cover image The Long, Long Letter

The Long, Long Letter

Elizabeth Spurr. Hyperion Books, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0127-5

Not for the timid, this tall tale teasingly tests its audience's tolerance for wordplay. Through rain and sleet and dark of night, lonely Aunt Hetta stands vigil by her mailbox, which holds nothing but cobwebs (one of Catrow's typically eccentric spreads portrays her as a watchful hawk perched on the empty canister). Fortunately, Hetta's sister is busy writing to Hetta, composing a dispatch that fills several crates (""It was a long, long letter""). A sudden whirlwind rips the tops of the crates and scatters the pages (""It was an all-gone letter""). Months go by: ""It was a lone, lone Hetta."" Finally, a passing storm delivers the pages via ""air mail"" to their destination, blanketing Hetta and her yard, and Hetta becomes ""a ce-leb-ri-ty, instead of a non-entity."" Spurr's (The Gumdrop Tree) narrative offers a playful but bumpy ride. Even linguistic veterans will need several read-throughs to acquaint themselves with the loop-de-looping rhythms, and some devices, like the unnecessary hyphens in ""ce-leb-ri-ty,"" are used inconsistently, suggesting an experiment gone awry. Spurr's tongue-twisters, meanwhile, pose a formidable challenge (""Where was the missive from her sister? How could it have missed her?"")-happily, it's a type of challenge young readers love. Catrow's illustrations bubble with detail yet are not as studied as those in She's Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! A horse pulls a mail cart and postal rates are just 20 cents a pound, yet bulldozers shovel Hetta's ""blizzard"" of pages and a boy's toy sportscar rests on a lawn-his is a world as topsy-turvy as the text. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)