Amanda Pagan, Children's Librarian
June 22, 2020
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL)
Gertrude Berg sitting at desk. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID:psnypl_the_5469
When was the last time you wrote a letter by hand? When was the last time you received a handwritten letter?
In today’s fast-paced, tech-based world, letter writing can seem like an obsolete or quaint form of communication, but I’m here to assure you that it is still just as wonderful and rewarding as it's always been.
Much like photographs, letters capture a moment in time. They show us what the writer was thinking of, their emotions, and often what was going on in the world at that time. Handwriting is an extremely personal aspect of someone’s character and can offer a connection to the past. Imagine finding a letter from your great-great grandmother and realizing you both write your "g’s" the same way!
Historians spend a great deal of time trying to decipher the handwriting of the past in order to authenticate and translate ancient documents. Palaeography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting.
Penmanship and cursive used to be an important subject in grade school, but sadly they have fallen by the wayside in favor of computer-based writing. Many parents have taken it upon themselves to teach their children the art of cursive.
Letter-writing is a great activity to get your child excited both about snail mail and handwriting! Encourage them to send a letter to their best friend or favorite relative. If they really want to be creative, why not send a secret message using invisible ink or a secret code? What kid wouldn’t be excited about sending their best friend a super-secret message that only the two of them could understand?
If your child is interested in secret codes, Crayola has a simple online craft activity. For more information, be sure to browse our shelves and check Non-Fiction 652.8 for more books on secret codes!
If you have the time, why not send a thoughtful letter to a friend or relative? Don’t know how? Don’t worry! We’re here to help! Here are some things to keep in mind while letter-writing.
What to Write
Not every letter has to be an 8-page composition about the way of the world. You can send a simple 1-2 page note “Just to say hi!”. Other possible topics include:
- Just checking in
- Upcoming Holidays/Important dates
- A silly anecdote
- Thinking about you/Reminiscing
- You wouldn’t believe what happened today
If you are taking the trouble to send a handwritten note, you might as well take a moment to think about what exactly you are going to write on. Stationery can be a fun extension of your personality since there are so many options. Matching letter and envelope sets are fun, but you can also decorate your own paper and envelopes. If you want paper with a vintage look to it, why not experiment with tea staining? Or dyeing with other natural ingredients you can find at home?
Whether you choose fancy and formal monogrammed or romantic and whimsical stationery, the most important thing to remember is that your handwriting needs to be legible. Be careful with dark paper or stationary with big prints as standard black and blue ink might not show up against the underlying colors. In the example, the stationery on the left has a fun border with plenty of white space in the middle that is perfect for writing. The stationery on the right might make it difficult to see handwriting with its more prominent print.Also, be sure the address areas on the envelope are clear and legible as well.
The most important thing to remember about writing a letter: it needs to be legible.
Whether or not you are using cursive or block letters, your handwriting needs to be easily understood. If it has been a while since you last wrote by hand, then practice what you want to say on scrap paper until you are satisfied with it.
If you are not satisfied with your handwriting or it has been a while since you last used cursive, why not check out a workbook?
Handlettering and calligraphy are beautiful forms of writing that can really add some pizzazz to your letters and other crafts.
How to Actually Write a Letter:
- Be sure to write the date! Letters are time capsules after all.
- Your sender is bound to hold onto your letter as a keepsake, so be sure to put down when it was written.
Salutation.“Dear so-and-so” is the standard greeting for letters. There is nothing wrong with keeping things simple or jazzing it up with something unique!
- If you are writing a love letter, try using “To my Dearest” or “To my Love” to sound more romantic.
- Feel free to jazz up your greeting if you are writing to a close friend. For example, “To my Best Friend” or “To the Girl Who Ate All of the Pizza that One Time”.
- If you want to be quirky, try something like “Greetings from *insert place*”.
