Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea

4.2 126
by Mark Dunn

View All Available Formats & Editions

Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel set in the fictional island of Nollop situated off the coast of South Carolina and home to the inventor the pangram The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog. Now deceased, the islanders have erected a monument to honor their hero, but one day a tile with the letter "z" falls from the statue. The leaders interpret the


Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel set in the fictional island of Nollop situated off the coast of South Carolina and home to the inventor the pangram The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog. Now deceased, the islanders have erected a monument to honor their hero, but one day a tile with the letter "z" falls from the statue. The leaders interpret the falling tile as a message from beyond the grave and the letter is banned from use. On an island where the residents pride themselves on their love of language, this is seen as a tragedy. They are still reeling from the shock, when another tile falls and then another....
Mark Dunn takes us on a journey against time through the eyes of Ella Minnow Pea and her family as they race to find another phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet to save them from being unable to communicate. Eventually, the only letters remaining are LMNOP, when Ella finally discovers the phrase that will save their language.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Playwright Dunn tries his hand at fiction in this "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable," and the result is a novel bursting with creativity, neological mischief and clever manipulation of the English language. The story takes place in the present day on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina, where over a century earlier, the great Nevin Nollop invented a 35-letter panagram (a phrase, sentence or verse containing every letter in the alphabet). As the creator of "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," Nollop was deified for his achievement. The island's inhabitants live an anachronistic existence, with letter-writing remaining the principal form of communication. Life seems almost utopian in its simplicity until letters of the alphabet start falling from the inscription on the statue erected in Nollop's honor, and the island's governing council decrees that as each letter falls, it must be extirpated from both spoken and written language. Forced to choose from a gradually shrinking pool of words, the novel's protagonists a family of islanders seek ways to communicate without employing the forbidden letters. A band of intrepid islanders forms an underground resistance movement; their goal is to create a shorter panagram than Nollop's original, thereby rescinding the council's draconian diktat. The entire novel consists of their letters to each other, and the messages grow progressively quirkier and more inventive as alternative spellings ("yesters" for "yesterday") and word clusters ("yellow sphere" for "sun") come to dominate the language. Dunn obviously relishes the challenge of telling a story with a contracting alphabet. Though frequently choppyand bizarre, the content of the letters can easily be deciphered, a neat trick that elicits smiles. Wordsmiths of every stripe will appreciate this whimsical fable, in which Dunn brilliantly demonstrates his ability to delight and captivate. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Woe to the poor Nollopians. Some 100 years ago, they honored native son Nevin Nollop by erecting a statue of him, to which they affixed in tiles the sentence that made him famous: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The islanders venerated language, and peace and harmony blessed them for decades upon decades. Then the unthinkable happens the tiles begin to fall one by one, first the z, then the q, and on and on and the island's sense of harmony begins to crumble like the glue holding up the tiles. The loss of the z is considered an ethereal message from Nollop, and the island councilors respond by voting to banish it from all communication and impose progressive penalties for its use. As the other letters fall and more proclamations come down, suspicion and dread grip the islanders, who turn inone another in for violating the orders. In the meantime, a small cadre of citizens works tirelessly to halt the devastation. As a fable, this book works exceedingly well. The story, made up entirely of correspondence, conjures up the same mounting tension and repression as in "The Lottery" or Fahrenheit 451. But playwright Dunn also stirs a lot of farce and comic relief into the story with his characterization and with the stilted formality of the official edicts. And, with the ever-diminishing lexicon, the letters get more creative with spelling, word choice, and juxtaposition: "It wasn't wise 4 a person to paint her whole selph. Thing apowt this phirst. Yew will see that it is not healthy. Also, please answer yor portal when I rap." If you're up to the deciphering task, you'll go on a merry romp in this book. Highly recommended. Lisa Nussbaum, Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-With shades of Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, and William P ne du Bois, Ella Minnow Pea is delightfully clever from start to finish. It's set on Nollop, a fictional island off the coast of South Carolina named for its long-dead founder, Nevin Nollop, the "genius" who came up with "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." A huge cenotaph of Nollop's sentence stands over the town square-and one day, the "z" falls to the ground. Nollop's elected-for-life Council interprets this as a missive from beyond the grave, "that the letter `Z' should be utterly excised-fully extirpated-absolutely heave-ho'ed from our communal vocabulary!" Other letters soon follow, and the novel becomes progressively lipogrammatic (a "lipogram" being writing in which one or more letters are forbidden), told exclusively in the form of letters from one citizen to another as they struggle to adapt (a third offense means banishment). Not even the discovery that the glue holding the letters up is calcifying sways the zealots on the Council (perhaps Nollop intended its deterioration). It's decided that only the construction of another sentence that uses every alphabet letter in only 32 graphemes could discredit Nollop's "divine" word. Dunn plays his setup to the hilt, and the result is perfect for teens fond of wicked wit, wordplay, and stories that use the absurd to get at the serious.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

