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Dear Papa

Dear Papa

3.7 3
by Anne Ylvisaker

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"The letters are personal and immediate, and the story is full of details that evoke the historical period. . . . The simple words grab your heart."

It’s a good thing nine-year-old Isabelle is learning to write letters at school, because she has a lot to write to Papa about after he dies. Her sisters have boyfriends, little


"The letters are personal and immediate, and the story is full of details that evoke the historical period. . . . The simple words grab your heart."

It’s a good thing nine-year-old Isabelle is learning to write letters at school, because she has a lot to write to Papa about after he dies. Her sisters have boyfriends, little Ida hardly remembers Papa, and Ian is mad to be left with a house full of females. As for Mama, she’s tired with a capital T — and what’s worse, she’s sending Isabelle to live with her aunt and uncle. Now who will stop little Ida from calling Mama’s boss "Papa"? Set during World War II, this novel-in-letters follows a young girl learning to cope with the loss of her father — with a loyal heart, an independent attitude, and an unforgettable way with words.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Much like the heroine in a Shirley Temple movie, the protagonist of this first novel is pert, spunky and finger-in-the-dimple cute. Isabelle, nine years old when the story opens in 1943, writes the many letters that constitute the narrative. As the title suggests, she writes most frequently to her father, who has died of illness or, as Isabelle puts it in her first missive, "went to heaven." Initially, Isabelle describes daily life in their St. Paul, Minn., home, but as money grows tight and her mother sinks into exhaustion, Isabelle's older sisters go to one uncle's farm while Isabelle is packed off to a childless married uncle in a small town. Isabelle expands her correspondence to include her mother, siblings and a far-off aunt, all the while plotting to return home. While Ylvisaker creates humor in having Isabelle tailor her delivery of similar information to different addressees, this device also results in repetitiousness and keeps most of the characters at a distance from readers. Isabelle's voice, meanwhile, seems contrived. Telling her dead father why she has done something wrong, she adds, "If you see Jesus around there, would you please explain?" When she tries to be bad at her aunt and uncle's, the worst she can come up with is this breakfast repartee: "I'm not going to eat this darn mush without sugar! It's sour like everything else at this darn funeral home." The stakes may be too low and the storytelling too slack to sustain readers' interest. Ages 9-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Nine-year-old Isabelle Anderson begins to write to her papa in 1943, a year after his death. Her letters, at first frequent and then gradually dwindling, span fourteen years and broaden to include family and friends. They reveal in poignant and hilarious terms her loves, loyalties, and independence. Isabelle's mother sends her five children to live with relatives, goes to work, and secretly marries her boss. As Isabelle comes to grips with the death, the disruption, the less-than-ideal family reunion that she personally engineers, and the fifty-year-old handicapped Catholic doctor who becomes her stepfather, this precocious and vulnerable girl fills her journey with rebellion, insults, manipulation, and insight. Raised Lutheran, Isabelle works through her wrenching family change in terms of the Protestant-Catholic friction of the 1940s. Her mother's family disapproves of the marriage. Seeing Catholics as separate and strange, a surprised Isabelle learns that her stepfather is also a stepchild. She grows closer to this compassionate man, calls him Dad, and finds her Lutheran catechism and her holy cards almost impossible to separate. As in Joan Bauer's novels, Ylvisaker develops a character voice in a father-daughter relationship that tugs at the heart without deteriorating into the maudlin or sentimental. Middle school and junior high girls will love the story, but Ylvisaker's sophisticated insights about a supposedly simpler time offer something to think about for older teens and adults as well. The last letter to Papa, written in 1957, acts as an epilogue. In it, twenty-three-year old Isabelle realizes that her stepfather demonstrated unselfish love in giving her the space to love herpapa. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Candlewick, 284p,
— Lucy Schall
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Set in Minnesota during World War II, this story emerges as nine-year-old Isabelle begins writing letters to her dead father. The first letter was simply to fulfill a brief school assignment, but her writings soon take on a life of their own as the child undergoes many changes. She is sent to live with an aunt and uncle, contends with well-meaning relatives, and struggles with her Lutheran mother's marriage to a Catholic. Along with letters to her father, she also writes to other family members asking for favors, discussing her latest plans to get herself home, and voicing her opinions. Dear Papa taps into the almost forgotten art of letter correspondence in today's digital and e-mail world. Even though the book starts out slowly as readers are introduced to the characters, it picks up speed and has a strong ending as Isabelle finds direction and clarity during a tumultuous period. It's sure to be a hit with the popular "diary" book readers.-Hannah Hoppe, Miles City Public Library, MT Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Demco Media
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.13(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.82(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

February 23

Dear Papa,

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.

Meet the Author

Anne Ylvisaker (pronounced ILL vi’soccer) has published essays and magazine articles for adults, as well as nonfiction books for children. She taught elementary school for twelve years and holds a master’s in education. She says, "A few years ago my aunt told me about a lost childhood letter she’d written to her father just before he died. That lost letter consumed my imagination. The letter was never found, so I made up my own, and that was the beginning of DEAR PAPA." DEAR PAPA is Anne Ylvisaker’s first novel.

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Dear Papa 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous 10 days ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I usually not picky with books, but this choice had no point, and no respondence with the thoughts she brought up.. Not even an update.