- The body.Start your letter a line below the greeting and make sure to indent so that the first paragraph is distinguishable. You can use your thumb as a measuring tool. Hold the left side to the edge of the paper and start on the edge of the right side of your thumb. Be sure to break up the content of your writing into paragraphs with indents to mark the breaks.It is standard to inquire about their health and wellness after the greeting, but you can really start your letter however you want.
- Valediction.When you are finished writing, take a moment to think about your valediction, or complimentary close. This is the part of the letter where you end with a phrase before signing your name. “Sincerely, *Insert name*” is the standard closing for letters, but there are tons of other options:
- Sincerely/Sincerely Yours
- Yours Truly/Yours Forever/Forever Yours
- XOXO (hugs and kisses)
- Regards/Warmest Regards
- Cordially/Cordially Yours
- End the letter by signing off your name. If you’d like to add a post-script, or P.S., you would place it under your name. A post-script can be something that you forgot to mention in the body of the letter or anything really.
- P.S. Did you know that nothing rhymes with silver, purple, or orange?
- P.S. I forgot to mention they named the baby Suzy.
Sending Your Letter
When sending mail, take the same care with your envelope that you would take with the letter itself. Make sure to write clearly and legibly. Try not to use excessively fancy cursive on the envelope as that might make it difficult for the post office to process it. Block letters work just fine.
- Put your name and address, the “return address”, in the upper left corner of the envelope.
- Your name
- Street Address
- Apartment number (if applicable). If you are sending to a private home then skip this.
- City, State Zipcode (only place the comma between the city and state.)
- So that it looks something like this
- (EX:Apartment Building) (EX:Private Home)
- Jane Smith Jane Smith
- 123 Main Street 123 Main Street
- Apt 1 Bronx, NY 12312
- Queens, NY 12312
- Write the receiver’s name and address in the center of the envelope.
- Their Name
- Street Address
- Apartment number (if applicable)
- City, State Zipcode
- So that it looks something like this:
- (EX: Apartment Building) (EX: Private Home)
- John Smith Joan Smith
- 321 Ocean Ave 321 Ocean Ave
- Apt 2 Staten Island, NY 12121
- Brooklyn, NY 12121
- Don’t forget to add a stamp! Just like with stationery, stamps are a great way to add a bit of flare to the letter. The price of stamps varies, so be sure to ask your mail carrier or clerk at the counter of your local post office. When in doubt, consult the United States Postal Service website. Make sure to place your stamp in the upper right corner.
- Now that you have addressed your envelope, be sure to seal it.If you are going for a vintage aesthetic, why not use a wax seal? If you don’t have any handy, try stickers! Or maybe just draw something fun.
Now that you have written, addressed, and sealed your envelope, all that’s left is to send it! It might be faster to talk by phone or text, but much like a homemade sweater, a handwritten letter requires real effort and drive to complete. The recipient is sure to be thrilled by the effort you put into your endeavor.
For more information and inspiration for your letter writing needs, be sure to check out other books on the topic:
Be sure to check Non-Fiction 808.6 and 809.6 when searching the stacks or catalog.
Letter Writing (e-book)
By Esther Selsdon
The world gets smaller and contacts get faster but whether it's by computer or with pen-and-ink, the need to be able to communicate effectively in writing remains as important as ever. So whether you want to get in touch with a pen-pal, an e-pal, your bank manager, the editor of a newspaper, to make a complaint or declare your undying love, this guide will show you how to make the most of your correspondence. Direct and very accessible, this invaluable book will show you the general rules of good letter writing and will also provide specific advice on letters for specific occasions.
The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communications
By Margaret Shepherd
From overcoming illegible penmanship to mastering the challenge of keeping straight margins, avoiding smeared ink, and choosing stationery that is appropriate but suits your style, this is a powerful little guide to conveying thoughts in an enduring—and noteworthy—way. Just as you cherish receiving personal mail, you can take pleasure in crafting correspondence. Love, gratitude, condolences, congratulations—for every emotion and occasion, a snippet of heartfelt prose is included, sure to loosen the most stymied letter writer.(Video) Gumball | Darwin's Potato Diet | The Potato | Cartoon Network
101 Ways to Say Thank You: Notes of Gratitude for All Occasions
By Kelly Browne
Nothing says good manners like an elegantly crafted thank-you note, whether on paper or by e-mail. This refreshed and reissued etiquette classic--now updated with new information for the digital age--provides all the dos and don'ts, along with a perfectly phrased "thank-you" for every occasion, from weddings and baby showers to business interviews and charity events. This indispensable guide will make sure you're never at a loss for words of appreciation.
