Dear Elsa by Marco Fraticelli

Dear Elsa by Marco Fraticelli is a YA novel in the form of email exchanges. Two kids in grade 5 are paired as part of a pen pal program between schools in Toronto, Ontario and Boston, Massachusetts. The author taught that age group for decades so has a feel for the sort of communication and maturity of the age group. The exchanges come across as authentic and moving.

Through a year of letters, the young Canadian boy and the American girl (1/4 year older, she boasts), share little snippets of each other’s lives and forge a genuine friendship at a distance. We learn in real time, in the way we can with pen pals or people through the peephole of online, structural facts after we already meet the inner personality. 

The theme running through the book is connecting and disconnection through life’s changes.

The theme running through the book is connecting and disconnection through life’s changes. In Elsa’s case her parents have recently split up. In Leo’s case, he and his parents have recently moved from a house and yard in Montreal in a French environment to an apartment in English Ontario. 

As they unveil their lives to each other in increased trust we see their different shapes of family and ways to have childhoods. They both play musical instruments and play chess. They relate and sometimes fall out. They are learning how to navigate relationships with each other, how to be a good friend and negotiate boundaries and rules imposed on them by the adults. They exchange news and jokes, follow up questions and nicknames, as well as the ups and downs of Leo’s challenges at school. The B-plot, if you will, is that Leo finds he can communicate his heart through haiku, a form he is learning in school and he shares what he knows as he learns it. 

They both play musical instruments and play chess. They relate and sometimes fall out. They are learning how to navigate relationships with each other, of how to be a good friend and negotiate boundaries and rules imposed on them by the adults.

The author is one of the foremost haikuists in Canada with several collections dating back decades, and is a regular presenter at national haiku conferences. The back of the book provides a guide to writing haiku that was given to Leo, as well as an interview with the author. 

Although the book is for young adults, I enjoyed it myself, as an adult. At 240 pages it was a couple days of enjoyable, interesting reading. I could see it used in classrooms or as general kids’ summer read.

Marco Fraticelli is an award-winning poet from Montreal who spent almost 50 years teaching Grade 5. This is his first children’s book.

Publisher: Red Deer Press (May 17, 2023)
Trade Paperback 5.4″ x 7″ | 240 pages
ISBN: 9780889956865

Honorable Mention for the 2024 Marianne Bluger Award!

 -- Website

Pearl Pirie's WriteBulb is now available at the Apple store. A prompt app for iOS 15 and up gives writing achievement badges. Pirie’s 4th poetry collection was footlights (Radiant Press, 2020).  rain’s small gestures(Apt 9 Press, 2021), minimalist poems, won the 2022 Nelson Ball Prize. Forthcoming chapbooks from Catkin Press and Turret House. Find more at www.pearlpirie.com or at patreon.com/pearlpiriepoet

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