Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review: Letters To Leo by Amy Hest; illustrated by Julia Denos

Exuberant, opinionated Annie writes letters to her new dog Leo, that her father has allowed her to keep, despite his aversion to dogs. Through Annie's letters, which function as a diary of sorts, we see life through a fourth-grade girl's eyes. We learn that her mother died when she was very young, her father is apparantly worry-prone, and she's not liking fourth grade and her unsympathetic teacher (to whom she privately assigns some less than flattering nick-names). She longs to be back in third grade with her beloved teacher, Miss Meadows.

The charmingly simple pencil drawings by Julia Denos are a perfect pairing with the story, making it feel very age authentic.

Letters to Leo is a cute and sometimes quirky story, and a little irritating to this adult who is obviously not it's intended audience. It is an easy, quick read and not very challenging in terms of vocabulary. I personally found the idea of a ten-year-old writing letters to her dog a little too "precious". Annie herself is a tad irritating to me, but then again, so is my nine-year-old daughter when she exhibits some of the same traits. For example, Annie calls herself cheerful, but spends much of her letter-writing complaining and whining, which unfortunately I found very authentic, speaking as the mother of an endlessly complaining nine-year-old daughter. (Oops, did I say that? Not "endlessly" darling, just sometimes!)
Funny, a bit snide, there is much that kids (and adults) can relate to in Annie and her everyday struggles.

I wanted to see how my own daughters would respond to the book, so I asked them if they would read it. They both agreed. I didn't tell them anything about the book other than the fact it is about a girl roughly their age, writing letters to her dog. (Olivia was, at first, reluctant because of the orange cover. She hates the color orange. There's a nine-year-old for you. Oh, she's going to hate me!)

Olivia's take on the book:
"It was okay for an orange book. They really need to fix that! Annie was funny (I mean amusing, not odd) and she made me laugh. She's one of those girls who doesn't like school, so she complains a lot about it. I like dogs and I thought it would be more about Leo, but he really doesn't play a very big role, other than as an annoyance to Annie's father. I thought it was odd that she'd be writing to her dog, though. Isn't she a little old for that kind of thing?  And her writing instruction books for her dog? What is she...six? Hello, dogs can't read! And I never could figure out if Jean-Marie was her friend or not, even though Annie called her her best friend. She didn't act like Jean-Marie was her best friend. I liked the way she tries to get her Dad to fall in love just so she can get a baby sister (or brother.) THAT was funny."

Karina's take on the book:
"When it [the book] was funny, it was FUNNY! But it was sometimes boring, because she kept going on and on about school and all the bad things that happened to her. I liked it, but I wouldn't want to read it again. Can we get a dog?"

So there you have it: three opinions about Letters to Leo!

Amy Hest also wrote When Jessie Came Across the Sea (Illustrated by P.J. Lynch), a picture book we love.

Book published in March 2012 by Candlewick.
Review copy borrowed from library.


  1. I love reading your daughters' opinions of the books. Last week I was looking at this very book on the library shelf wondering if I should check it out.

    1. My girls were excited to read your comment. Thank you. It won't take you long to read it, if you decide to check it out.