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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Letters to Leo, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Julia Denos. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $17.00 ages 7 and up

"Don't you love that, Leo? Now we know something important. Miss Meadows likes kids AND dogs! I gave her the picture to keep. I like being a nice person, but I wish I had it back. I really love that funny picture.

Your dearest picture taker,

I first met Annie in Remembering Mrs. Rossi (Candlewick, 2007) when she and her dad were struggling to come to grips with the death of their wife and mother. It was a gentle, loving book to share with children and teachers. That was a few years ago. Now, Annie and her dad are living in New York and welcoming a lively little pup named Leo. It has taken a while to convince her dad, and there are some issues as there seem to be with pets; but Annie loves Leo and she pours her heart out to him in a series of letters as she deals with life and the rigors of fourth grade.

After she writes them, she reads them to him. As we listen in, we hear about her worries, her triumphs, her concern for her lonely father. It's a great voice for early chapter book readers and they will be able to relate to many of the events that Annie shares with her beloved dog.

The letters come in all forms, and work as mentor writing for anyone wanting to try the format. They begin with Leo's arrival in early November and are written regularly through mid-July. Sometimes funny, often thoughtful, and even quite sad, Annie is able to share her innermost feelings through them:

"I think mostly my father looks a little lonely at night...when he falls asleep on the couch and the lights are still on and his clothes are still on and there's always a book on his belly. He dreams about my mother, and in his dream he's not lonely anymore."

There are letters and lists, rules and assignments and many wonderful detailed illustrations to accompany each. Readers will find much to appreciate and ponder when this book is shared, or read independently.

With great excitement she gives final instructions to Leo about the visitor to their summer beach home. They are off to meet her at the train from the city, and she wants Leo to be on his best behavior. She tells him that...and adds a p.s.:

"By the way and in case you were wondering, I know about the possibility of romance. I watch TV."

I hope that's a promise for more about the Rossi family. Keep your fingers crossed!

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