Being a word nerd, I glory in the lexical vastness of the English language. And so, it seems, to the citizens of the island nation of Nollop in Mark Dunn’s delightful Ella Minnow Pea. The islanders venerate Nevin Nollop, the (fictional) author of the shortest known sentence that uses all letters of the English alphabet and still makes sense. In Nollopton, there’s a cenotaph with tiles that spell out the alphabet and “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” But one day, the tiles start to fall.
Ella and her family exchange letters as the island reacts to the falling tiles. The High Council believes that the falling tiles are Nollop speaking to them from the other side and they order that people stop using the letters that fall. First it’s Z, then Q. The first banished letters are troubling, but it’s possible for people to communicate without them. The punishments for using a forbidden letter are more troubling: fines, flogging or the stocks, and then banishment. But as the tiles keep falling and letters keep getting banned, the islanders have to get ever more creative to keep talking to each other or risk being exiled from their homes.
My favorite thing about reading Ella Minnow Pea was the linguistic acrobatics the islanders had to use to avoid illegal letters. I had so much fun reading this book that I was sad when it ended. Even though this book is short and written entirely in letters, it’s full of plots and subplots, a few dashes of romance, a cult, and a quest. It was a perfect read for me. I plan to recommend this book to as many other word nerds as I can because it’s too good not to share.