The Write Start: A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, From Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories
By Jennifer Hallissy
How do you raise children who love to write? Jennifer Hallissy believes that if you give children a solid foundation of writing basics, they will develop a love of writing that lasts a lifetime. In this book, she shares the secrets for supporting young writers, from the smallest of scribblers to middle-schoolers mastering script. You play an important role in nurturing your child's writing development. You are your child's first writing teacher, and their most important writing role model. From teaching your child how to hold a pencil and form the letters of the alphabet, to creating writing spaces and meaningful writing rituals at home, this book gives you all of the information and inspiration you need to raise a confident writer.
Be sure to check Non-Fiction 652.1 (handwriting) and 745.61 (hand lettering and calligraphy) when searching the stacks or catalog.
Spencerian Handwriting: The Complete Collection of Theory and Practical Workbooks for Perfect Cursive and Hand Lettering(e-book)
By Platt Rogers Spencer
Easy to understand yet challenging to perfect, the Spencerian system was the standard for all personal and business correspondence in the 1800s. While modern students are barely taught cursive, for more than a century schoolchildren were dutifully drilled in intricate penmanship using this original primer. Now you can follow the step-by-step instructions and practice on the included workbook pages to learn: the seven Spencerian principles; heights and widths of letters; proper pen positioning; spacing between letters and words; finger and arm movements; optional shading effects. With Spencerian Handwriting, you can add a personal touch to all your handwritten letters and notes reminiscent of simpler, more elegant times.
The Art of Cursive Penmanship: A Personal Handwriting Program for Adults
By Michael R. Sull, Master penman
The Art of Cursive Penmanshippresents the subject of handwriting as a valuable and spontaneous skill for the adult. Authored by internationally recognized Master Penman Michael R. Sull, this book focuses on practical self-study techniques designed to accommodate anyone's personal or professional schedule. With determined and consistent use, the daily application of Sull's methods will result in the following penmanship improvements: letterforms, legibility, letter spacing, signature writing.
The Lost Art of Handwriting: Rediscover the Beauty and Power of Penmanship
By Brenna Jordan
Revisit the lost art of writing with these fun prompts, worksheets, exercises--and more!--and experience the many benefits of writing by hand, including increased focus and memory, relaxation, and creative expression. Writing by hand may seem passe in the digital age, but it shouldn't be dismissed as simply an activity for grade schoolers--it offers countless benefits that have been studied by researchers, brain neurologists, therapists, educators, and others who are invested in helping handwriting thrive in an age of advancing technology. Handwriting may be slower than typing--but this gives your brain more time to process information, and stimulates neurological connections that aid in memory, focus, and composition. The process of handwriting can also have a soothing, calming effect and can even serve as a great form of meditation. And of course, it's a great way of expressing your individuality and personal style.(Video) Livestream #104 - Mind-blowing Bigfoot/Dogman Research
Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting
By Kitty Burns Florey.
Steeped in the Palmer Method of handwriting she learned in Catholic school, Kitty Burns Florey is a self-confessed "penmanship nut" who loves the act of taking pen to paper. So when she discovered that some schools today forego handwriting drills in favor of teaching something called keyboarding, she was shocked." "The idea that such a vital, simple, and frequently beautiful skill could be lost to future generations inspired her to investigate the history of writing by hand and its place in our increasingly electronic society. The result is Script & Scribble - a charming, fascinating exploration of the many facets of handwriting." "Weaving together the history of writing implements and scripts, pen collecting societies, the golden age of American penmanship, the growth in popularity of "graphology"--Handwriting analysis - and the pockets of aficionados who still prefer scribbling on paper to tapping on keys, Florey poses the question: Is it true that writing by hand is no longer necessary in today's busy world?
