Jul 18, 2019

A Treasury of Letters About Reading

Excuses, excuses, excuses!
It's been ten days since I shared some of the many wonderful picture books I've been reading. How could I not have shared them here before now?
There are plenty of REASONS, not excuses. But seriously? If you must know...

It's summer!
I've been reading!
Dealing with urgent business matters!
I've been reading!
It's summer!

So what have I been reading? 
Naturally, picture books.
Also adult novels, adult nonfiction, young adult, and middle grade books.
Loads of lovely books, stacks of terrific titles, pages and pages of perfection.

My odometer has ticked over mile after mile making runs to the library. (The only time in my life that I've lived near a library is on a university campus, but I always get there!)

Enchanted Lion Books 2018
On my latest trip, I brought home a book that has the size and weight and title of a rather serious adult tome: A VELOCITY OF BEING: Letters to a Young Reader. It is a collection that was  imagined and organized by Maria Popova and Claudia Zoe Bedrick. The individual creators for this anthology are each accomplished in their fields (many of them are authors, but not all) and each individual letter is interpreted/illustrated by an artist (most of them illustrators you'll recognize by their style if not by name). 

Before delving into the amazing contents, let me mention how impressive this hefty book is. With a substantial hard case and dramatic trim size, this could easily be mistaken for a university text book or a volume of an encyclopedia. The pages are also substantial and smooth to the touch, a heavyweight cream paper stock. Pages like these turn and open easily to allow steady and thoughtful consideration of the contents of each entry. With 260+ pages this "picture book" will impress any child, any age. It has the gravitas to be a tabletop book or even hold a place of honor on an unabridged  dictionary pedestal.

The adage is (nearly) true, we should not judge a book by its cover or physicality, but a book design of this magnitude merits our appreciation. 
What, exactly, is inside such an impressive book?  
Exactly what that subtitle says: page after page of letters to young readers, paired with art that was inspired by the writers' messages. 
Each letter is direct and engaging, sometimes with humor and sometimes with nostalgia and often with reflections that inspire. 
They are not designed to impress by fancy fonts or clever curlicues. In fact, these are best read TO and WITH younger children, even older children, sparking conversations between the readers. 
Some letters fill an entire page and others are brief. 
Here's the letter from Judy Blume: (Pages 76-77, illustrated by Decur)

"Dear Ones, 
      Reading changed my life. Writing saved it.
      I can't promise you writing will save your life, though learning to express yourself can go a long way. But I can promise reading will change your life for the better. You'll be smarter, savvier, you'll have a way to connect with people , and you'll never be bored. What could be better?           Love, Judy"

There's a letter from Emily Spivack, a writer for New York Times and other publications,  asking WHERE you can read. Her suggestions range from the beach, to the bathtub, to the dentist's office, to homemade forts, in a library or on the toilet, just to name a few. You'll LOVE the illustrations for this letter!

Steven Heller, a designer, writer, and educator said this:
"Dear Kids,
Books are weapons in the battle against ignorance." 
He continues with a short discussion of censorship, of the need to protect books from being taken prisoner by ignorant and controlling people. He ends with this charge to kids:
"So kids, don't let them (books) down. Read them. Savor them. Protect them."

And the letters continue, more than a hundred of them. messages from Jon Scieszka,  Ann Martin, Jacqueline Woodson, and on and on, each as interesting and powerful as the next.

Finally, I'll include just the opening of a short, powerful message from Anne Lamott: 
"Hi You,
     I really want you to hear what I am going to say, because I think it is the truth, okay? I'll make it fast.
If you love to read, or learn to love reading, you will have an amazing life. Period." ...
The rest of her short message is a straight-talk challenge to kids readers to discover and engage in the world of reading, ending with a deal with each reader. 
The facing illustration is a black and white silhouette-style interpretation of that amazing life that Lamott promises.

Thea added incentive to purchase this book for your collection is that the proceeds are entirely directed to the local New york City public library. 

Let's  consider this post you're reading as my own challenge to get your hands on this book. To read it, share it, consider it, and use the messages within its covers. And I'll be back here soon with posts about some of the powerful picture books I've been reading this summer. 


  1. A critique partner brought this book to a meeting a few months back. Your post has reminded me I must get my hands on it!

    1. I'd love to know what you think of it. I found it felt like messages in a bottle- from amazing friends who read! I think young people will feel the same about it.
      Thanks for reading the post- always happy to read your reactions.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.