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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002

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  • Thursday, Friday10 am-3 pm
  • Saturday 10am – 4 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Picture Books We Love

Literary Letters

A real letter written on paper with a pen or pencil (or even illustrated!) seems like a thing of the past, but that feeling of getting a note of love in the mail is unlike any other! Sharing our lives with others by writing down daily snippets or full length 'marathon letters' that take pages and pages, and sending it through the mail is a practice that the characters in these books use to great results and one that we all might consider adding to our lives as well. Inspired by the #AtHomeArtStudio's postal art this week, the booksellers from The Carle Bookshop are sharing a few of their favorite picture books about letter-writing.

Newbery honor picture book The Gardener by David Small and Sarah Stewart propped in front of plants

Hi, it's Eliza from The Carle Bookshop.

One of my absolute favorite epistolary picture books is The Gardener (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1997) by Sarah Stewart and David Small. Set in depression era United States, Lydia Grace is sent to live with her Uncle Jim, a baker in the city, until her parent's economic situation gets better at home in the country. With perseverance, patience, and some seeds mailed to her from home, Lydia Grace brings color and hope to a dreary city during a difficult time, and ultimately, even brings a smile to grumpy Uncle Jim's face. 

The entire picture book is told in letters Lydia Grace sends home, complimented by illustrations that reveal all the details she leaves out of her letters. Through these letters, the reader watches

her slowly plant seeds and bring tiny moments of joy to her Uncle's life, until she transforms the bakery's city roof to a gorgeous rooftop garden to surprise her Uncle. 

A girl with luggage stands alone in big dark train station. She's the only color on the page.

A lively bakery is filled with colorful flowers. A girl waters from a can on the bakery's balconey.

A sweet, inspirational picture book about the power of transforming a difficult situation. Despite hardships, with a little hope and patience, love will grow and bloom.

The book The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles placed on top of stained glass art project materials

This is Allie from the Bookshop, talking about The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016) by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead.

A lonely seaman lives in a high spot beside the ocean, spending his days searching for bottles washed ashore and delivering the messages inside. It’s a seaside story about the joys of community and human connection, as the seaman discovers one day when a bottle bobs up to his boat with an invitation addressed to no one in particular. How will he find who this invitation is meant for? 

Illustraiton of townspeople lined up for a party wearing party hats, carrying sparklers, cake and instruments.

Caldecott Medalist Erin E. Stead used woodblock prints, oil pastels, and pencil to give the book a cold, wispy, and washed texture like wet beach sand; dropping fun details into her illustrations along the way for us to find. And thanks to Cuevas' prose, there are plenty of opportunities for readers to ask about the emotional pull of the story, what the seaman is feeling, and what might happen to him next.

Cover image for Ice Cream Summer shows boy juggling multiple colorful ice cream cones.

This is Allie from the Bookshop, talking about Ice Cream Summer by Peter Sís.

You may have picked up Ice Cream Summer while visiting our exhibition The Picture Book Odysseys of Peter Sís at The Carle in 2019. The picture book is in letter format as a young boy writes to his grandfather to tell him everything he did over the summer. Readers will enjoy reading the text and then checking the illustrations for things the boy doesn't mention in his letter.

two page spread of Ice Cream Summer shows children lining up for ice cream with many flavors.

 

Picture book Dear Primo in front of bookshelf with display of handwritten letters in front. Cover shows two boys, back to back, writing each other letters.

Dear Friends, It’s Sara from the Carle Bookshop and I have a genuine love for letter writing, sending and receiving!

Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh is a beautiful example of how writing letters to people we only sort of know (like faraway cousins) can lead to the discovery of so many similarities! The book begins with the arrival of a letter from Carlitos, who lives in Mexico, to Charlie, who lives in America. Charlie’s exuberant leap as he holds his letter aloft with glee on the first page is an excellent illustration of the excitement that receiving a letter can bring! 

Interior page of Dear Primo shows a boy jumping for joy with a letter in his hand.

Over the course of the book the cousins introduce their respective worlds to each other and the illustrations compare and contrast their lives side by side. Carlitos letters are full of Spanish words and Tonatiuh’s illustrations include the Spanish word printed again next to the picture it describes, there is also a glossary in the back of the book. The illustrations themselves are created with digital collage using scans of textures like fabric and wood to add the color to the drawings he first makes with black marker on paper. Drawing influences from pre-Columbian art, Tonatiuh mimics the ancient pictogram writing of the Mixtec people with his work, making Dear Primo a book that bridges ancient history and modern society in a wonderful celebration of culture and the joy of sending letters. 

cover of Paddington?s Post shows bear in blue coat holding letter

What's munchin' bookworms? This is Hannah from the Bookshop, back with everyone's favorite world traveler... Paddington Bear!

Adapted from all of Paddington's adventures, Paddington's Post, written by Michael Bond and illustrated by R. W. Alley, includes never-before-seen original postage sent from Paddington himself, complete with marmalade stains, and authenticated by our experts at the Carle Bookshop! Reading this book felt like getting letters at camp, and reminded me how important it is to stay in touch with friends near and far.  And how much fun it is – opening a letter is way more exciting than receiving an email, amirite? Paddington tells his Aunt Lucy back in Peru all about life in London, and his new friends help him acclimate to his new home! Fans of our favorite bear will delight in this new expose into Paddington's stories!

open page of Paddington Post shows removable letter feature of book

What are your favorite picture books about letters? Share with us in the comments below! Want more recommendations? Check out our Postal Picture Books Booklist here.

 

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