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Truss tackles the comma

7 August 2006

Lynne Truss, author of the surprise bestseller on punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, has now turned her attention to writing for children with her forthcoming Why Commas Really Do Make a Difference. Readers of the original book (three million copies sold) will remember that the author's breezy style really does make punctuation fun, as well as putting us right on a lot of common errors.

The new book will do the same thing for children. As Truss points out, you might want to eat a huge hot dog, but a huge, hot dog would run away pretty quickly if you tried to take a bite out of him. "Children Drive Slowly" on a road-sign doesn't quite sum up what kids do in their spare time and the comma is necessary to make sense of the sign.

Her new book shot straight to the top of the children's bestseller list in the States, which is still a bit bemusing for an author who, after years of penning rather unsuccessful novels, can't quite believe that she's hit the big-time. But she says: 'I knew a junior version would be really helpful, because I met hundreds of English teachers who said they'd been using the adult book with their kids, trying to get them interested.'

Many of us will share her concern about children's ability to write literate English and there seems to be a whole generation of kids whose punctuation and basic use of English is poor. In England, child-centred education gets the blame for this, but all over the world the growth of texting is meaning that kids lose a sense of how punctuation works and what it's for. Many employers bemoan the lack of simple literacy amongst young job candidates and Truss says: 'The language does belong to everybody, but the way things are going, there will be just a small elite that's been trained how to use it effectively. That can't be right. We'll be back in the Middle Ages.'