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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Posted by Irish in Uncategorized5 Comments

Source: Library
Publication Date: 01 Oct 2001
Series or Standalone: Standalone
ISBN: 0967370167
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 205
Mark Dunn – Official Site
Mark Dunn – Blog
Mark Dunn – Twitter
Place(s) Traveled to: The island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
First Line: Nollopton. Sunday, July 23. Dear Cousin Tassie, Thank you for the lovely postcards.
I read this book back in 2002 and I recall stumbling across it in the library and thought that it sounded interesting. It was different and sounded fun and I enjoyed reading it. his book made me laugh out loud…and by the end had me reading out loud in order to figure out what was being said. Because as more and more letters were banned from use it became harder and harder to read. It was entertaining as well as a little frightening. The premise of Ella Minnow Pea is simple. The island of Nollop is a community filled with those who love letters and think that the phrase “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” because it is a pangram. Which means that it uses all the letters in the alphabet and so for the residents of Nollop is pretty much perfect.
They love this sentence so much they have a huge monument to it in the center of town. So when one day a letter falls off, the residents are thrown into a panic. The powers that be then decide that it is an act of god (or some other higher power) and that they should no long use that letter. And they make laws forbidding it from use in speech or print. Which isn’t so bad when its just one or two letters, but as more and more letters start to fall well life on the island of Nollop starts to get more and more difficult.
On its surface Ella Minnow Pea is a fun and quirky novel but at its core I think that this book is a great look into censorship. It highlights just how easy it is to lose freedoms and not even realize what is happening until its too late. For initially, you think ‘oh losing the letter a, that’s not a big deal….but then you start to realize just how often you actually use that letter…then when another letter is lost and another and another….communication gets harder and harder.
Change the letters for people’s rights and it gets even more scary….and dire thoughts of things like concentration camps spring to mind. When Hitler was first coming into power he wasn’t seen as the evil person that the world views him as today. He was a savior, breaking Germany from vice grip that the world powers had put it under for the country’s role in World War I. Just as it took time for the letters to fall in Nollop, Hitler’s grand plan was slow in coming to light. He started with small things, small ideas that over time became huge and so very horrific. After all what is the harm in wearing a star to say that you are Jewish or gay. Its really not that big a deal, right? But then once people had submitted to that small thing, it wasn’t long before businesses run by those who were marked where shunned, then closed. Life long friendships became a liability and soon it kinda made sense to just sweep up these people into ghettos….and then to the camps. Didn’t it? 
Its easy sitting here to say that the people of Germany should have known all along what Hitler was up to. But we didn’t live back then. We didn’t hear his speeches or fall under his spell. If Hitler had come out from the start and said that his plan was to try and exterminate all those who were Jewish, gay or opposed his regime then yes the people of Germany would have stood up and said no. But he didn’t do that. He took his time, made a small law here….a simple request there….and it was over time that the big picture was revealed. But by then it became harder and harder to stop.
The people of Nollop were a bit like the people of Germany. At first it didn’t seem like such a big deal to stop using one letter. There were 25 of letters in the alphabet after all. That is censorship in a nutshell. The suppression of one voice, one book, one civil liberty which then can lead to another and another if there is no one to speak up and say no. If the people of Nollop, stood up and said no I will no stop using the letter a that is a ridiculous idea then the other 25 letters would not have been banned. If enough people had stood up to Hitler in those early days, then maybe, just maybe the Holocaust would not have happened. Censorship while it seems small on the surface is a very big, very scary thing when you step back and look the larger picture.
Ella Minnow Pea was an educational and eye-opening read. It teaches a powerful message in a simple and entertaining way. This is one of those books that has stayed with me long after I read it.  Its a book that made me stop to think. Really think about what I had just read. When I first closed the book I laughed and thought wow that was entertaining. Then the more I thought about it the more I realized that Ella Minnow Pea was more than the words that made it up. It was an idea so powerful that even years later I still think back on it in awe. How many books can you say that about? Ella Minnow Pea is a short book and a quick read. But its contents….its contents are far bigger then the number of its pages. Its message is a powerful one and one that I think everyone should read. Especially those who think that its no big deal to ban book x or to say that person y can’t speak at an event. Censorship should never be taken lightly. As Evenlyn Beatrice Hall so eloquently said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

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Note: I originally read this book in 2002 and this review is an expanded version I wrote on my LibraryThing account. I bring it up today because Pam over at Bookalicious is dedicating a week on her blog to censorship and what it means to various bloggers, including myself. My post went up today on her blog. So please stop over there and take a look at it and while there why not look around at some of the other great posts that people have been writing.

5 Responses to “Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn”

  1. Word Lily

    I absolutely love this book, one of the few I’ve re-read (multiple times, even!) in recent years. Like you, I love the word/language aspects of it, but I also love its warning.