MacAdam/Cage Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.89(d)

Read an Excerpt

Letter one.
Sunday, July 23

Dear Cousin Tassie,

Thank you for the lovely postcards. I trust that you and Aunt Mittie had a pleasant trip, and that all your stateside friends and paternal relations are healthy and happy.

Much has happened during your one-month sojourn off-island. Perhaps your Village neighbors have apprised you. Or you may have glanced at one of the editions of The Island Tribune that have, no doubt, accumulated on your doorstep. However, I will make the safest assumption that you have yet to be offered the full account of certain crucial events of the last few days, (tucked away as you and your mother are in your quiet and rustic little corner of our island paradise) and inform you of the most critical facts pertaining to such events. You'll find it all, if nothing else, quite interesting.

On Monday, July 17, a most intriguing thing took place: one of the tiles from the top of the cenotaph at town center came loose and fell to the ground, shattering into a good many pieces. A young girl here, one Alice Butterworth, discovered the fallen tile at the base of the statue, carefully gathered up the bits and shards, and quickly conveyed them to the offices of the High Island Council. Tiny Alice delivered these fragments into the hands of Most Senior Gordon Willingham who promptly called an emergency meeting of that lofty body to glean purpose and design from this sudden and unexpected detachation. This aforementioned gleaning -- this is important. Many in town were in attendance at this critical meeting. Olive, whom the laundress corps elected to attend as our representative/observer, given the need for a nearly full contingent of workers at the launderette on this particular day, returned much later than expected to report the have-and-say of the lengthy session, specifically with regard to the aforementioned issue and question before the Council.

I must own that we were quite ataken by the Council's initial reaction to the incident, most of us regarding it as mere happenstance. The Council, on the other hand, sought with leapdash urgency to grasp sign and signal from the loss, and having offered themselves several possible explanations, retired with all dispatch to closed-door chambers for purpose of solemn debate and disposition. In so doing Most Senior Council Member Willingham and his four fellow counciliteurs left themselves scant room for the possibility that the tile fell simply because, after one hundred years, whatever fixant had been holding it in place, could simply no longer perform its function. This explanation seemed quite the logical one to me, as well as to my fellow laundresses, with the single exception of one Lydia Threadgate who holds the Council in bloated esteem due to a past bestowal of Council-beneficence, and who would not be dissuaded by a healthy dose of our dull-brass-and-pauper's-punch brand of logic.

However, in the end, our assessments and opinions counted for (and continue to count for) precious little, and we have kept our public speculation to a minimum for fear of government reprisal, so charged with distrust and suspicion have the esteemed island elders (and elderess) become following last year's unfortunate visit by that predatory armada of land speculators from the States, harboring designs for turning our lovely, island Shangri-la into a denatured resort destination for American cruise ships.

With the Council in high conference for the succeeding forty-eight hours, the washboard brigade made at least two pilgrimages to town center, there to gaze up at the much revered cenotaph and its salt-wind-eroded statuary likeness of our most venerated Mr. Nevin Nollop -- the man for whom this island nation was lovingly named -- the man without whom this shifting slab of sand and palmetto would hold paltry placement in the annals of world history. We take significant pride here in town as you and your fellow villagers, no doubt, do as well, there in your green canopied hills to the north of us -- pride in the man and his legacy, such legacy immortalized in tiled bandiford on the crown of the pedestal upon which his sculpted semblance stands: T-H-E Q-U-I-C-K B-R-O-W-N F-O-X J-U-M-P-S O-V-E-R T-H-E L-A-Z-Y D-O-G. Of course, now, without the tile bearing the letter "z," the phrase "lazy dog" has become "la*y dog."

How different the world would be today if not for the sentence which the lexically-gifted Mr. Nollop issued forth! How we cherish his contribution to the English-speaking world of one short sentence that employs with minimal repetition each of the twenty-six letters of our alphabet!

