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My mind usually goes blank the moment Joy asks, “So what do you want for Hanukah / Christmas / your birthday?” Then reminders keep popping up when all the present-shopping has been done. Just now, an article someone posted on Facebook reminded me that I have been wanting a book about how to diagram sentences. This way of teaching grammar is recalled by a few people fondly, and by most as an archaic torture device, like an oubliette, but for me it is only an artifact of times long past. It didn’t even appear in unused chapters of our grammar books, as far as I can recall; I encountered it in whichever of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books she passes her teacher’s exam (Little Town on the Prairie, I think).

Being visually inclined, I thought it looked kind of cool. I don’t know if I would really have learned grammar any more easily with such a concrete, spatial analogue of parts of speech, but I would almost certainly have found it interesting. My daughter (also a visual thinker) agrees it would be fun to see how it’s done.

So I told Joy just now that I want a book on how to diagram sentences. She advised me to go look for one myself, as she wouldn’t know where to start. So I hied over to AbeBooks, used books being preferable to new in most cases, and the very first item that popped up in my search was by a woman I know. Well, I knew her when I was a little girl; she and her then-husband were longtime friends of my parents. Both couples have since split up and I haven’t seen her in years, but she is a novelist, and her daughter, whose wedding I officiated, and I are friends on Facebook. (The daughter is not the person who posted the aforementioned article.) Her book is actually a history of sentence diagramming as well, and I think it sounds fascinating.

So, Kitty Burns Florey, I have ordered a copy of your book, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, and I can’t wait to read it.





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