Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

So rarely does one come across something so original and innovative. Ella Minnow Pea and her beloved cousin Tassie live on the independent island nation of Nollop, just off the coast of North Carolina. Nollop is called thus in honor of Nevin Nollop (not backed up by Wikipedia-the name is probably made up), the supposed author of that famous pangram, The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, , which uses all the letters of the English language. A statue of the "almighty Nollop" stands in the Nollopton square, and has for 100 years, with the famous sentence affixed to it in tiles. But suddenly the tiles start to fall one by one. The Island Council has decided that the tiles falling is a sign from Nollop, who is telling them to strike these letters from every Nollopians' vocabulary. With this decree, things quickly spiral out of control. What can Ella do to save her society without the use of expression?

I loved the format of telling the story through letters, and really felt the struggle for words as more letters of the alphabet were banned with each chapter. A true picture of a dystopian society which becomes ever increasingly fanatical and oppressing, but Ella and her cousin Tassie remain voices of hope that they can make the madness end. A great example that big change can be brought by seemingly insignificant events, or from the unlikeliest of people. A big heart for my first completed book of the year-one I'll recommend to every lover of words!

Background information: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" is an English-language pangram, that is, a phrase that contains all of the letters of the alphabet. The earliest known appearance of the phrase is from The Michigan School Moderator, a journal that provided teachers with education-related news and suggestions for lessons. In an article titled "Interesting Notes" in the March 14, 1885 issue, the phrase is given as a suggestion for writing practice: "The following sentence makes a good copy for practice, as it contains every letter of the alphabet: 'A quick brown fox jumps over the very lazy dog.'

As the use of typewriters grew in the late 19th century, the phrase began appearing in typing and stenography lesson books as a practice sentence. By the turn of the 20th century, the phrase had become widely known. In the January 10, 1903, issue of Pitman's Phonetic Journal, it is referred to as "the well known memorized typing line embracing all the letters of the alphabet". Robert Baden-Powell's book Scouting for Boys (1908) uses the phrase as a practice sentence for signalling.

Other books you might like: The Giver by Lois Lowry (dystopian culture where no one sees colors), or The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (dystopian religious regime, where women are property)

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