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

For this, Mr. Nollop was deserving of nothing short of Nobel. He received, instead, as you must remember from Mrs. Calliope's island history class, little recognition beyond these familiar shores. Yet remember that here we made up for the lack of global acclaim by honoring him with this imposing statue. And later the acclaim did come -- posthumously, alas -- but eventually and ultimately through the gratitude of the multypewritudes.

Pop volunteered to repair the tile and return it to its rightful place. His offer was summarily rejected. Rejected, as well, was an offer put forth by members of the Masons Guild to restore the entire monument to its former polished sheen and fettle, such restoration to include the careful removal and refastening of each of the thirty-four remaining century-old tiles. But along these lines the Council would entertain no offers or suggestions whatsoever. In the words of Councilmistress La Greer Houston, "There was, without doubt, purpose to the tumble: this event constituting, in my belief, a terrestrial manifestation of Mr. Nollop's wishes. Mr. Nevin Nollop speaks to us from beyond the grave, my fellow Nollopians. We will listen with open ears, discern his intent, and follow those wishes accordingly."

On Wednesday, July 19, the Council, having gleaned and discerned, released its official verdict: the fall of the tile bearing the letter "z" constitutes the terrestrial manifestation of an empyrean Nollopian desire, that desire most surely being that the letter "z" should be utterly excised -- fully extirpated -- absolutively heave-ho'ed from our communal vocabulary!

Henceforth, use of the arguably superfluous twenty-sixth letter will be outlawed from all island speech and graphy. It appears that this is how Mr. Nollop chooses to reward the islanders who drew him and his brilliance to their collective bosom: by issuing this directive, by sitting fully upright upon his bier, as it were, and ordering us to communicate using only the twenty-five letters that remain.

And we, as his grateful servants (serving the memory of his greatness) have been called by High Council to obey. Under penalties to be determined by the aforementioned Council.

On Friday, July 21, those penalties were decided. They are as follows: to speak or write any word containing the letter "z," or to be found in possession of any written communication containing this letter, one will receive for a first offense, a public oral reprimand either by a member of the island Law Enforcement Brigade (known with trembling affection as the L.E.B.) or by member of its civilian-auxiliary. Second offenders will be offered choice between the corporal pain of body-flogging and the public humiliation of headstock upon the public square (or in your case, the village commons). For third offense, violators will be banished from the island. Refusal to leave upon order of Council will result in death.


My dear Cousin Tassie, I could not believe what I heard -- still cannot -- yet it is all frighteningly true. Would that itty Alice had taken the crumbles of that terrible tile under cover of darkness to one of our masons and had it reassembled and refastened, without anyone being the wiser!

And yet, truly, there are moments -- brief moments -- in which I entertain the thought that perhaps there may exist some thin thread of likelihood that the Council may have correctly read the event. That as ludicrous, as preposterous as it seems, the fallen tile may indeed be communication from our most honored and revered Mr. Nollop. Nevin Nollop may, in fact, be telling us exactly what the Council singularly believes (for I understand the five members to be clearly of one mind in their belief). That having absented himself from the lives of his fellow islanders for lo these one hundred and seven years, the Great Nollop now rouses himself briefly from his eternal snooze to examine our language and our employment of it, and in so doing rouses us from our own sleepy complacency by taking this only marginally important letter from us. There is that very real, although admittedly microscopic, possibility, my dear cousin. For, with the exception of the use of the letter in reference to itself and its employment in the word "lazy" affixed in permanence to its partner "dog," I have, in scanning the text of my epistle to you thus far, discovered only three merest of uses: in the words "gaze," "immortalized," and "snooze." Would you have lost my meaning should I have chosen to make the substitutions, "looked," "posteritified" and "sleep"? What, my dearest Tassie, have we then lost? Very little. And please note that a new word would have been gained (posteritified) in the process! Perhaps I may actually grow to embrace this challenge as others, no doubt, are preparing to do themselves.

The edict is to take effect at the moment of midnight cusp on August 7/8. In the days remaining we are permitted to zip, zap and zoop to our blessed hearts' content. Mum, Pop and I are planning a party that evening to bid farewell to this funny little letter. I wish so much that you and Aunt Mittie could be in attendance. We will welcome in a new era. What it holds for us, I do not know, but I shall give this thing the benefit of cautious initial fealty. I leave open the slim possibility that Nollop does indeed wish it so.

