Dear SSHEL, What Should I Read Next? – Books Told in Letters

With summer winding down and school hovering just over the horizon, now is the perfect time to take advantage of the free time you have left to read some engaging novels that give you an intimate glimpse into characters’ lives and thoughts. Epistolary books are those told in a series of documents, such as letters, diary entries, news clippings, flyers, etc., and the different perspectives will make the story and characters come to life in a unique way. Mimicking real life and exploring the way that communication changes lives, the following list includes some surefire recommendations for those days you just don’t know what to read. After choosing something from the list below, there’s a high probability you’ll want to write your friends and tell them about the great new books you’ve read!

To find more books written using this unique and engaging format, try searching the catalog using a combination of subject terms like “juvenile fiction” for fiction books or “juvenile literature” for nonfiction books along with “epistolary,” “letters,” or “correspondence.”

Cummings, Troy.
Can I Be Your Dog? 2018 (Picture Book)
In this funny and sweet adoption story, readers see all of Arfy’s letters to the people on Butternut Street as he tries to find a new home. Kids will love his dog’s point of view as he showcases his talents and charming personality, and adults will appreciate the way that the style of the letters fits who wrote them. With colorful illustrations depicting the story, the suspense builds as readers wonder who will open their heart to let Arfy come live with them, but never fear – there is a heartwarming happily ever after.
[S-Collection Q. SE. C9122ca]

Daywalt, Drew.
The Day the Crayons Came Home. 2015 (Picture Book)
In this sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit, (see blog posts from February 2015 and May 2016), Duncan receives postcards from his crayons that have gotten lost or stranded in various places and just want to come home. Readers will empathize with the plight of the Maroon Crayon who got lost in the couch and sat on, giggle at the Brown Crayon’s message lamenting that he’s embarrassed about what is he is used to color, and want to join in on Esteban the Magnificent’s (formerly Pea Green Crayon) adventures. Can Duncan make everyone feel at home again?
[S-Collection Q. SE. D337da]

Grady, Cynthia.
Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They left Behind. 2018 (Nonfiction Picture Book)
When her patrons were ordered to relocate to internment camps, librarian Miss Clara Breed gave the children stamped postcards with the instruction that they write to her – about anything. After ascertaining their location, she sent boxes of books, seeds, soap, and more and provided more stamped postcards so they could keep in touch. The illustrations are full of excerpts from the actual letters Miss Breed received, grounding the story and showing these children’s thoughts, hopes, dreams, and how much she and the books she sent helped them. The book includes an author’s note, timeline of Clara’s life, history of Japanese people in America, source notes, a bibliography, and further reading, making this a fantastic nonfiction book for readers interested about this aspect of WWII and connecting to real human stories.
[S-Collection S.940.5317 G7557w]

Gourley, Catherine.
Journeys: Young Readers’ Letters to Authors Who Changed Their Lives. 2017 (Nonfiction Chapter Book)
This book grew out of the Letters About Literature contest held by the Library of Congress Center for the Book, and compiles 52 letters in total from students in grades 4-12. These are written to authors both alive and dead, often about one particular book or character, and includes such names as Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, George Orwell, Laurie Halse Anderson, Emily Dickinson, Wendelin Van Draanen, J. R. R. Tolkien, and more. The young readers share how books have changed their lives, told them they’re not alone, opened their eyes, brought history to life, helped them grow, let them find their voice, and more, and in turn, we the readers find ourselves believing that there is hope for the future yet.
[S-Collection S.810.8 J8269]

Holt, Kimberly Willis.
Dear Hank Williams. 2015 (Middle Grade Novel)
Tate P. Ellerbee’s assignment is to learn the art of letter-writing, and luckily she already knows who she wants her pen pal to be – Hank Williams, the country music singer. After listening to him on the radio every Saturday with her great-aunt and –uncle, she thinks that they’re kindred spirits, but Tate’s teacher has other plans and has connected them with a class in Japan. However, it’s 1948 in her Louisiana home, and the general sentiment is that even though WWII is over, the Japanese are still enemies. In this environment, readers witness Tate’s growth through her letters as she writes about her life with all the impertinence, hope, innocence, and candor of an 11-year-old just trying to find her way.
[S-Collection S. H742de]

