24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: September 2015

The Write Stuff: A Snail Mail Pathfinder


Handwritten correspondence. Snail mail. Post. Letters. With the advent of the Internet, snail mail may be a less common way to communicate, but it is in no way dead. Just as society continued to use letters post-telephone as a way of communicating, so it continues to do so now. Whether you’re writing a meaningful note to an old friend or starting a new friendship with a pen pal, you’ll find plenty of resources here to get you started. Items are divided by the following categories: History, Memoirs, & Prose (nonfiction about letter-writing and the experiences of letter-writers), Collections (collected letters written by individuals both famous and unknown), Ideas & DIY (crafty ways to have a little fun with your correspondence), and Pen Pal Resources (how-to’s, where to find pen pals, and other tidbits). Some items may be cross-listed and noted with an asterisk (*). Electronic materials will be noted with a double asterisk (**). Items are listed in alphabetical order by title. When available, links to items for purchase will be presented. This is not to advocate for or endorse any one store or brand over another, but to offer some of the many available options. Materials listed are appropriate for teens and adults. Questions? Leave them in the comments of this resource guide and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

This pathfinder was created as an assignment for INFO 210-10 (3U), for the Reference and Information Services course at San José State University in Fall 2015.

About the Creator

Abby Hargreaves is a student in San José State University’s Master of Library and Information Science program. She plans to graduate in May 2016 and looks forward to a career in a public library, working with teens and adults in reference and programming services. Abby lives, reads, and writes in Arlington, Virginia. She has three pen pals and regularly corresponds with other individuals in her life.


Want to know about real people writing real letters for the love of mail? Here, you’ll find some excellent options for just that topic. Discover the benefits, feats, and connective power of snail mail.


collectionsCurious about what famous individuals such as C.S. Lewis were writing their friends and acquaintances about? Or maybe you’re more interested in the lives of children in the Great Depression’s Dust Bowl. Either way, you’ll find curated collections of real letters in the titles below.


ideasdiyYou’re committed to writing, but what to write? This section will guide you on your way to fun and meaningful missives with plenty of ideas on not only what to write about, but how to design it, and unusual items to send.


penpalsDon’t have a pen pal, but want one? Want to know shipping costs? Solutions to those problems and more below. Sites for finding pen pals are denoted with a caret (^). Letter writers should always use caution when engaging with pen-pal-finding services and are responsible for their use of any of the listed sites.



Want to know about letter-writing and pen pal relationships in the news? Check out some of these articles below.

Abby Reads: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Vintage, 2004, 447 pages

The Devil in the White City focuses on the White City of the title, the World’s Fair in Chicago, 1893. Larson documents the many challenges architects, builders, and politicians faced during the construction of the World’s Fair as Chicago celebrated the 200th anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas. The draw of the book for many, and the supposed subject given the title, is H. H. Holmes, the man considered to be the first American serial killer. Known by many other names in pursuit of insurance fraud, Holmes built a hotel outside the World’s Fair with the intent of using it as a castle of murder. While Holmes murdered his many wives, associates, and hotel guests, the Fair went on. There, the invention and introduction of many things still in existence today, such as Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jack, and the Ferris Wheel, delighted and amazed visitors of the World’s Fair.

Larson, a famed nonfiction author, quite obviously put painstaking research into this work. With regular use of direct quotes from the characters who inhabited these real events, Larson brings the people of the past to life. The quotes, Larson notes, come from primary source material, allowing readers to be sure the words quoted within are reflective of their speakers and the situations.  Providing primary source quotes, Larson lends a fictional voice to the book, which many readers have appreciated in his storytelling.

While the quotes add to the fictional feeling of the book, I tended to disagree with this assessment in general. Overall, the book didn’t read terribly like fiction to me. Sections came close, though in his notes, Larson admits that those sections are largely embellished by educated speculation. The fictional tone falls short as Larson doesn’t adhere to a linear story and is unable to successfully ie Holmes’ story together with the building of the World’s Fair. Another sidestep into the assassination of an elected official does little to glue the pieces together.  The slow pace of Larson’s prose does more to disconnect these stories.

