Familial City: Secret Letters from 0 to 10

Secret Letters From 0 To 10 (Puffin Books)Susie Morgenstern's Secret Letters from 0 to 10 is a delightfully quirky book filled with interesting and appealing characters who will charm their way into your heart. Young Ernest has lost his mother and his father has been missing since he was one day old. He lives a very quiet life with his grandmother and their housekeeper who won't let them eat fat, meat or sugar (Heeeellllo! This is France. Food is All.). Enter the chatty Victoria, sister to 13 brothers. Victoria befriends Ernest and through her and her family, he is introduced to a world of yummy foods, grocery stores, movies and the telephone. Even his grandmother ventures outside. When Ernest sees his father's name on a history book he musters up the courage and writes to him, with wonderful results.

Morgenstern's book won numerous French literature awards, and rightfully so. Morgenstern's writing style appears at first to be quiet and deliberate, but she sucks you in with Victoria's honest vivacious gabbing contrasted with the gentle direct observations made in Ernest's... well, earnest...  voice as he discovers how interesting life can be.  To give you a taste, here are some of my favorites:
Ernest looked carefully at this woman who had spent ten and a half years of her life pregnant, had had fourteen babies (maybe a world record), and despite it all seemed perfectly normal.
If someone invites you, go right ahead! For what could be more incredible, fascinating and amazing than another human being?
How could he be holding a baby? This was impossible. But just then he felt something funny. He felt a smile come across his face, stretching his mouth from ear to ear. ... Ernest had never been hugged before. This truly was seventh heaven.
After I read this book I realized that, despite being listed under Paris (France) -- Fiction in the card catalog, Paris might never have been mentioned at all, although the book oozes Frenchness especially by way of the food -- the kids go home from school to have a leisurely lunch (beef fondue!), Ernest writes an essay about trying couscous for the first time, and he discovers that fat and white flour croissants are not the enemy. There is really not a lot of emphasis placed on the City, except that it is a backdrop for Ernest's discoveries. The families live in apartment buildings, climbing numerous stairs to reach their homes. With Victoria, Ernest feels "daring, like an urban hunter, an explorer in his own neighborhood, almost a hero."

But you don't need to love the city, to enjoy Secret Letters from 0 to 10. In fact, I'm not sure how anyone could help but love this book.  It would make a great read aloud for kids about ages 6/7 and up, or a read alone for kids ages 9 to 109. 

Want More?
Visit the author's website.  Morgenstern lives in France, writes in French, but is originally from Newark(!). She did not do the translation, however.
Read another review (focus on the food!) at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.
Someone made a very strange little you tube video with Legos for their book report. You will probably only understand it after you read the book.


learning ALL the time!!/Susan said...

This book really sounds great...thanks for sharing it!

Raising a Happy Child said...

Very interesting. I filed it under "for later". I have never personally known the family with so many kids!

Callie said...

I'm sold. This book sounds fantastic. I love that how the city is not specifically mentioned, but it's presence is still a huge part of the book. This sounds like the kind of book I better read with a good pastry and a glass of wine!

Even in Australia said...

I loved it! But my daughter's not quite ready for it... I'm looking forward to when she is.

Caryl said...

I just came across your blog through the Comment Challenge, and I was so pleased to find your list & reviews of Paris books! I read this one several years ago and loved it. I read The Book of Coupons around the same time with my daughter; we both thought it was sweet and unique. I spent my junior in Nantes, France, and actually pictured Secret Letters happening there, but it looks like the Eiffel Tower is on the cover... It's such a sweet book, and I've meant to see if I could find some Morgenstern in French to try!

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