Iwasa, Megumi.
Yours Sincerely, Giraffe. 2017 (Beginning Chapter Book)
Giraffe is bored, so after seeing that Pelican has decided to start a delivery service out of his boredom, he decides to write a letter to the other side of the horizon. Soon he has a new pen pal named Penguin and a friend in Pelican, and they are decidedly not bored anymore. Full of fun illustrations, readers follow along with their letters to each other as Giraffe tries to figure out what Penguin looks like and their decision to meet is rife with confusion and preparation, but the escapade ends happily.
[S-Collection S. Iw12b:E]

Check out the sequel, Dear Professor Whale, also found in the S-Collection! (S. Iw12wa:E)

Jones, Kelly.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. 2015 (Middle Grade Chapter Book)
Sophie is 12 and feels out of place when she and her parents move from LA to a farm they just inherited, so she starts writing letters to her dead Abuelita as a sort of diary in order to help her think through things. However, things get even weirder when she discovers a hen who can move objects with her brain. When Sophie starts finding more chickens with unusual abilities, she knows she needs to learn to take care of them so that she can protect her flock from those who may want to steal them. This compilation of letters, flyers, quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, and more is enhanced by illustrations and is an accessible and relatable story of magical realism for young readers.
[S-Collection S. J7191un]

Check out the sequel, Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken?, also found in the S-Collection! (S. J7191unar)

McGhee, Alison.
Dear Sister. 2018 (Middle Grade Chapter Book)
Inspired by the notes that the author’s children would write to each other, this book records the letters that Brother writes to his Sister as they grow up together. The text is depicted in handwritten notes complete with illustrations that a sibling would realistically include, allowing readers to immerse themselves in their lives and see the transformation as the years pass. Their story begins when Sister is born, and the first letter states: “Dear Sister, They told me to draw a picture of you for your baby book. Here you go.” Although an inauspicious start, this is a tale of sibling love, and readers of all ages will be able to relate to the trials and tribulations of having an annoying sibling who you love anyway.
[S-Collection S. M173de]

Menon, Sandhya.
From Twinkle, With Love. 2018 (YA Novel)
Twinkle is just a regular teenager who is used to staying in the background, preferably behind a camera as an aspiring filmmaker. So when Sahil Roy, also a film geek, asks her to direct a movie for the Summer Festival, she thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to share what she loves with an audience, and, as an added bonus, she gets to be closer to her crush, Neil Roy, who just so happens to be Sahil’s twin brother. Written in letters to her favorite female filmmakers, feelings run high in this teen romance novel where Twinkle has to decide whether or not she’s brave enough to break from the script of the love story she wrote for herself and instead follow her heart into uncharted territory.
[S-Collection S. M5278f]

Petro-Roy, Jen.
P.S. I Miss You. 2018 (YA Novel)
In letters that 11-year-old Evie writes to her older sister Cilla when she is sent away to stay with a distant great-aunt after becoming pregnant, readers dive deeply into Evie’s thoughts and life. She writes about what her family is experiencing after this major disruption, her first crush – on a girl, and missing her big sister. She really needs Cilla’s advice, but she’s not writing back. This book gives readers an inside look at Evie’s exploration of her identity, religion, and what family means to her.
[S-Collection S. P4484p]

The Art of Letter Writing: A Special Way to Share Stories

Though most of us would probably say letter writing is low on our preferred means of communication, the written word is still essential for staying in touch. We email, text, and leave comments for each other on social media. While our means of communication today are much more efficient, there is something very personal and special about receiving a letter from someone we love. When we think of correspondence through letters, we think of history, of times when things were much slower. We might think of grand, romantic declarations of love or top secret war messages being sent this way. When we get the opportunity to read stories that are told through letters sent back and forth between characters, it puts us right in the moment, sharing those experiences with the writers; it puts us in suspense, because we only know what the letters tell us. When looking for children’s and teen’s books about letter writing, or books written in the epistolary format, try searching the subject phrases “juvenile fiction” or “juvenile literature” with terms like “epistolary,” “correspondence,” or “letters.”

