Guest post – book review by Sue Barnet

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! is a new and unusual children’s book. Witty, clever, good for families, great for the classroom, this book is a standout in the current glut of children’s publishing. Author Lynne Truss and illustrator Bonnie Timmons have produced a book that makes the usually dreary subject of punctuation just plain fun. The main character is the comma. Yes, the comma: that black dot with the little tail that was relentlessly added or crossed out on all our written school work. No fantasy figures, cute kittens or mystery solving kids here.

The book is based on Truss’ unlikely, unexpected bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. First published in the UK in 2003, the adult version made headline news. ‘Grammar Book Tops Bestseller List.’ was a lead BBC news story. Crossing the Atlantic in 2004, the book climbed onto American bestseller lists and remains a steady favorite.
To understand the book, here’s the story behind the title:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

That’s the difference a comma can make. Removing the comma turns the bad-tempered eating, shooting, leaving panda into a contented grazer. The bamboo forest provides a feast of tender shoots and small leaves. It’s comma magic. Verbs can be turned into nouns just by eliminating a comma.

Author Lynne Truss is a popular British journalist and broadcaster with a zany sense of humor. The adult version of Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a laugh-out-loud rant on the loss of respect for punctuation. Similarly, the picture book is full of fun and populated by comma-lacking slow children, crazy teachers, please pushers and huge hot dogs.

Commas do make a difference
is emphasized by the whimsical color drawings of American illustrator Bonnie Timmons. I guarantee her renditions of grandma skipping with her walker and the little girl walking on her head will make you smile. I also like the grammar explanations attached to miniature illustrations at the end of the book. When you want to know why the comma is used, here are straightforward explanations from two elementary school teachers.

More Eats, Shoots and Leaves fun can be found on the book’s website. Observe National Comma Awareness Month by signing the petition to save the comma, send a support-the-comma ecard to a friend, and try the interactive comma game. A word of warning: the game is not easy. I’ve played a dozen times and only twice scored 100%. Now I’m feeling neurotic about commas in this article. Hope the pistol-packing Panda isn’t reading.

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