She became the queen of the comma, the saviour of the semi-colon. Now, after encouraging dinner parties to discuss the full-stop, Lynne Truss is adapting her bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves for children.
In a move which teachers and librarians hope will boost the use of correct punctuation, this September will see the launch of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! aimed at children of six years and over. Truss has worked with an American illustrator, Bonnie Timmons, to devise picture explanations of why the comma matters. "It's quite a nice way of thinking about punctuation," Truss said yesterday. "The illustrations are very light and it seems to be completely right for the spirit of it." Truss said her original idea for a children's version would have had a family of punctuation "with mummy as a multi-tasking comma and daddy as a full stop, but that would have been a bit whimsical and I couldn't imagine anyone reading it". But she was delighted when this alternative was suggested by her American publishers, who are now working with her original backers, Profile Books, on the project.
Despite rising concern about the standards of children's writing, Truss defended what was happening in schools. "Children are being taught the rudiments of punctuation but to make it fun is always a good thing," she said. "But if punctuation is going, there are a lot of things we won't be able to say. To me, literacy has been such an important thing in making life better for the past 500 years and for giving people social mobility, that to see literacy not being valued is alarming."
Kate Griffin, the sales and marketing director of Profile, said they were inundated with letters from teachers after the original book came out. The sequels, which have been already presented to some librarians, should respond to a clear demand.
"Loads of teachers wrote in to say how marvellous Eats, Shoots & Leaves was and that they were going to use it. They were always saying that there was nothing enjoyable that taught kids punctuation," she said. "There's a real need.I think this will be an extremely useful resource for schools."
The author herself admits the original attention for her book on punctuation was somewhat overwhelming, although she was enjoying her success more now. "When I wrote the book I was very aware that it was a dodgy thing to do in terms of one's future," she said. "The people who really know a lot more than I do would say, 'She doesn't know anything', and would look at all the mistakes. Others would say I was a nerd. But what I realised was it was something that had been niggling people and they were waiting for someone to write that book."