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In September of 1943, one year after her father's death, nine-year-old Isabelle begins writing him letters, which are interspersed with letters to other members of her family, relating important events in her life and how she feels about them.
I'm sorry I wasn't nice in my last letter. I know you didn't die on purpose. I wish you were here to send me to my room for back talk. Aunt Jaye and Uncle Bernard never punish me. They think everything I do is cute. I'm nine and more than a half for pity's sake!
I want to tell you about Mama's visit. It was so wonderful the first day. She hugged and hugged and hugged me. She did my hair and talked to me like she used to. She looked happy, Papa. Really. The girls came and the house was noisy and Ian and Ida and me made a big mess in my room with all the toys Aunt Jaye keeps in there. We ate sandwiches for lunch and played whist around the big table. I heard Mama laugh. Later we all went on a walk to the downtown of Zumbrota. Uncle Bernard opened up the bank even though it was a Saturday and gave us a tour. Charlie had to carry Ida most of the way, but he didn't mind. Ian and Ida and I slept in my room and Mama sat in there until we were all asleep. I slept all night without one dream.
In the morning we all got spit and polished for church. We took up a whole pew. Afterwards we had roast and potatoes and Mama was different again. The brightness in her eyes and voice was gone and she crabbed at Ian when he dropped a biscuit on the floor. Then she just got up and put on her coat to leave.
"Mama," I said. "I want to come home."
"Isabelle, don't make this harder than it already is."
"Mama," I said again. "I want to come home!" And then I started bawling like a big baby. Mama didn't come and wipe my tears off or ask me to quit crying. She just stood there like a woodcarving.
"Isabelle, pull yourself together," Irma said.
"Irma!" Inez said, and she came and tried to wipe off my tears but that made them come faster.
"Girls, don't fight," Mama said in a bigger voice than I've heard her use in a long time. She got up and hugged each of us, but it was like an uncle hug, not a mother hug. Then she went out to the car and Irma buttoned up Ida and Ian and they all piled on laps and left.
Since Mama is working all the time, the girls are away, and you're dead, it looks like it's up to me to solve the problem. Mama will be so proud.
DEAR PAPA by Anne Ylvisaker. Copyright (c) 2002 by Anne Ylvisaker. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.
Posted June 17, 2003
My son picked out this book during a recent bookfair and I ended up reading the entire story that same night. It is a sweet story from a young girl's point of view, telling about how her family evolves after her father's death. The letter format makes the story flow very well.
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Posted April 17, 2003