Dear Mrs. Bird

A Novel

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About The Book

This charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about a young woman who longs to be a war correspondent and inadvertantly becomes a secret advice columnist is “a jaunty, heartbreaking winner” (People)—for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.

Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are doing their bit for the war effort and trying to stay cheerful, despite the German planes making their nightly raids. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent, and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance; but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, renowned advice columnist of Woman’s Friend magazine.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. But as Emmy reads the desperate pleas from women who many have Gone Too Far with the wrong man, or can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she begins to secretly write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.

“Fans of Jojo Moyes will enjoy AJ Pearce’s debut, with its plucky female characters and fresh portrait of women’s lives in wartime Britain” (Library Journal)—a love letter to the enduring power of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and the courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times. “Headlined by its winning lead character, who always keeps carrying on, Pearce's novel is a delight” (Publishers Weekly). Irrepressibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs. Bird is “funny and poignant…about the strength of women and the importance of friendship” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis).

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Dear Mrs. Bird includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. “There’s nothing that can’t be sorted with common sense and a strong will,” (page 36) begins the description of Mrs. Bird’s column, Henrietta Helps. In theory, that’s not such a bad approach, but how does it fall short of addressing her readers’ concerns?

2. Why does the memory of her friend Kitty’s experience affect Emmy so strongly? How does it inform her actions?

3. Author AJ Pearce incorporates charmingly old-fashioned expressions to help convey a sense of the time period. What were some of your favorite terms? Did the language help your understanding of the era and the characters’ personalities?

4. Mr. Collins advises Emmy, “Find out what you’re good at . . . and then get even better. That’s the key,” (page 54). Is this good advice for Emmy? Does she follow it?

5. Why does Emmy hesitate to tell Bunty about writing to Mrs. Bird’s readers? Is she only worried about Bunty’s disapproval, or is it more than that? How do secrets affect their friendship throughout the novel?

6. Do you think Emmy was right to confront William after he rescued the two children? Was his reaction warranted? Why do you think they took such different views of the event?

7. One of the major themes of the novel is friendship. Discuss Emmy and Bunty’s relationship, and all the ways they support and encourage each other over the course of the novel.

8. After the bombing at Café de Paris, Bunty is distraught and angry, but is some of her critique of Emmy fair? Does Emmy interfere too much?

9. Whether it’s readers writing in to Mrs. Bird, Charles writing to Emmy, or Emmy writing to Bunty, letters are of great importance throughout Dear Mrs. Bird. How does letter-writing shape the narrative?

10. The letter from Anxious on page 239 strikes a chord with Emmy. She thinks, “How often did we say well done to our readers? How often did anyone ever tell women they were doing a good job? That they didn’t need to be made of steel all the time? That it was all right to feel a bit down?” (page 243). How did the book make you think differently about women’s experiences in wartime?

11. Emmy’s mother says to her, “Once this silly business is all sorted, you and Bunty and all your friends will be able to get on and achieve whatever you want” (page 86). How much do you think expectations have changed for young women since World War II? What careers do you think Emmy and Bunty would aspire to if they were young now?

12. In the Author’s Note (page 277), AJ Pearce describes how reading advice columns in vintage magazines inspired her to write Dear Mrs. Bird. She says, “I found them thought-provoking, moving, and inspirational, and my admiration for the women of that time never stops growing. . . . It is a privilege to look into their world and remember what incredible women and girls they all were” (page 278). Discuss how magazines, then and now, provide a unique window into people’s lives.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Discuss advice columns as a group. Do you read them? Which ones? What are some of the group’s favorites? Bring some advice columns in and discuss them together. How would you write an advice column?

2. On pages 204 and 205, Emmy describes seeing propaganda posters meant to motivate and boost morale on the British home front during the war. Visit the Imperial War Museum’s website to see examples: www.iwm.org.uk/learning/resources/second-world-war-posters.

About The Author

Photograph by Alexander James

AJ Pearce grew up in Hampshire, England. She studied at the University of Sussex and Northwestern University. A chance discovery of a 1939 women's magazine became the inspiration for her first novel, Dear Mrs. Bird. She lives in the south of England and is at work on her second book. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (July 2018)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501170065

Raves and Reviews

“Perfect wartime details, but it’s the voice that really makes this debut shine. A tragicomedy set amid falling bombs, it’s a jaunty, heartbreaking winner.”
People

“Funny, fresh, and touching, Dear Mrs. Bird is a pitch-perfect pleasure. It’s a rare and wonderful thing to read a book that seems to live properly in its era.”
Annie Barrows, New York Times bestselling co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

“A marvelous treat. Charming and delightful.”
Nina Stibbe, author of Love, Nina

“A joy from start to finish. Dear Mrs. Bird is as funny as it is heartwarming.”
John Boyne, author of The Heart's Invisible Furies

“Books that make you shake with laughter and sob with tears are rare.  I gulped this one down but didn’t stop thinking about it for a long time.”
Katie Fforde, author of A Secret Garden

“Charming and funny.”
New York Post

“There is more to this very English novel than first meets the eye . . . a delightful read — funny and poignant . . . It is about the home front during war, yes, but even more it is about the strength of women, the importance of friendship and the toll of stoicism.
Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Vividly evocative of wartime life… a very English tribute to the women of the homefront.” —Kirkus

“Fans of Jojo Moyes will enjoy Pearce’s debut, with its plucky female characters and fresh portrait of women’s lives in wartime Britain.”
Library Journal

"Set against a backdrop of war-torn London, this is a charming and heartfelt novel. Pearce brings to life a tale of true friendship, and how love will outlast even the most challenging times."
Booklist

"The sweetest, most uplifting, lovely book about courage, friendship, love."
—Marian Keyes

"Clever... The novel has a wonderfully droll tone, a reminder of the exuberance of youth even under dire circumstances. Headlined by its winning lead character, who always keeps carrying on, Pearce’s novel is a delight."
Publishers Weekly 

"Emmeline Lake, the heroine of Dear Mrs. Bird, is the most endearing character to emerge from the world of British fiction since Bridget Jones. She’s funny, she’s indefatigable, and she faces the worst of circumstances with the pluckiest of resolves. You cannot help but love her."—Kimmery Martin, author of The Queen of Hearts 

"A winning wartime romp, as hilarious as it is moving . . . the novel's spirit is madly winning, and its foregrounding of wartime women seems spiffingly modern."
The Guardian

“Books that make you shake with laughter and sob with tears are rare.  I gulped this one down but didn’t stop thinking about it for a long time.”
Katie Fforde, author of A Secret Garden

“This funny, poignant story set during the London Blitz is already a reader favorite . . . imbued with the voice and attitudes of the war years; it's clear Pearce is an expert in that era.”
—Sarah Smith, Omnivoracious

“Utterly charming and helplessly funny.”
Jenny Colgan, author of The Bookshop on the Corner

Awards and Honors

  • Paradies Lagardere Fiction Airlines Pick
  • Indigo Staff Pick of the Month

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

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