If you’re going into The Devil in the White City expecting the subject of the title, the Devil, to be the focus, you’ll be disappointed. The majority of text focuses on the White City and the men who brought it to life. This is, in part, due to how little information is available on Holmes and his Murder Castle. The wealth of information on the White City, however, provides enough intrigue to hold your attention otherwise and leads the reader through a vivid painting of life in the early 1890s of Chicago.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Out and About: National Book Festival ’15: What It Taught Me about Youth and Literature

I have the great privilege of living in the greater Washington D.C. area, which provides me with many spectacular opportunities, not the least of which being the annual National Book Festival. Completing its fifteenth run today (as of four minutes ago, in fact), the National Book Festival brings together authors and their readers. This year, authors included astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Today meteorologist (and did-you-know mystery writer?) Al Roker, popular biographer David McCullough, television journalist Tom Brokaw, We Need Diverse Books co-founder Ellen Oh, YA author Jenny Han, and current U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera among many, many others.


Courtesy of PhotoPin

But there was one group of authors who were not listed by name in the program. Students in fifth and sixth grade (and one high school student) had the opportunity to present their winning essays to a crowd of a few hundred during the Letters about Literature/a Book that Shaped Me awards ceremony. As my boyfriend pointed out, there was little point in watching the ceremony — we neither knew any of the kids who won nor have children of our own (except for Oopsilon, of course). However, I was interested in seeing books from the perspective of the population I’m most interested in serving: youth. The perspectives I was treated to today are, arguably, atypical. These essays were, after all, award-winning. I didn’t let that deter me. I still saw a shining nugget of value in this session and so we got in line until the pavilion was open and ready for a new audience.

Gabriel Ferris, the fifteen-year-old winner of Letters about Literature, chose to write a letter to biographer Walter Isaacson regarding Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs. Ferris’ insight to Isaacson’s writing and Jobs’ life is astounding. His letter-essay, which can be read here, discusses the cost at which Jobs achieved his success and the mistake many fans make in their desire to emulate Jobs. While I haven’t read this particular biography, I can’t say that I would have picked up on this poignant understanding. I tend to read biographies as factual pieces of information that don’t necessarily require thought-provoking or critical considerations. Isaacson, who was present at the reading of the essay, responded to Ferris and his letter live on stage. He clearly appreciated Ferris’ interpretation and that Ferris took the opportunity to ask questions about the book and Jobs to himself. Isaacson noted that many adult readers did not achieve this level of reading and, instead, read the book and come away with a greater determination to become the next Jobs, despite the extreme personal costs.

Later, younger students took the stage to read essays on books that shaped them. As fifth and sixth graders, these students spoke on difficult topics such as loneliness and genocide. One essayist described her grandmother’s escape from horrors in Ethiopia, discussing the injustices in a calm and mature voice. The essayist’s efforts to go beyond the text of the book which meant so much to her and interview her grandmother about the experiences of her grandmother and ancestors shows a dedication to a topic many adults prefer to avoid. Her own history and that of her people became an important piece of her own identity thanks, in part, to a piece of children’s fiction. Another young runner-up talked about how Harry Potter helped her cope with a number of personal struggles as a method of escapism, of instruction, and of commonality between herself and her peers as she encountered the difficulties of making new friends.

We too-often imagine people younger than ourselves to be less-smart versions of ourselves. We imagine them to be unworldly and unwise. We do ourselves a grave disservice in believing these lies. Children and young adults are far wiser than we give them credit for. We must, as John Green often advises his readers and viewers, try to imagine people complexly, those who are younger than ourselves included and, perhaps, especially.

As library professionals, imagining youth patrons as lesser-than in one way or another or one-dimensional, we fall short in providing meaningful services and materials. The solution is to let younger patrons lead the way. Encourage them to become involved in their own futures at the library. This can be done in small and large ways — from picking which books that are to be featured during story time to doing the bulk of planning for an upcoming program. Youth members of the community have the intellectual tools to make these impacts and so many more if we only give them the opportunity.

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