Kitty Burns Florey

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog

Based on my essay of the same title, SISTER BERNADETTE'S BARKING DOG is -- among other things -- a lighthearted history of sentence diagramming (invented by two Brooklyn professors in the 1870s), which I learned how to do in sixth grade. Diagramming has been in decline since the '60s, and in my book I speculate about why that happened and report on some surprising revivals of -- and new uses for -- the practice. I also look back to my own schooldays, contrasting them with how children are taught today but also giving in to a bit of the nostalgia that seems to be an inevitable part of growing older: Sister Bernadette's sixth-grade class has acquired a charm for me that it certainly didn't possess at the time! In addition, the book looks at the work of well-known writers who may have learned diagramming in school and ponders the question of whether or not it did them -- or any of us -- any good. And, in passing, I write about some aspects of language and usage that interest me -- and that I hope will interest my readers.


The book is short -- about 150 pages -- and beautifully designed. In the words of Robert Hartwell Fiske, the editor of the sublime Vocabula Review, "Knowing how to diagram sentences may not help you become a better writer, but reading Kitty Burns Florey's book about diagramming sentences surely may, for she writes beautifully. The book is not a primer; it's a prize."