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Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences 1st Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1933633107
ISBN-10: 1933633107
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Editorial Reviews

Review

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

"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

Book Description

Published in hardcover by Melville House, 2006, 978-1-933633-10-7 / 1-933633-10-7
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House; 1st edition (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933633107
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933633107
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #610,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. MacCombie on October 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Who would have thought one could write such a funny, and charming, and informative book on sentence diagramming? Kitty Florey weaves her own 6th grade experiences diagramming sentences under the watchful eye of Sister Bernadette, and then reflects on other writers, notably Gertrude Stein, who was passionate about grammar, and even loved diagramming, (who knew?) but then wrote sentences that obeyed her OWN rules and defied grammatical conventions. Florey's tone, throughout this delightful book, is one of spontaneous humor and warmth. She is passionate about language herself, and seeing how language has evolved, with or without the help of diagramming, is a fascinating look at ourselves, our culture, and gives us a clue about what the future may hold for the written and spoken word.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a fabulous read: it is brilliant, erudite, easy-to-read, and laugh-out-loud funny. It will teach you all you never even thought to ask about diagramming sentences, but it is about far more than that. Really, it's an exploration of the evolution of the English language, the gap between those of us who MUST speak and write properly and those who say--whatever. Mostly, it'll make you laugh out loud and how many authors can do that? Move over, Lynn Truss and David Sedaris.
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Format: Paperback
This short book is a pleasant memoir of a time when many people learned sentence diagramming and, to be honest, more of the rigors of grammar. In the author's case, she clearly recalls teacher Sister Bernadette and the pleasure diagramming brought both of them. I put this on my list after an interview with Ms. Florey refreshed my own fond memories of something logical and detailed that appealed to me as a future engineer who likes to write.

We learn some about the history of diagramming and its predecessors, with a mix of specific examples largely taken from literature. The literary references (Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, etc.) allow her to tell various stories about the famous authors and shift into various riffs on English in general, such as "ain't". Those musings are interesting enough and move right along, but the net result is that I learned very little from the book.

I really wanted a modest refresher of diagramming basics in this book. Maybe 5-10 pages would have done the trick. There certainly was room. I studied the examples, thinking about how I would have done them myself or why they were done this way or that (e.g., oh, yes, that's a participle, isn't it, so it's written in that arc). For that reason, I will disagree slightly with Ms. Florey's statement that you don't learn grammar from diagramming. Perhaps diagramming forces you to think about what parts of speech those funky phrases are. The author credits Gene Moutoux for the complex diagrams, and his web site indeed has a nice introductory tutorial.

She gets full credit for pointing out weaknesses in diagramming, most notably that bad English and bad grammar often diagram just as well as the good stuff.

Even as someone who is no fan of George W. Bush, I can do without cracks about him in this type of book. The little dig against "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" fits better.

3.5 stars, rounded down
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's wonderful to meet, though just through writing, someone who had as much fun diagramming sentences as I did. If only she had enjoyed parsing sentences and conjugating verbs as much :-). The author had excellent control of her material as she went through her memories, the history of the diagrams and the delightfully convoluted sentences from a variety of writers. Only twice did I want to question her. First, for her definition of parsing which left out all the fun - mood, tense, person, number; second, for her dismissal of the tree diagrams used by linguists where she ignored their main advantage - going down to the smallest level of meaning e.g. -ed noted as a past tense marked on walked. Moving past the nit-picking, which as a copy editor the author implied she would enjoy, I only became bored/willing to set the book down in the final chapter - the "survey" of the use of diagramming in today's classrooms and what diagramming actually teaches one.

I definately recommend this book to anyone who loved to diagram sentences.
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Format: Hardcover
Kitty Burns Florey, Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences (Melville House, 2006)

When I was in eighth grade, I feared English class. Odd for someone whose life's goal was to be a writer, eh? But walking into that room clutching Warriner's English Grammar and Composition like a buckler and a No. 2 pencil as a sword was like entering the Circus Maximus. Why? Eighth grade was the year we were introduced to diagramming sentences. It's the English teacher's equivalent of geometry, and for someone who's not math-minded, it's a terrifying experience. This feeling was unanimous in my classmates, and whenever I've brought up the subject of diagramming sentences in the (far too) many years since then, it's always been greeted with facial expressions ranging from disgust to post-traumatic stress disorder. I had rather thought the hatred and fear of diagramming was universal.

Not so. Kitty Burns Florey loved it, when she was in school. After reading Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog, I have to say that if I'd had an English teacher who approached diagramming as Sister Bernadette did, I'd probably have gotten out of eighth grade with far less mental anguish than I actually did. Florey traces the (quirky, natch) history of diagramming whilst giving us a picture of how it was used when she was in school-- as a game, a way to break up the monotony of learning one's spelling words and parts of speech. Good stuff, that, and certainly more fun than opening one's Warriner's and finding that one's assignment for the night was to diagram an entire page of Henry James. (Okay, I exaggerate. But still. Florey diagrams a single sentence of James at one point in the book, and it's about as complex as the complete Tudor family tree.
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