Hand Lettering and Calligraphy
Be sure to check Non-Fiction745.61(hand lettering and calligraphy) when searching the stacks or catalog.
By Gabri Joy Kirkendall; Jaclyn Escalera
Gabri Joy Kirkendall and Jaclyn Escalera guide readers through a dynamic exploration of the craft, focusing on typography and illuminated letters and numbers using pencil, ink, and marker in a variety of styles and themes. From there, artists will learn how to create letters using a variety of alternative materials and media, such as watercolor, gouache, and wood. Easily customized DIY projects invite artists to finesse their skills as they learn to letter on different types of surfaces while creating lettered murals, stationery, and signage. Packed with creative techniques and easy-to-follow lessons, this all-inclusive resource is a must-have for anyone who wants to learn or grow their expertise in the art of hand lettering.
Simply Calligraphy: A Beginner's Guide to Elegant Lettering
By Judy Detrick
This simple guide to calligraphy teaches just the basics, allowing novices to jump right in and make their own wedding invitations, hand-label envelopes, write their own placecards, and explore their creative side. With the rise of do-it-yourselfers, there is growing demand for a calligraphy guide that is much simpler than what's currently on the market. This book answers that call, with a focus on only the popular Italic alphabet rather than the scads normally covered by other books (Gothic, Uncials, Half-uncials, and so on). After learning the basic letters, this book presents an open invitation--and a bit of inspiration--to make calligraphy one's own with creative flourishes for every project and occasion. With a modern two-color design and simple explanatory text,Simply Calligraphy's unintimidating approach proves that calligraphy is as easy as picking up pen and paper.
By Doris Wai
Are you a curious hand lettering beginner or long-time enthusiast looking to take your craft to the next level? Or are you a DIY guru or event planner wishing to breathe new life into a boring gift, event signage, or party décor?Extraordinary Hand Letteringopens your eyes to the endless possibilities in the world of creative lettering, showing you how to work with types of surfaces, such as wood, glass and acrylic, chalk, and even mirrors.
By Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls
Calligraphy and hand lettering have surged in popularity as people rediscover traditional handicrafts as a creative outlet and way to relax. Unlike other hand lettering books,The Gift of Calligraphyshows you how to use your calligraphy skills to create invitations, wall art, wrapping paper, a tote bag, even a calligraphy kit for kids. Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls, calligraphy teacher and author ofBelle Calligraphy, brings her signature modern style to this traditional craft.(Video) Learning English Conversation - Lesson 11-100
The Kids' Book of Hand Lettering: 20 Lessons and Projects to Decorate Your World
By Nicole Miyuki Santo.
The Kids' Book of Hand Letteringwill introduce young crafters to the joys of hand lettering through 20 fun and inspired DIY projects that are easy to create at home.
Be sure to check Non-Fiction652.8(codes and ciphers) when searching the stacks.
Codes and Ciphers
By Collins UK
ll you need to know about making and breaking codes.
Gem Codes and Ciphers touches on everything from the smoke signals used by Native American Indians to encryption devices used by government agencies and the military.
Not only does this handy, pocket-sized book cover the history of the development of codes and ciphers, it also has practical information and advice on how to make codes and, more importantly, how to break them!
Mysterious Messages: A History of Codes and Ciphers
By Gary Blackwood; designed and illustrated by Jason Henry
From the ingenious ciphers of Italian princes to the spy books of the Civil War to the advanced techniques of the CIA, codes and code breaking have played important roles throughout history.
Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing
By Paul B. Janeczko; illustrated by Jenna LaReau
A handbook for the budding cryptographer including codes and ciphers, invisible inks, concealment techniques, spy stories and some history.
Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available informats for patrons with print disabilities.
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out ourStaff Picks browse toolfor more recommendations!
Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.