Picture Books

Bellisario, Gina.
The Twelve Days of Christmas in Illinois. 2012.
Mia writes a letter home each of the twelve days she spends exploring the state of Illinois at Christmastime, as her cousin Sam shows her everything from the state capital, Springfield, to historic Route 66. Includes facts about Illinois.
[SSHEL S Collection S. B4173t]

Daywalt, Drew.
The Day the Crayons Quit. 2013.
When Duncan arrives at school one morning, he finds a stack of letters, one from each of his crayons, complaining about how he uses them.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books SE. D337d]

Luna, Tom.
Letters Forever / Cartas Para Siempre. 2012.
Missing her grandfather who has moved from Texas back home to Mexico, Lela tries to ride her bike to see him. Since this is unsuccessful, she writes letters to him until she grows up and is able to visit him in person. (Bilingual. Parallel text in English and Spanish.)
[SSHEL S Collection S. L9715l]

Moore, Marian and Kensington, Mary Jane.
Dear Cinderella. 2012.
Cinderella and Snow White exchange letters and become friends as they tell each other about the problems they face with their stepmothers and other events in their lives.
[SSHEL S Collection Q. SE. M7811d]

Orloff, Karen Kaufman.
I Wanna New Room. 2010.
Through a series of brief letters to his parents, Alex presents all the reasons why he should not have to share a room with his younger brother.
[SSHEL S Collection Q. SE. Or55iw]

Stanton, Melissa.
My Pen Pal, Santa. 2013.
When Ava writes a thank you to Santa in January, he writes back and sets off a year’s worth of correspondence where they exchange information about their daily lives and discuss their shared love of Christmas.
[SSHEL S Collection SE. St262m]

Stein, David Ezra.
Love, Mouserella. 2011.
“This is my letter I wrote to Grandmouse because I miss her. She went back to the country and I’m in the city. Mama said why don’t I write her a letter, so I did.”
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books SE. St341lo]

Stewart, Sarah.
The Gardener. 1997.
A series of letters relating what happens when, after her father loses his job, Lydia Grace goes to live with her Uncle Jim in the city but takes her love for gardening with her.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books SE. St495g]

Tonatiuh, Duncan.
Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin. 2010.
Two cousins, one in Mexico and one in New York City, write to each other and learn that even though their daily lives differ, at heart the boys are very similar. In English with some Spanish words = En inglés con algunas palabras en español.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books Q. SE. T61d]

Intermediate and Young Adult Fiction

Cleary, Beverly.
Dear Mr. Henshaw. 1983.
In his letters to his favorite author, ten-year-old Leigh reveals his problems in coping with his parents’ divorce, being the new boy in school, and generally finding his own place in the world.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. C58d]

Fleming, David.
The Saturday Boy. 2013.
Every school day seems to bring more trouble to eleven-year-old Derek, whose former best friend bullies him, while at home he deals with the long absence of his father, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, and his mother’s sudden moodiness. His only source of comfort are the letters from his dad, which he saves in an old lunchbox and reads over and over, wishing that his dad could come home.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. F631s]

Hest, Amy.
Letters to Leo. 2012.
In a series of letters to her new dog, fourth-grader Annie Rossi relates her daily exploits and remembers her mother.
[SSHEL S Collection S. H469le]

House, Silas and Vaswani, Neela.
Same Sun Here. 2012.
A twelve-year-old Indian immigrant in New York City and a Kentucky coal miner’s son become pen pals, and eventually best friends, through a series of revealing letters exploring such topics as environmental activism, immigration, and racism.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. H8167s]

