Sunday, February 5, 2012

Secret letters from 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern

Everyone at some time in their life longs for the perfect friend - a friend who listens, who helps you unconditionally and who gives you the confidence to try new things. Victoria is this friend. Ten year-old Ernest is leading a strange life with his elderly grandmother, Precious, and an old lady called Germaine who comes in to cook and clean each day.

Ernest’s mother has died in childbirth and his father left when Ernest was just one day old and so he has been living all this time with his grandmother but because she has seen huge sadness in her own life she can only attend to his basic needs of food and shelter. There is no emotion in this austere flat in Paris. Life is about routines not real love and in addition time has stood still. There is no telephone, no television, no packaged food and Ernest is dressed like someone from another century. He is not even allowed to use the lift in his building and must climb 57 steps each afternoon after school.

All of this is turned upside down by the arrival of Victoria. She instantly “falls in love” with the handsome Ernest but more importantly she interprets so many aspects of his character correctly. In so many ways I wish she was my friend too! Victoria bounces into all their lives along with her madcap family of 13 boys and one girl.

Here are some things to think about. What would you do if you had never seen your father and then on your very first visit to a supermarket you see a book with his name on the cover? Several days later you see the man himself on television (one of the first programs you have ever seen) and finally a parcel of letters arrive from this father. Not just a small parcel – one letter for every day of your life so far.

Secret Letters from 0 to 10 was originally written and French and has received many awards. We have another book in our school library by Susie Morgenstern called A Book of Coupons – it is also a wonderful book. I give Secret Lesson from 0 to 10 a score of ten out of ten.

Finally I would like to show you the strength of this writing by sharing a few quotes

I have never been to a restaurant in my life. I have never been out on a Sunday. I have never eaten couscous. My grandmother has never been outside her apartment for as long as I have known her. It is a great day when a “never” is erased. But when three “nevers” are erased in one day and are replaced by three “first times”, that day is three times as great.”

Ernest eats the same bland food every day until Henrietta takes over from Germaine. “When Ernest arrived home for lunch, he was greeted by heavenly smells wafting through the door. Usually he wasn’t hungry, but today he followed his nose to the kitchen, where he wanted to plunge his entire head into the bubbling sauce.” You can read more about the food in this book here.

Ernest arrives home just as his grandmother has seen Ernest’s father on television (it has been newly installed by Henrietta). “Germs are contagious, and so are tears. Ernest flopped down beside his grandmother and sobbed as if he’d known how to all his life. They stayed there crying long enough to water the dried-up plains of their hearts.”

If you enjoy Secret Letters from 0 to 10 you should also look for Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Extra Credit by Andrew Clements, Granny Torrelli makes soup by Sharon Creech, Callie and the Prince by Sylvia Johnson, all the books about the Silk Family by Glenda Millard. Younger students might like to read Freddie the Frightened and the Wondrous Ms Wardrobe.

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