Monday, March 26, 2012

Letter Perfect: Pick Up Your Pen: The Art of Handwriting by Monica Dengo

Who needs handwriting?

Well, everyone does now and again. From incidental notes [Back at 8:00. Dinner in the oven. Please walk the dog!] to those hand-written thank-yous for wedding gifts, everyone has a need to write a "fair hand" from time to time. And when you take the big view of cursive, what is more human than that distinctively individualized act of drawing out our thoughts, feelings, and memories in graphic symbols? From runes scratched on rocks to the Book of Kells to the Declaration of Independence, handwriting represents our unique personality writ for the ages.

Monica Dengo's just published Pick Up Your Pen: The Art of Handwriting (Owlkids Books, 2012) sets out to convey the technique and the art of letters. Her product is both skill book and style book, with workbook-like blackline letters on a lined page for practice on each right-hand page, with double-page spreads for both capitals and lower case letters. But that's not all. Each left-hand page offers colorful hand-crafted characters, with plenty of space reserved for the young calligrapher to ad-lib his or her own creative examples. Samples of imaginative printed versions of the letter in the bottom right margins of each double-page spread show how graphic designers play with the fun of free-form fonts to give character to that basic letter form.

For her cursive examples, Dengo eschews the more elaborate handwriting styles of the past--Spencerian, Palmer, Zaner-Bloser, and the more recent D'Nealian--showing instead a stripped-down version with single-line ascenders and descenders, unslanted, with simple and straightforward joiners more nearly approximating electronic fonts. While this style lacks the rounded grace of earlier scripts, it is easily deciphered and learned, and should make for speedy transcription, not a bad thing in our time! After all, the word cursive itself means "running," (from the Latin currere), showing that our familiar joined script evolved way back in ancient times as simply a faster way to write words without having to pick up the pen between each letter. Dengo adds that although this style is uncomplicated to learn, it is easy to individualize and embellish after the basics are mastered, so that each student's fair hand will soon become his own, "in his own hand." "My goal," she writes in the introduction, "is to help children discover the musicality of handwriting and its expressive possibilities."

So skip those dull and dreary copybooks that bedeviled our ancestors, and pick instead this attractive and appealing guide which will make kids' fingers itch to have some fun developing their own scriptive style with Pick Up Your Pen: The Art of Handwriting.

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