Universal Letter Writing Week & children’s letters from the pandemic

Universal Letter Writing Week & children’s letters from the pandemic

An interesting project concerned with letter-writing was launched on 13 January in Britain, involving the National Literacy Trust and The Postal Museum working with children’s author PG Bell, creator of the book series ‘The Train to Impossible Places’. It invites and encourages children to share their experiences of the pandemic by writing letters about it. This week – 10–17 January – is Universal Letter Writing Week (did you know that? I didn’t until I read about it in a news item), and the project aims to create a historical record of UK children’s experiences during the past 12 months, and support schools and children in their literacy development. What it does is to invite children to write a letter to a child in 2030 about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, as kind of imaginary letters to an unknown or known other person, a child like themselves, in the future. The project will run until  Easter 2021 and will end with a display of the letters at The Postal Museum. According to a survey run by the National Literacy Trust (NLT), a quarter of the children it surveyed said writing helped when they felt sad in lockdown and couldn’t see family and friends, and for a third of them letter-writing in particular helped them to express their feelings.

‘The Train to Impossible Places’ series and its characters follow the adventures of the crew of the Impossible Postal Express. Author Bell provides tips on letter-writing by invoking these and other adventures. The third and most recent book in the series, Delivery to the Lost City, was published earlier this January by Usborne. Bell comments: “There’s a little bit of magic in letter writing. It lets us share a part of ourselves – our thoughts, our feelings, our voice. That’s why the train in my books is a travelling post office.” Fay Lant, an NLT administrator, is reported as saying that: “Writing has a proven positive effect on children’s wellbeing during lockdown… We also found that the school closures last spring prompted a boom for letters as children looked for different ways to stay in touch with friends and family. Usborne’s brilliant new letter writing project is a fantastic way of encouraging children to document their pandemic experiences – and the idea that children should address their future selves is a lovely creative prompt.” Some of the children’s letters will become part of The Postal Museum’s collections. They will be exhibited in digital format and in a display at the museum in the future, once it can reopen.

Children can get involved, either with their school or at home, by going to www.usborne.com/kidsof2020.

A highly commendable initiative in its own right, this project (and others like it) also raises the perennial issue of the boundaries between what is and what is not ‘a letter’. What will eventuate from the project is not a collection of  ‘real‘ letters, but a variant on faux letters. These are not intended to deceive, they are what they set out to present themselves as, imaginary letters to imaginary others. This in turn raises the interesting question of why call them letters? This is perhaps because it is a known format and so beginning writers can emulate it, but also because it is so flexible and lends itself to a wide variety of forms and purposes.


Last updated: 14 January 2021