters, artwork, yearbooks, postcards, photographs…). I love having these bits of personal history to look back on, but every now and then my father threatens to move so I must prepare for the inevitable need to downsize my stockpile of memories. I began the process on a recent trip home over Spring Break. I dug out my shoe boxes that were neatly labeled by time period (I had the makings of a librarian at a young age) and began the painful process of weeding my collection. Of course I don’t have the heart to chuck it all, but even my nostalgic self realizes the need to whittle down the heap of correspondence I had saved into a more manageable collection.
As I was taking this trip down memory lane, it struck me how my son is unlikely to have a similar tangible collection of memories from friends and family over the years. I have postcards from elementary school friends on summer vacation, greeting cards from family members long passed away, and letters from classmates that moved back to their home countries. Once I started college (this was still pre-email, yes I’m that old) the letter writing really took off. I have boxes and boxes of beautiful, doodle-enhanced, sometimes challenging to read letters (there is one written completely in spiral format) written by my girlfriends, most of which I’m still close friends with today. We documented the trials and tribulations of starting our lives as young adults, living away from home for the first time. I suppose it’s possible young people still do this via electronic means, but for me, an email or text is a far cry from a handwritten letter scrawled on the back of a flyer embroidered with an intricate doodle.
Instead of just recycling the letters and cards I couldn’t keep, I thought it would be fun to share my box of treasures with those who helped create it. So this week, in honor of National Card and Letter Writing Month, I’m going to send some of my cards and letters to those who wrote them. Everyone loves getting mail, right? I also want to share the pleasure of sending and receiving mail with my son so I asked him to dictate a thank you card for a friend who recently had us stay over in her home and we went together to the post office to mail it. For more ideas on how to celebrate National Card and Letter Writing Month, the USPS and Scholastic teamed up to create a program specifically designed to encourage kids to write letters called, “It’s a Delight to Write” (PDF).
And of course, books are a wonderful way to introduce or excite kids about letter writing and pen pals. Here’s a list of books for all ages to get kids writing…
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type
Plucky barnyard animals unite to improve their working conditions in Doreen Cronin’s hilarious debut picture book. Farmer Brown is dumbfounded when his cows discover an old typewriter in the barn and begin experimenting. Things really get out of hand when the cows began airing their grievances and making demands. One of my son’s longtime favorites!
A Letter to Amy
In this book by beloved Brooklyn author, Ezra Jack Keats, Peter (first introduced in A Snowy Day) finds a special way to invite Amy, the only girl and a singular friend, to his birthday party. But the wind catches his letter just as he puts it in the mailbox.
The Jolly Postman
This British import is great fun, sure to entertain children and parents alike. The Jolly Postman goes from home to home in a fairy-tale kingdom, delivering letters to such familiar addresses as “”Mr. and Mrs. Bear, Three Bears Cottage, The Woods.” Every other page is an actual envelope, with a letter tucked inside.
A Korean-American boy living in the U.S. and his grandmother, who lives in Korea, communicate through letters that bypass their language barrier. This tender tale is a perfect introduction to the concept of foreign cultures and far-off lands.
Same, Same but Different
Elliot lives in America, and Kailash lives in India. They are pen pals. By exchanging letters and pictures, they learn that they both love to climb trees, have pets, and go to school. Through colorful, vivid illustrations, this story shows how two boys living oceans apart in different worlds are actually quite similar.
Ike is desperate to leave dog obedience school so he embarks on a letter-writing campaign to his owner, Mrs. LaRue, describing what a terrible time he is having. Readers, however, know the truth—the obedience school is a puppy retreat, where dogs are pampered at every turn. The illustrations perfectly complement this hilarious book that kids will want read over and over.
Dear Mr. Blueberry
This heartwarming tale concerns an ecologically aware girl who thinks she sees a whale in her swimming pond. She immediately writes her teacher, Mr. Blueberry, who answers that she must be mistaken, because whales live in the ocean, not in ponds. Throughout the summer, Emily and Mr. Blueberry exchange letters, until Emily has a happy surprise to share.
In 1935 Lydia Grace Finch brings a suitcase full of seeds to the big gray city, where she goes to stay with her Uncle Jim, a cantankerous baker. There she initiates a gradual transformation, bit by bit brightening the shop and bringing smiles to customers’ faces with the flowers she grows. The story is told entirely through Lydia Grace’s letters.
Dear Peter Rabbit
This clever picture book creates a fictitious flurry of correspondence between such familiar characters as Goldilocks (here given the surname McGregor, with a wink and a nod to Beatrix Potter), the Three Pigs, Baby Bear, Red Riding Hood and Peter Rabbit. Fun followups include, Yours Truly Goldilocks and With Love, Little Red Hen.
Letters from Rifka
Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews in the new country. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her observations and experiences in the form of letters to her beloved cousin she has left behind.
Dear Mr. Henshaw
Beverly Cleary’s Newbery Medal-winning book explores the thoughts and emotions of a sixth-grade boy, Leigh Botts, in letter form as he writes to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw. Struggling with his parent’s separation, Leigh loses himself in a class assignment in which he must write to his favorite author. When Mr. Henshaw responds, the two form an unexpected friendship that will change Leigh’s life forever. I remember really enjoying this one when I was in school.