I remember going to Girl Scout camp in 4th grade, the first time I was away from home for a significant time. It was a week…but I swear it felt like at least a month! I wrote cards and letters to my parents almost every day. I gave my mom the complete scoop on the bunk drama and how the showers only had cold water. As a miserable 9 year old, my letters were long like a Bronte novel with painful descriptions of every nook and cranny in the camp. This book brought me back to my days of camp and my earliest memories of writing. This conversational tale about a young boy sharing his camping experience with his dad through postcards, letters, and art. Mike hates camp and especially hates his bunk mates and homesickness radiates throughout the pages of the book. The father writes with encouragement to his son and even pokes a little fun at Mike’s overdramatic reaction to everything awful about camp. However a change overcomes Mike as camp becomes more familiar and his bunkmates go from villains to friends. He even says he wants to stay the entire summer next year.
The art work in this book is magnificent. Intended to look like hand-drawn postcards with block letters and large pencil lines, each post card reflects the emotion in each written conversation. In addition there is purposeful thought in making the postcards look real with authentic postage stamps that mimic the sentiment of the letter. There is a combination of typed font mixed with handwritten letters which keeps the written message visually appealing to the reader.
One of the best parts of this book are the envelopes that contain letters from Mike and his father. This interactive element makes the reader feel like they are receiving an actual letter in the mail! Unfolding each letter and seeing messages on all sides truly transforms this book into an experience. It reminds me of a scrapbook format with 3D memorabilia sprinkled throughout its pages. I am reminded of books like “The Jolly Postman” I read when I was a child, receiving letters from favorite fairytale creatures. These stories almost come to life with the turning of each page.
As a teacher I read this book and immediately thought of Vera B. Williams’ “Stringbean’s Trip to the Shining Sea” which is also a story told through letters and postcards. However the interactive nature of having envelopes containing letters takes this book to another level. I think about how writing letters and communicating through mail was often someone’s earliest (and sometimes only) experience with writing. In an age when email, texts, tweets, and other forms of technology it’s unfortunate that the beauty of receiving a hand written letter is lost. I think about ways to provide opportunities for students to write and receive letters and have a written conversation.
Recently students in my class sent letters to favorite authors asking questions about their craft and writing process. The shock and joy of receiving a response of favorite authors like Meg Cabot, Sarah Weeks, and Louis Sachar floored my students. The best part was how excited they were to keep the conversation going, and write them all back. Some students even sent in samples of their own writing for feedback. Often I will have students “pass notes” to each other as a way to discuss a topic in class. Writing down their thinking and passing it on to another requires students to think about clarity of their writing and respond quickly.
What are some other ways you have encouraged students to write letters? Who are they writing to?