If you saw my post about combatting the summer slide, you may have noticed that we’re encouraging the girls to send letters and postcards to friends and family, and that we’ve started a Conversation Journal (a notebook of letters back and forth) with our oldest. As a way to inspire writing these letters, we’ve also been reading lots of picture books told mostly (or completely, in many cases) through epistolary form. Friendly letters, persuasive writing, thank you notes, even a few business letters– these books have it all! At the bottom of this post, I’ve also included a few wonderful novels written in letter format, for those of you with older readers who may be looking for more!
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Picture Books to Inspire Letter Writing (Terrific for All Ages)
The Jolly Postman (or Other People’s Letters) by Janet and Allan Ahlberg — My love for the Ahlbergs runs very deep, and it all started with Each Peach Pear Plum (you can read more about how wonderful that book is here). It’s rather incredible that they’ve managed to make not one but two absolutely delightful books depicting a variety of fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters interacting with each other! The Jolly Postman also has interactive envelopes and mail for the readers to read. This one definitely ranks at the top of my favorite letter-writing books! You can read more here in my mini-Instagram review.
Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James — If The Jolly Postman is my favorite letter-writing book, these next three are in a close race for second. Dear Mr. Blueberry is the story of a young girl, Emily, who believes she sees a whale in her pond and writes a letter to her teacher about it. The whole story is told through their letter correspondance and is just delightful! Emily becomes more and more convinced that what she saw was indeed a whale, and Mr. Blueberry becomes more and more exasperated as he tries to convince her that it couldn’t possibly have been one.
I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman, illustrated by David Catrow — This one is a delightfully written and hilariously illustrated example of persuasive writing. Young Alex takes to writing letters in an attempt to persuade his mom that he’s ready to have an iguana as his pet. And Mom isn’t falling for it… Fortunately, in addition to being persuasive, Alex is persistent. My girls laugh every time at this one, and I’m sure yours will, too!
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers — Anthropomorphized crayons revolt against their owner, demanding to be used in different ways… Or to be used at all… Or to be given a break! Daywalt’s letters are bound to make children laugh as they think about the way they use their crayons and markers (In our house, we can never find blue markers with ink… Apparently, like Duncan, we color with blue a lot…). Oliver Jeffers’s childlike illustrations are, as always, wonderfully done as well (see my review of Stuck for more on Jeffers’s work).
The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera — This one was new to me when I made this list, and I think it quickly became one of my favorites here. In the beginning of the story, we meet Grace, a young girl vigorously making her birthday wishlist. After her (delightfully diverse) birthday party, she eagerly gets to work writing her thank you notes to express her appreciation for all she received. But she doesn’t stop there! Writing thank you notes to her pets, her neighbors, her community members, and even a tree, soon people (and pets and plants) all over town are brimming with Grace’s appreciation. I won’t give away the ending, but all of that thankfulness, appreciation, and love comes back about a hundred-fold!
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin — Cows on a typewriter demanding electric blankets? Yes, please! Cronin and Lewin have a whole series of “Click Clack” books, and while they’re all great, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type is the first and, in my opinion, the best. Cronin also has a “Bug Diaries” series that I forgot about until just now; Diary of a Worm would also be a wonderful mentor text for letter writing, specifically writing in a diary!
Ten Thank-You Letters by Daniel Kirk — I’m a big believer in hand-written thank-you notes. No, I don’t personally expect to receive them from people, but I do believe that a hand-written note of appreciation makes that thank-you extra special, much more special thank a verbal thanks or a text of gratitude. So, I had to make sure to include a book about writing thank-you letters on my list! Kirk’s Ten Thank-You Letters is a perfect addition, as his characters’ thank-yous remind readers that thank-you letters can be written for anything and everything, and that they can often garner more connection than simply saying “thank you.”
Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cummings — My girls LOVE this book. In the few weeks that we had it from the library, we read it multiple times a day every day. Can I Be Your Dog? is a darling story of a dog who really, really wants a forever home. He writes letters to the neighbors on his street, only to be rejected (by mail) by every single one… Until someone totally surprising steps up and writes the dog a letter asking to be his human! It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s tender, it has a happy ending… And it’s written completely in letter format!
Dear Dragon by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo — Funk and Montalvo deliver a story of misunderstood identity, two friends who write pen pal letters to each other and think they have a grasp on who the other is. Until they meet in person and are in for a big surprise! To make this even better, the teachers dictate that the letters all be written as poems. Through the illustrations, readers are given insight into what the writer meant (the dragon’s father won awards for how much fire he could breathe) and what the recipient believed to be true (the other’s father was actually a human performing fire-breathing acts).
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small — While The Gardener is written completely in letters and is therefore a great mentor text for letter-writing, there are so many more wonderful layers to this text. Set in 1935, children are bound to ask questions about why young Lydia is sent away from her parents to live in the city with her uncle. Readers learn about city living and will undoubtedly be inspired to make the most of what they have and to work hard to brighten lives of those around them.
Wish You Were Here by Martina Selway — If you have children anxious about going to sleep-away camp, this may be a perfect addition to your summer reading. Through Rosie’s letters from camp to her parents, we are given insight into her true feelings about being at camp, and we have the privilege of watching her evolution from just wanting to go home to enjoying her camp experience. We especially enjoyed the full-colored illustrations here.
Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague — Though our 3.5-year-old was admitely confused about why the dog would be sent to school and had trouble making the leaps between the illustrations depicting the reality of obedience school and the dog Ike’s perceptions of his experience, our older daughter loved this one, and my 2nd- and 3rd-grade-students always enjoyed it, too. For an older audience than many on this list (publishers recommend it for ages 5-6 and up), Dear Mrs. LaRue is a wonderful example of letter writing and conversation starter for understanding different perspectives of an experience.
Yours Truly, Goldilocks by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Leslie Tryon — Yours Truly, Goldilocks (and the rest of the Hidden Forest series from Alma Flor Ada) is another wonderful example of a letter-writing text for slightly older readers. Though our 3.5-year-old does indeed love this one, it’s long, so it takes a younger reader with a longer attention span… For siblings, though, pair this with The Jolly Postman, or use it on it’s own in a middle-elementary classroom. As with the Ahlbergs, Ada does an inspiring job of allowing fairy-tale characters’ personalities and known stories to shine through while she extends their lives and connects them to each other. You can read more here in my mini Instagram review. As an added bonus, most of Alma Flor Ada’s books are readily available in Spanish!
Letters from Space by Clayton Anderson, illustrated by Susan Batori — Anderson once spent 5 months on a mission in space, and in Letters from Space, he uses letters and written correspondence to both entertain and educate readers about what life is like for an astronaut in space. Opening with a letter to his mom sent on Flight Day 3 and ending with a letter to Mission Control after he arrived safely back on Earth on Day 152, we get to read fictional letters from Clayton to his mom, his friends, Mission Control, students, his doctors, fans, and more. And while most letters are funny, each teaches the readers something important about what astronauts might actually do and learn on these missions. Be sure to spend time reading through the “PS From the Astronaut” pages at the back. Anderson has filled them with lots of interesting information about various stories he included in his letters, such as why scientists are learning about growing food in their spaceships.