Friday, June 1, 2012

Letters to Leo by Amy Hest, illustrated by Julia Denos

One of the things I've learned from doing collection development over the past four years is that sometimes kids will love books I don't particularly care for. Profound, right?

One of the things I dislike, but that I've found kids often enthuse over, are books with what I think of as gimmicks - written in letters, written in verse, from an odd perspective, etc. Such is Letters to Leo, where we learn about fourth grade Annie Rossi through the letters she writes to her dog, Leo, and occasional notes to other characters.

However, one of the hallmarks of good collection development, which I like to think I have, is to be able to look at a book and think "I don't particularly like this, but I can think of these particular children who will." This might be actual, specific kids or maybe a subset of a population, like "girls who are intermediate readers and like dogs and school stories, but are discouraged by too much text" or "kids who like stories with heart" or "girls who like books written in epistolary style" and yes, that last one is a particular subset.

You'll notice I said girls, because I don't think many boys will pick up this title, even those who like more serious, emotional reads. Denos' illustrations are very sweet and cute and the little hearts on the front give this a kind of girly look. By fourth grade, boys are unfortunately genderized in their reading tastes and mostly prefer nonfiction, heroic fantasy, and wimpy kid books anyways. I've found more girls that are flexible about what they're willing to try.

Back to the book - Annie Rossi, whose mother died in the previous book Remembering Mrs. Rossi struggles to get along in school, having good days and bad days like any other kid. She works hard to make Leo behave, since her dad was reluctant to let her get a dog, and she worries about her dad being alone and tries to do a little matchmaking with her beloved teacher, Maggie Meadows. The book is decorated throughout with Julia Denos' black and white sketches and has a friendly and welcoming design, most of the text is written on lined notepaper, so they really look like letters and there are scraps of paper, notes, little maps, and pictures throughout.

Verdict: While this title wasn't to my taste, I can see that it's beautifully written and illustrated and also perfectly understanding of kids' ups and downs in school and life. Kids, mostly girls, will fall in love with it. Recommended!

ISBN: 9780763636951; Published March 2012 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

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