“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.”

In a series of letters back and forth between two cousins – Ella and Tassie – we are introduced to a most confusing and interesting situation unfolding on the island of Nollop.  This small island was named after the man who came up with that icon of a sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  In the center of the sovereign nation of a tiny island stands a monument with the phrase mounted upon it, and the residents are dismayed as one by one the letters begin to fall off the plaque they are placed on.  As each letter drops, the ruling council is of the opinion that the will of Nollop is deciding to strike the letter from existence.  Therefore, the residents are steadily deprived of the use of each consonant and vowel as it tumbles and shatters.  If they use the forbidden letters, the consequences grow ever more grave, culminating in banishment or death.  Tassie and Ella, along with a small underground group of rebels have come up with a plan to save the letters of their small town and country, if they can manage it in time.

The supremely creative aspect of this book is the correspondence itself.  Each letter taken away is banned on the island, therefore the writers of these (very) public and censored missives can no longer use them, so the author has placed the same restrictions on himself.  Therefore, when the letter Z is forbidden, the letter Z no longer appears in any of the ladies’ correspondence.  Which may seem quite simple until you lose letters such as I, S, H, and D.  And especially when one’s name includes some of the forbidden letters.

The story itself is quite simple and the characters only alive through their written letters, but the concept itself is engaging enough to warrant a read.  Also, it stretches your brain to consider the possibilities of not having each and every one of our 26 letters at your disposal.  As each letter is dropped from their usage, the writers must find other words to substitute or simplify and still communicate what they wish.  Utter creativity is required from both the author and the reader, challenging both simultaneously.  Any book lover or writer should definitely dive into this book.

“Ella Minnow Pea” was written by Mark Dunn and published in 2001.

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