Johnson, Maureen.
13 Little Blue Envelopes. 2005.
When seventeen-year-old Ginny receives a packet of mysterious envelopes from her favorite aunt, she leaves New Jersey to criss-cross Europe on a sort of scavenger hunt that transforms her life.
[The Center for Children’s Books S. J635t and Uni High Fiction J635t]
The Last Little Blue Envelope. 2011.
Seventeen-year-old Ginny Blackstone precipitously travels from her home in New Jersey to London when she receives a message from an unknown man telling her he has the letters that were stolen just before she completed a series of mysterious tasks assigned by her now dead aunt, an artist.
[SSHEL S Collection S. J635l and Uni High Fiction J635l]

Klise, Kate.
Dying to Meet You. 2009.
In this story told mostly through letters, children’s book author, I. B. Grumply, gets more than he bargained for when he rents a quiet place to write for the summer.
[The Center for Children’s Books S. K689dy]
Over My Dead Body. 2009.
In this story told mostly through letters, busybody Dick Tater tries to ban Halloween and ghost stories, as well as to break up the popular writing team of I. B. Grumply, ghost Olive C. Spence, and eleven-year-old illustrator Seymour Hope.
[SSHEL S Collection S. K689o]
Till Death Do Us Bark. 2011.
In this story told mostly through letters, Noah Breth’s feuding children come to Ghastly, Illinois, to follow a trail of limericks to their inheritance, while Seymour tries to convince Iggy and Olive to let him keep Mr. Breth’s dog.
[SSHEL S Collection S. K689td]
Hollywood, Dead Ahead. 2013.
When film producer Moe Block Busters offers to make their book into a movie, Iggy, Olive, and Seymour head to Hollywood where Olive, furious at being written out of the script, enlists the help of a famed femme fatale to scare the despicable director half to death.
[SSHEL S Collection S. K689ho]

Mack, Jeff.
Clueless McGee. 2012.
Through a series of letters to his father, a private investigator, fifth-grader PJ “Clueless” McGee tells of his efforts to discover who stole macaroni and cheese from the school cafeteria.
[SSHEL S Collection S. M1905c]
Clueless McGee and the Inflatable Pants. 2013.
Fifth-grader PJ “Clueless” McGee writes a series of letters to his father, a private investigator, telling of his attempt to learn who stole the science fair trophy, thus clearing his own name.
[SSHEL S Collection S. M1905cl]


Bie, Ceciel de.
My Brother, Vincent Van Gogh. 2002.
The story of artist Vincent van Gogh and his art-dealer brother, Theo, who were very close and who wrote long letters to each other after Vincent moved to the countryside to be inspired by and paint nature. Includes drawing and painting activities.
[SSHEL S Collection SB. V253b]

Cumming, David.
Pakistan. 2005.
Letters from a young Pakistani boy describe his country and customs.
[SSHEL S Collection S.954.91 C912p]

Oppenheim, Joanne.
Dear Miss Breed. 2006.
Provides the story of life in a Japanese internment camp during World War II through the correspondence of the children in the camp to their librarian, Miss Clara Breed, who worked on their behalf to show the injustice of their imprisonment.
[SSHEL S Collection S.940.53 Op53d]

Orchard, Andy.
Canada. 2005.
Letters from a young Canadian girl provide an overview about Canada and its customs.
[SSHEL S Collection S.971 Or18c]

Parks, Rosa.
Dear Mrs. Parks. 1996,
Presents correspondence between Rosa Parks and various children in which the “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement” answers questions and encourages young people to reach their highest potential.
[SSHEL S Collection SB. P2521p]

Rubin, Susan Goldman.
Searching for Anne Frank: Letters from Amsterdam to Iowa. 2003.
Provides a glimpse of life during World War II in both the Netherlands and the United States through the correspondence of Anne Frank and her Iowa pen pals.
[SSHEL S Collection SB. F828ru]