Before trying anything new, it’s helpful to first see what the finished project should look like. For this reason, I have posted sample letters for you to read.
The first letter is to Maggie, a two-year-old. It is printed on colorful, but simple stationery. It's not too busy, so it's just right for a toddler. The second letter to five-year-old Bryce is on plain white paper. In his letter, my colorful illustration is carrying the message, so I don't want any distraction from stationery. These children are not independent readers; therefore I can take great liberty with the print and the content. Their mother or father will read it out loud to them and answer any questions the child might have.
You can see how important it is to involve the parent if you’re going to be writing to a young child. The letters might belong to the child, but they will make no sense to the child unless the parent is reading, explaining, and actively participating with the child.
The most important part of writing to very young children is illustrating. It is the drawings that appeal to the young child. It is the drawings that the child will study and talk about. And most importantly, it is the drawings that will stick with the child. No matter how badly you think you draw, you must try to put some drawings in your letter.
However, if you still think there is absolutely no way you can draw, try decorating the letters with stickers. Or use nice stationery. If you happen to be pretty good on the computer and can browse the internet, use clip art. An enormous amount of free images are available to copy and paste into your letter. And then, there is always real cutting and pasting. You can cut pictures out of magazines and newspapers and glue them right onto your letter. You would be surprised at how many great images are in your junk mail. Those advertisers know how a picture captures your attention. So, cut them out and glue them on!
If someone asked you, “What two things should you have in a letter to a nonreader?” Your answer should be, “Color and illustrations.”
The last letter is to 10-year old Hannah. It is an example of an autobiographical letter. I traced some pictures right onto her letter and got real fancy! I always loved coloring books as a child, and I guess I’m still doing it in my letters!
The important part of an autobiographical letter is the details. Notice in Hannah’s letter that I am almost documenting facts in certain areas. Maintaining interest while including these facts can be tedious, but certainly worth the effort. If you’re writing autobiographical letters, think about what information might be important to your descendants ten years from now, and present it as part of your story.
My Sweetie, My Sweetie,
I am missing you. I am wondering how you are doing. I am sure that I will soon have to jump in my car and travel the roads just to visit you. Soon, I hope. What have you been doing? Most certainly, you have spent the better part of summer scaling trees and excavating great digs, or researching some species of Southern lizard. Regardless, I am sure you are thoroughly enjoying your last, steamy, sultry, summer days of fourth grade.
I hear from your mommy that you are beside yourself with excitement, waiting for school to start. And, I am sure, Hannah, you will be a wonderful fifth-grader when you return to school.
Your Curly Grandma is very pleased that you like school, and that you do well in school. I was not a great student such as you, Hannah. You would have seen a lot of different letters on my report card: not all As. you would have seen a lot of minuses on my report card, not very many pluses. But, never would you have seen anything less than an A on my conduct side. I never misbehaved. I was too afraid to do something wrong. All our teachers were nuns, and they were strict. Just like your parents, my parents were strict, too. So, I was good.
Did you know that my brother and sisters and I went to a private Catholic School? It was St. Joseph’s School (223 S. Missouri Ave.) in downtown Lakeland. It is a school that is right next to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (210 W. Lemon St.) The Church has been there since around 1920, the School started in 1938. The photo shows how the original Church looked.
We went to St. Joseph’s School from 1st to 8th grade. (I did not go to kindergarten. Kindergarten wasn’t important back when I was a five-year-old child in 1955). After 8th grade, we went to Santa Fe High School for 9th to 12th grade. Both schools are in Lakeland, Florida. But Santa Fe wasn’t next to the Church. It was on the other side of town at 3110 Hwy 92. Both schools are still in existence. Remember, we lived and grew up in Lakeland. It is in Polk County. When you lived in Haines City and then in Ft. Meade, you were also living in Polk County.
Did you know you were going to get one of Curly Grandma’s silly stories, today? You must have seen it coming! Well, here we go! As a child I went to Mass (church) every morning before we got into the classroom. Dad would drop us off in front of the church at 8:00. We girls had to wear a beanie. A beanie was a little round, blue cap. If you think of a baseball cap with no bill (the part that sticks out and shades your face)-but not stiff (beanies were made of soft, light cotton that could be folded up and stuffed into your pocket)… that’s a beanie. Oh my goodness, what a nightmare it was to keep track of our beanies!
