Letters to Leo
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
List Price: $14.99*
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The joys and trials of fourth grade - and of life with her father now that her mother is gone - play out in charming letters from Annie to her dog, Leo.
Annie Rossi never, ever thought her father would let her have a dog. But now that he’s finally given in, she’s found the perfect ear for the stories of her day. She just writes them in a notebook hidden under the bed and reads them to Leo in her soft night voice, like the one her mother used when reading to Annie at bedtime before she died. And Annie sure has a million stories to tell! There’s mean Edward, who brags about his "noble goldfish" and gets her in trouble for accidentally lobbing a volleyball into his nose. There’s her best friend, Jean-Marie, who ups and moves to New Jersey (and wants to borrow Leo for company!). There’s the poem Annie writes about her mom, which Miss Meadows asks her to read for the class. And there’s her professor dad, who is finally coming out of his shell, even though he is an elderly forty-year-old with a serious personality. Genuine and funny, Amy Hest’s first-person narration revisits a winning young character as she takes on a new year — and a new dog — with humor, honesty, and resiliency.
"I grew up in a small suburban community about an hour from New York City. My favorite things were biking, reading, and spying. I spied on everyone, and still do. Coffee shops, I find, make an excellent backdrop for this particular activity. I may look like I'm minding my own business, sipping coffee, eating a cheese Danish, but in fact I am really doing spy work. Listening to conversations at the tables nearby. Watching to see who is saying what to whom. I am amazingly discreet for someone who never went to spy school. As I pick up bits and pieces of true life stories, I quietly weave in my own ideas, creating new stories with my very own endings. Spy work is a lot of fun.
"My parents took me to the city often. I loved the commotion and whirl on the streets and the screeching subway underground. I loved the hot dogs and crunchy doughnuts at Chock Full 0' Nuts, and the way mustard came on a tiny rippled paper. By the time I was seven, I was certain of one thing: that I would one day live in New York. Many years later, after graduating from library school, I moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and I live here still, with my husband and two children, Sam and Kate.
"I was a lucky child, really. I was so close with my grandparents, it was as if I had two sets of parents all the time I was growing up. They lived in New York but came out to our house on weekends. Fridays, Nana cooked up a storm and arrived laden with shopping bags filled with homemade Jewish delicacies. She lit Sabbath candles and told wonderful family stories. I was privy to the best gossip.
"Grampa and I played checkers. We took earlymorning walks. My goal: to get out of the house before my brother woke up, to be alone for once with Grampa. Destination: hot chocolate and a buttered roll.
"I suppose I have to tell the truth about the kind of child I was. The best word to describe me: boring. I never once did anything extraordinarily wonderful or extraordinarily terrible. I knew in my heart I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, but there was this nasty little voice in the back of my head, and it was laughing at me. "You must be kidding, Amy! Why in the world would anyone want to read what you write? Remember who you are: the most boring person in the universe. Nothing ever happens to you. What nerve you have, thinking you can do something wonderful and clever like write."
"I worked for several years as a children's librarian and, later, in the children's book departments of several major publishing houses. I had a lot of good jobs. I had a secret, too. I wanted to write. And what I wanted to write, always, was children's books. it took me a long time to get over a kind of fear of writing, to start to believe I could do it. it took me a long time to realize all those boring days of my childhood may not have been so empty after all.
"My books are about real people-often people in my own family, with new names hut familiar personality traits. The setting is more often than not New York City. Family, home. Running themes in my life, and in my stories, too."
The hardest question for Julia Denos to answer is "What is your favorite color?" She has illustrated several children's books, including Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn, Dotty by Erica S. Perl, Grandma's Gloves by Cecil Castellucci, and Letters to Leo by Amy Hest. This is the first book she has written and illustrated. Julia lives in Boston.