Annie lives with her dad and her new dog, Leo, whom her father has allowed her to keep despite the fact that he is not fond of dogs. From the moment Leo arrives, Annie writes letters to him, first about his welcome into the family and the behaviors he will need to learn, but later about everything on her mind, including her strict new teacher, her former beloved teacher, and her newfound interest in poetry.
As much as I enjoyed this sweet story, I’ll be the first to admit that not much about it is terribly new. Parents who don’t like dogs appear in lots of kids’ stories, as do deceased mothers, parent/teacher romances, strict teachers contrasted with kind ones, and classroom visits from authors. A few little embellishments here and there make the story Annie’s own, but I found myself easily predicting various plot points based on having heard these plot lines a million times before.
I do think the letters are a nice touch, and they provide a lot of nice insight into Annie’s mind, and into her fondness for her dog. I was also glad to discover that this isn’t a sad dead dog story, or a maudlin tale about the loss of Annie’s mother. Rather, it’s a cheerful celebration of one girl’s friendship with her dog, which dog lovers and and fans of diary-style books will eat up.
Overall, though, what I love about this book are its illustrations. They are done by the extremely talented Julia Denos, who has also illustrated the Sleepover Squad series, and who did the cover art for My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer and Lexie, as well as the most recent editions of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series, and Hilary McKay’s Casson family series. Her drawing of Annie on the front cover of this book is what made me want to read it in the first place, and the pictures inside the book did not disappoint. Denos puts such lovely detail into faces and clothes, giving her characters a real sweetness and tween appeal. Some of her details - especially hands and clothing - remind me a little bit of the quirky, spunky style of Lauren Child, and others, such as the missing tooth in the little boy’s mouth in this illustration just make me feel such affection for the characters she depicts. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite illustrators, and this book contributed to my growing admiration for her work.
Great read-alikes for Letters to Leo include the Julia Gillian trilogy, the Katie Jordan books, and Because of Winn-Dixie.
I borrowed Letters to Leo from my local public library.