As I said, we could fold them up and stuff them in our pocket. Consequently, they could fall, drop out of the pocket, get stuck between books, end up under someone’s rear-end in the back seat of the car (and that someone wouldn’t even notice it) and then the beanie would slide down between the seats... lost forever. A beanie could get mixed up with someone else’s beanie; they could literally fly out the window of a car, they could show up in the school office, but mostly they could find their way to black holes.
Beanie’s had a button on the top, and the button was a good bite. One way to keep track of beanies was to hold the button in your teeth, while you were busy doing things with your hands, like fixing your hair. If you laid the beanie down while you brushed your hair, it would disappear. So, biting it was necessary. The problem was if you had a ponytail. How does one fit a little round beanie (only big enough for a little round head) over a big bushy ponytail? The answer was to use about 55 bobby-pins. But, how does one keep track of 55 bobby-pins during the school day? You see, we got to take the beanie off once we got out of church. Another solution to the ponytail problem was to fold the beanie in half and then bobby-pin it on.
Now then, Hannah, back when I was little it was inconceivable (unthinkable) that a female would go into church without covering her head. All the women wore hats or veils. Men did not have to wear anything on their heads. As a matter of fact, they weren’t allowed to wear anything on their heads. If I forgot my beanie, and walked into 8:00 Mass without it, the nuns would come and take me out of the pew; she would put a “borrowed beanie” on my head (without muttering even a single word) and then send me back into the pew-disgraced. You could not go into church without your beanie. There were many times I stood in the back of the church, hiding; waiting for Mass to be over. Then I would sneak into lines as my class filed out of the church and hope the nuns didn’t notice me.
Boy, windy days were a hoot! As classes departed church, little blue Frisbees (beanies) would be flying off the church steps! Little girls would be running all around capturing their precious beanies while the boys snickered in patronizing tones.
Not just little girls had the problem of a head-covering. If an adult woman forgot her hat or veil, another woman from a back pew would surely rescue her and loan her a veil. When Mass was over, the veil would be returned with a smile and a thank you. This common head-covering problem seemed to unite women, and I suppose it was the Christian attitude that helped us look out for each other. Many times when I was around 16 or 17 and going into church on Sunday morning, I would remember that I forgot my veil, and my sister would say, “Oh, someone will loan you a veil.”
A veil was a long triangular piece of lace, much like a scarf. It was very light and usually plain white. It hung over your head and it draped down the side of your face. It usually hung down to your shoulders. It was so light; it could be folded up and put in your pocket or purse. Once I began carrying a purse, my purse was never without a veil. The veils would tear easily so they were usually in a little plastic case with a snap. Later, veils were “mini-sized”. They were just a little round circle (6 or 8 inches) that lay right on top of your head. They needed to be anchored with a bobby-pin so they wouldn’t fly off your head in case you passed in front of a fan or something. As time progressed, veils were made out of pretty hearty material, so they didn’t tear easily, and they could be carried in your purse without a case-they didn’t tear, they just got really, really dirty. Eventually, the Catholic Church decided that women no longer needed to cover their heads in church. You hardly ever see veils or beanies today.
In any case, Hannah, the beanies were a must because they were part of our school uniform at St. Joseph’s. We had a very strict uniform code that was lifted only on the last day of school or occasionally on a holiday. From 1st through 5th grade, we wore blue jumpers with white shirts and blue beanies. From 6th through 8th grade, we wore blue skirts with white shirts and blue beanies. All shirts and jumpers were monogrammed with St. Joseph’s logo (SJS). Rich kids had their beanies monogrammed with their initials. I did not.
Uniforms were a pleasure for my mother. How do you buy school clothes for eleven children? Uniforms! I can’t wait until I write you another letter. I will tell you all about how to care for uniforms! Ugh! Wait till you hear about starch! And then, I might even tell you about sharing uniforms, spots on uniforms, uniforms at home, used uniforms, new uniforms-uniforms, uniforms, uniforms!
Well, Hannah, goodbye for now. Enjoy these sultry hot days because soon, you will be wearing coats and wishing for summer. I hope to see you soon. Maybe I will bring a picture of my sisters and me in our Friday uniforms. Believe me, a Friday uniform looks a whole lot different than a Monday uniform!
Love, and thinking of you always,
Age appropriate techniques are applied to:
|Length||Read-Aloud Letters||Readability Level|
|Beginning Readers||Transitional Readers||Independent Readers|
Discover strategies for employing the these elements in your letters.
Chapter 6: Target Your Audience in
Curly Grandma’s Letters:
Writing to Kids and Capturing Your Autobiography
Available from Tate Publishing, Inc.