With love,
Cousin Ella

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Ella Minnow Pea 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 126 reviews.
lovinstories More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a funny and intriging book that reminded me of the importance of language. It is a very quick read(I finished it in two days) and really easy to get into. The story is told through a series of letters between two cousins. One lives in the city, one in the outskirts. Increasingly, their communication becomes more difficult as more letters are banned. The governing body, with their intimidation tactics and lack of reason reminds me of our current congress.
CoffeeKnitRead More than 1 year ago
This is a great, fun, amusing, and educational book. Good on so many levels. It apparently has great graphics when read on paper, but even a Nook Color doesn't display them. So the book gets 4****, but the Nook version only gets 1*. If you enjoyed The Guernssey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you'll enjoy this book, too. Some of the same structure (written in the form of letters). No actual Nazis here, but a similar mindset among people in power.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea is a fantastic novel about the struggle to try to live with out being able to use every letter of the alphabet. Mark Dunn is able to pull off a fantastic book that is written only in letters from one person to another.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased this for my daughter as it came recommended from a friend of hers. She said by the end of the book, "her brain hurt" but it was a really good book! I am looking forward to reading it next!
literatissima More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel set on a quaint little island called Nollop, off the Carolina coast of the United States. The island is thusly named Nollop after Nevin Nollop, who was the creator of the sentence: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." This is the shortest sentence known to include all letters of the alphabet. The other thing one needs to know is that the chief form of communication on the island is through letter-writing. Thanks to some over-zealous government officials and the decaying monument dedicated to Nollop, it becomes forbidden to use certain letters in the written or verbal form. This is a very quick, witty read and I certainly appreciate all of the lengths the author (and quite possibly editors) went to in order to align the writing with the events of the storyline.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A highly creative and very enjoyable read. Yes, the climax happens first and we learn how the villagers life change via letters written back and forth between the people. This story can be read and merely enjoyed but it can also be read at a deeper level about government decisions & how it affects people.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This little fable is a joy to read. Although I cannot help but feel that it was written from back to front. That is, the sublime sentence in the climax came first, and all else precedes from there. The use, misuse, and invention of language is a hoot as we are treated to a fable about political correctness and individual responsibility.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is a book that when you read it you hate it, but in the end you love it. The reason is for the straightforward way it presents a look at the world around you. Though I do not live in Nollop, I can see similarities to conditions there to the world around me. The book is strong and shocking, and will change the way you look at the language you speak and the world around you.
DC18 More than 1 year ago
This was a fun little book. By the end of the book as the characters are trying to find a shorter phrase that uses all 26 letters, I started to try to think them up my head as well. As less and less letters are useable and the townsfolk become creative with their word choice and phonetic spellings it goes from amusing and clever to head-spinning. It just goes to show what happens sometimes when people follow blind faith and is also a testament to the power of language.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was so different that I more than enjoyed the story. I get sick of reading the same types of basic stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr. Dunn, this book is a work of genius, or the work of Neville Nollop, "the founder of the feast". The quick brown fox...we all know the story. But what happens to the island of Nollop as the foynder's statue starts l*sing *etters? Only in the end a book only a dyslexic can love. Mr. Dunn...it ain't no fun. It gave me a headache, but now it is done
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sits down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A nine moon ol apprentice padde in. May i be medcat apprentice? She is pure white with stunning ice blue eyes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(Did i miss my ceremony?)he walks out to hunt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
They padded in. Eaglefeather went and climbed a tree while Flamewhisker sat in the shade
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought it was cleverly written, tapping into the idea of the power just a few people can have in social situations. There was an element of mystery with urgency that needed to be solved under great duress. The choice of words used are extra creative & melodious.
MDIRunner More than 1 year ago
I read this book at the suggestion of a friend. I LOVED it! Imagine a literate nation receiving orders from a long-deceased revered citizen - and those orders are to stop using some of the letters in their alphabet!! The book is a look at leadership gone awry, the response of citizens to the orders of the leadership, how specific events can be interpreted in different ways, and what happens to a culture that is stressed by changes in its foundation. There are so many ways in which the book is a story of our world today - and it is highly entertaining at the same time. READ THIS BOOK!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fantastic read! A cautionary tale about blind obedience that all should read!