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Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog

The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences

Once wildly popular in grammar schools across the country, sentence diagramming has fallen out of fashion. But are we that much worse for not knowing the word-mapping method?

Now, in this illustrated personal history that any language lover will adore, Kitty Burns Florey explores the rise and fall of sentence diagramming, including its invention by a mustachioed man named Brainerd “Brainy” Kellogg and his wealthy accomplice Alonzo Reed … the inferior “balloon diagram” predecessor … and what diagrams of sentences by Hemingway, Welty, Proust, Kerouac and other famous writers reveal about them.

Florey also offers up her own common-sense approach to learning and using good grammar. And she answers some of literature’s most pressing questions: Was Mark Twain or James Fenimore Cooper a better grammarian? What are the silliest grammar rules? And what’s Gertude Stein got to do with any of it?

KITTY BURNS FLOREY is the author of Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting. A veteran copy editor, she has also written nine novels and many short stories and essays. She lives in Connecticut.

”A pleasantly discursive and affectionate tribute to an antiquated art. Ms. Florey closes with a levelheaded assessment of diagramming, listing its virtues by acknowledging its weaknesses.” Wall Street Journal

”Kitty Burns Florey always liked diagramming sentences, she says, and nobody who reads Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog will presume to doubt her. Subtitled `The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences,’ the book is a nostalgia trip to the ’50s, fondly evoking a sixth-grade class learning to wrestle syntax into the framework of the Reed-Kellogg system.” Boston Globe

”This book is not a primer; it’s a prize.” —Robert Hartwell Fiske, author of The Dictionary of Disagreeable English

”A wistful, charming and funny ode to a nearly lost art. Those who remember will cheer. Those who don’t will wonder what fun they missed and whether it will be preserved for future generations. All will agree Florey’s passion is infectious and entertaining.” —June Casagrande, author of Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies

”Florey writes with verve about the nuns who taught her to render the English language as a mess of slanted lines, explains how diagrams work, and traces the bizarre history of the men who invented this odd pedagogical tool… It’s a great read.” Slate

”This gem from copyeditor Florey is a bracing ode to grammar: it’s laced with a survivor’s nostalgia for classrooms ruled by knuckle-cracking nuns who knew their participles.” People Magazine

”You don’t have to be over age 50 or a catholic school graduate to enjoy Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog… Florey’s keen memories of being schooled in this art and her humorous affection for it are contagious…. Try it, you’ll like it.” Minneapolis Star Tribune

”Part memoir, part literary gossip, but mostly a guide to the lost art of sentence diagramming… The book does everything Lynne Truss’s does, and then some.” —Sara Nelson, Publishers Weekly

”Kitty Burns Florey seems to write from a great wellspring of inner calm that derives from the gleeful appreciation of life’s smallest details.” —Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls

”Diagramming Sarah: Can Palin’s Sentences Stand Up to a Grammarian?” Slate

”Kitty Burns Florey rattles off crackling prose in a no-nonsense voice that is all the more delightful when she ventures into playful nonsense…. Friendly. And fun.” —Arthur Salm, San Diego Union Tribune