• It’s the birth date of Thornton W. Burgess (1874–1965), Mother West Wind’s Neighbors, Hugh Lofting (1886–1947), Doctor Dolittle, and Hendrik Willem van Loon (1882–1944), The Story of Mankind.
  • The Human Be-In, takes place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1967, the prelude to “the Summer of Love.” Read The Young Oxford Book of the Human Being by David Glover.
  • In 1972, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark ascends the throne, the first Queen of Denmark since 1412 and the first Danish monarch not named Frederick or Christian since 1513.
  • It’s Dress Up Your Pet Day. Though we don’t know how the outfitted animals really feel about this. Read Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor.

Letter writing week, celebrating the often-forgotten pleasure of sending a hand-written note, takes place this year from January 9-15. If any book might inspire young readers ages eleven to fourteen, to pick up their pens and start composing, it will be the book of the day, Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery & Cecelia.

Although this title is most often found in young adult collections, absolutely nothing in the content makes it outside the range for fifth through seventh grade fantasy fans. Anyone who can devour an eight-hundred-page Harry Potter novel possesses the necessary reading skills. Set in Regency England, the story might have been coauthored by Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Told as an epistolary novel between two cousins, Kate and Cecelia, the saga begins in April of 1817, as the girls write about what happens when one goes to London for the season and the other stays in the country. Powerful wizards battle in this world, and Kate, at her first major London event, is mistaken for one of them and narrowly escapes being poisoned. Cecelia dabbles in making charm bags, particularly to help her goose-witted brother Oliver. But he manages to get himself turned into a tree anyway. As they chatter on about balls and gowns and boys, picnics and mysterious men, both of them get swept up in this war of wizards—and they find love in the process. For Letter Writing week, Sorcery & Cecelia naturally suggests the activity of pairing two writers together, who then try to pull off their own novel in letters.

This novel with delicious language, settings, and plot twists, first appeared in 1988, went out of print, and was then reissued with an attractive jacket in 2003. It began as a Letter Game played by the two authors. One would write a letter, and then the other responded. Neither knew where the story was headed, and the book reads like a literary tennis match—the readers learn what is happening at the same time that the authors do. For anyone who loves English romance and fantasy—even for adults who read Georgette Heyer—this book holds great charm and humor. Hence it often gets adopted for mother/daughter book discussion groups, because it delights all the participants. In this book, readers have just as much fun turning the pages as the writers did creating it.

Here’s a passage from Sorcery & Cecelia:

14 May

Your letter regarding Oliver just arrived. I can only hope that you have had news of him by now, because he is certainly not at Rushton! I came very near to teling Papa the whole, for it seems to me that Oliver’s disappearance is far too serious to hide, but as it turned out I did not have to say anything. Aunt Charlotte wrote Aunt Elizabeth a letter, which arrived at the same time as yours, desiring her to have Oliver bring her white work to Town when he returns. Aunt Elizabeth, of course, went straight to Papa, demanding to know where Oliver was and what she was to tell Aunt Charlotte. Papa, when he finally understood, simply laughed and said that Oliver has probably gone to see a cockfight or some such thing, and that he is old enough not to be hovered over by a pair of aunts.

This put Aunt Elizabeth quite out of countenance, and she went off in a huff to write to Aunt Charlotte. Under the circumstances, I decided not to add anything, for once Papa gets an idea in his head it is impossible to dislodge it. If he has decided that Oliver has gone to some disreputable sporting event, nothing will persuade him that it is more serious than that, unless Oliver remains missing. But if you do not have word of him in your next letter, I must tell Papa everything. Write soon and tell me he is safe! He may be the most provoking, tedious, goose-witted brother in the world, but he is the only one I have, and I should hate for anything dreadful to happen to him.




Originally posted January 14, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, British, History, Magic
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Sorcery & Cecelia


  1. beth says:

    I love this book! I found a copy in the early nineties and then thought I had imagined it. When it came out again I bought it for a bunch of friends. It was also my introduction to Stevermer (I bought it because I knew Wrede), which led me to her other books.

  2. Barb says:

    I read this and he sequel on your recommendation and loved them! They are original in concept.

  3. Barb says:

    That’s THE sequel!

  4. suzi w. says:

    Oh how fun! I will have to see if our library owns this. Harry Potter opened such a world, it is so important to have read alikes. Also, buoyed by your mention of Letter Writing Week, I finished my Christmas cards last night.

    (I’m sure you mean Jane Austen, not Austin, in paragraph 2.)


  5. I really enjoyed this novel. To return to it is so refreshing after overdosing on vampires and zombies and dystopia. I recommend this book for anyone that wants to make a civilized stop on their own “grand tour” of fantasy literature.

  6. Merrilee says:

    Thank you for the reminder of Thornton Burgess’s birthday. When my mother was four her mother died and she went to live with her grandparents. This was 1924 and she was far from her father. To keep in touch with her he cut out the Thornton Burgess stories from the newspaper and sent them to her in the mail. She loved those books and read them all to us as children. When we lived in Boston I took her to Sandwich, Ma to the Thornton Burgess museum. It was the final chapter in her relationship with Burgess and one she treasured. How wonderful to have a relationship with an author and his characters at that young age that stayed with her all her life.

  7. Robin says:

    One of my favorites! And the two sequels are excellent. (Barb, there’s a second sequel, if you haven’t read it . . . ) The recent KAT, INCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis is another mix of Regency and magic, and very enjoyable.

  8. D. T. Gray says:

    The book indeed sounds like a good read. Though I’m not particularly fond of books written in letter format, I would probably give this one a go since I love children’s fantasy books. Thanks for the news!

  9. Barb says:

    You’re absolutely right Robin! And I did read both sequels–quite fun!

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