September 2, 2015 § 8 Comments
When I was quite small, I wrote a letter to Oscar the Grouch.* I made the editorial decision to sign my first piece of fan mail as “Grungetta” (perhaps believing that Oscar would pay more attention to a letter from someone he knew, but more likely just because Playing Pretend is the best game ever). I ripped up construction paper to include in the envelope, because it seemed only proper to send him some trash.
And I got a reply:
I was gleeful that the response addressed me as Grungetta — they believed I was the real deal! (Clearly I didn’t notice the return address…) For a very long time after receiving this letter, whenever I saw Oscar’s trashcan on Sesame Street, I wondered if the pieces of paper I’d ripped up were still on his floor.
I also wrote to Mr. Rogers whose typewriter was not full of trash:
Jumping ahead through years that involved only very occasional fan letter writing (mostly to authors), we arrive in the present day where letter writing is one of my nerdoms and I believe in letting people know they’re appreciated. This combination is clearly a recipe for writing fan mail. Accordingly, I recently decided to write to the creative minds behind Pretend Wizards. It became a fairly elaborate production. Scissors and glue were involved and there were multiple pieces by the time I finished.
I had a few moments of wondering if I was going overboard. But I quickly squashed that thought. I’ve gotten many, many hours of enjoyment thanks to what this group of people has created and I really wanted to let them know in style. So, I did. They subsequently talked about receiving and enjoying my fan mail on the “Mail Bag” section of one of their episodes, which was awesome.
Why am I telling you about these letters I’ve written? To encourage you to write fan mail to people who do the creative things you love and to the people who inspire you in some way. It’s win-win. You get to be unabashedly enthusiastic and the recipient gets tangible appreciation. Try it — write someone a letter of wholehearted admiration. As appropriate, include ripped up paper, a dinner invitation, or a selection of teas. If so inspired, report back. I predict that both you and your recipient will feel better about humanity in general as a result.
*The idea to write to Oscar and Mr. Rogers originated from my mom who has a genius for proposing simple activities that kids adore. If you have kids, teach kids, hang out with kids, etc., a letter writing project is an excellent undertaking.
May 21, 2015 § 8 Comments
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may recall that a while ago I recommended several books for kids featuring letters and sending mail. Why? Because books in the hands of children create readers and inspire new interests. Besides, who among us doesn’t love a good book about mail? And these have the added bonus of great illustrations! So, in the spirit of literacy and letter writing, today I recommend four books; three about letter carriers of different flavors, and one about the era when you could mail order a house.
Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier
You may think that dogs are the stuff of nightmares for mail carriers, but that’s only because you haven’t yet read about Millie. Oh, yes, she waits for the mail — to be more precise, she lies in wait and takes great glee in scaring the mail carrier. Oh, my.
This book has conflict and a smooshed package, but, fear not, it ends happily.
A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier
A story about Leo who delivers the mail, makes a friend when he is kind to a stranger, and–finally!–receives a letter of his own.
Mr Griggs’ Work by Cynthia Rylant
Mr. Griggs “spent millions of minutes of his long life shuffling through letters, watching the pictures on the stamps change, punching his First Class puncher, weighing fat brown boxes, and listening to long tales about ‘The Letter That Never Got There.'”
Need I say more or is that enough to sell you on getting to know Mr. Griggs? (I really love this one.)
And the bonus book: The House in the Mail by Rosemary and Tom Wells
This one is less about mail and more about the process of constructing a mail order house, BUT it’s a great slice of history and shows what a wonder mail order merchandise was in the 1920s–something that may not have happened without the USPS’s introduction of Rural Free Delivery in 1896.
Now, run to your library and ask for these books. Then find a child and share. Enjoy!
November 14, 2014 § 4 Comments
Just then the mailman came by Villa Villekulla.
“Well, sometimes one does have good luck,” exclaimed Pippi, “and meets a mailman just when one needs him!”
She ran out into the street. “Will you please be so kind as to deliver this to Miss Pippi Longstocking at once?” she said. “It’s urgent.”
The mailman looked first at the letter and then at Pippi. “Aren’t you Pippi Longstocking yourself?” he asked.
“Sure. Who did you think I was, the Empress of Abyssinia?”
“But why don’t you take the letter yourself?”
“Why don’t I take the letter myself?” said Pippi. “Should I be delivering the letter myself? No, that’s going too far. Do you mean to say that people have to deliver their letters themselves nowadays? What do we have mailmen for, then? We might as well get rid of them. I’ve never in my life heard anything so foolish. No, my lad, if that’s the way you do your work, they’ll never make a postmaster out of you, you can be sure of that.”
The mailman decided it was just as well to do what she wished, so he dropped the letter in the mailbox at Villa Villekulla. It had scarcely landed before Pippi eagerly pulled it out again.
“Oh, how curious I am!” she said to Tommy and Annika. “This is the first letter I ever got in my life.”
All three children sat down on the porch steps, and Pippi slit open the envelope. Tommy and Annika looked over her shoulder and read.
I SIRTINLEE HOP U R NOT SIK. IT WOOD BE 2 BAD 4 U 2 BE SIK. MYSELF I AM JUST FIN. THER IS 0 RONG WITH THE WHETHER ETHER. YESTERDAY TOMY KILT 1 BIG RAT. YES.
THAT IS WHAT HE DID.
BEST WISHIS FORM
“Oh,” said Pippi, delighted, “it says exactly the same things in my letter that it does in the one you wrote to your grandmother, Tommy. So you can be sure it is a real letter. I’ll keep it as long as I live.”
from Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Florence Lamborn
While Pippi may disagree and etiquette books will instruct you differently, the construction of letters is a wide open field of possiblities. Having a variety of correspondents means encountering different approaches to letter writing and repeated opportunities to expand my own ideas on what constitutes a “real” letter.
I used to rate long letters as more real than any other kind. Over the years, I’ve developed an appreciation for compact letters, postcards, and things that are not letters at all. In part, I think my new definition of what constitutes a real letter has developed as I changed my thinking on whether letters need to be a 1:1 exchange.
In addition to writing to people I know only through letters, I also like to send letters to people who I know in real life. Not all of those people are letter-writers. Sometimes I mail a note to a friend and get a text in reply or a Facebook post saying “thank you!” I think that’s great, because even though it’s a different medium, it brings the connection started by the letter full circle. And in my book, regardless of length or construction, the realest letters are the ones that create connections.
How do you define a real letter?
April 13, 2013 § 4 Comments
If you are a letter writer who is a) enthusiastic about books and b) interested in encouraging young letter writers (and potential letter writers), this post is for you! Grab your library card–it is safe to assume that most letter writers have library cards in good standing, isn’t it?–and go find these books:
Once you have the books in hand, find your favorite kids and start reading. Have your papers and your pens, your stamps and your stickers at the ready. There’s a good chance that it won’t be long before inspired letters are waiting to be posted.