Themed Third Thursday: Alphabet Edition

GirlChild starts kindergarten next month (*gulp!*), and although she already knows her alphabet, there’s never any harm in reviewing (or getting more practice recognizing the sounds in different words)! Not all alphabet books are created equal, of course, and parents, teachers, and librarians have many different motivations for choosing an alphabet book for a child (or children). For that reason, I’ll try to highlight the concepts introduced or reinforced by each title and suggest what kind of reader might find each book useful.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC, by Dr. Seuss (1963/1991): This has always been my favorite alphabet book. As a child, I had it memorized. (My favorite page was the one with the “[f]our fluffy feathers on a Fiffer-feffer-feff.”) As an adult, this is always the book I give to babies at book showers (I was a teacher and library student; it happens often!), and I re-memorized it when GirlChild was small. We read and reread this book so many times that, before she was two, GirlChild could quote vast passages from it from memory as well. Many adults struggle with the made-up words and unusual cadences in Dr. Seuss’s books, but the phonetic nonsense language has always been a draw for me, and you get the rhythm down once you’ve read it a time or two aloud. That said, this book is best shared as a read-aloud with young children to give them a feel for the sounds of the letters while experiencing Dr. Seuss’s playful writing style and art. (I do NOT recommend getting the board book version if you are already familiar with the original; there are significant changes to some of the images and text (causing a disruption in the rhythm and rhyme), and you will be disappointed. If you’re not already familiar with the book, it’s probably not so big a deal.) One of the biggest positives of this book is the repetition of the name of the key letter as a part of the rhyme that uses it so that the sound of the letter and the name of the letter are linked in the hearer’s mind.

Augie to Zebra: An Alphabet Book!, by Kate Endle and Caspar Babypants (2012): Access the free MP3 download of Caspar Babypants (who is otherwise known as Chris Ballew, the illustrator’s husband and a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter) performing a reading of the book set to music, and you have a multimedia alphabet experience! Each page features a piece of collage art that illustrates the simple sentence using each letter, like “Augie Awards the Ape” for A. In addition to the words in the sentence, each image also includes a variety of other objects or adjectives starting with that letter. (For the adult who wants assistance, there’s a listing in the back of the book with each “hidden” alphabet word…for instance, apple, ant, acorn, and arrow for A.) The audio version is pretty well paced for a basic read-through, but it does go too fast to find all the other words in the pictures, so independent or adult-assisted perusal of the illustrations after an individual or group listening experience would help a child practice identifying words that start with each letter. The names used reflect a variety of cultures and nationalities, and a teacher of early elementary students could use this book as a springboard for having students write and illustrate an alphabet page with their own names.

A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet, by Sandra Boynton (1987): I included this book in my Themed Third Thursday: Feelings Edition post because each letter is represented by an adjective in “A is for angry” format, and many of the adjectives represent emotions. In addition to the stated adjective, the illustration includes one or more animals (labeled so you don’t have to try to figure out what the upside-down animal is (an unau)) that start with the appropriate letter  demonstrating the adjective. Because I love Sandra Boynton’s work, I love this book, but it isn’t one that I would read over and over again. There is very little text on each page, but the adjectives are somewhat sophisticated, so it’s really not for independent reading for the alphabet-learning crowd. Still, it’s a great way to expand a young child’s vocabulary to include words beyond “nice” and “mean,” “mad” and “happy”!

abcd: An Alphabet Book of Cats and Dogs, by Sheila Moxley (2001): Sheila Moxley apparently has become more computer savvy since she published this book with the note that “[n]o computers were used in the creation of the art” because she now has a blog and a webpage featuring her art. (I actually prefer most of her other art to the cat and dog collage art in this book, but my children beg to differ.) Each page has the upper and lowercase letter, an alliterative sentence using that page’s letter, and an illustration featuring a cat or dog photograph with painted additions to make the animal appear to be doing what the sentence says. BoyChild went nuts over the dogs and cats, barking and meowing like crazy, so he actually sat to listen to the whole thing and interacted with the illustrations. GirlChild liked it, too–Daddy *is* a vet!–but she was much less…enthusiastic…than BoyChild. BoyChild’s favorite page is where “Renée races around in her rocket ship.”

Picture a Letter, by Brad Sneed (2002): My husband has had to share this book with each of our kids multiple times since we checked it out at the library–they both love it! Each page features a full-color letter made from something that starts with that letter, usually a little warped to fit the shape (like the acrobat made into an A and Zeus in the shape of a Z). Behind the feature letter/item, there is a detailed black-and-white illustration of the rest of the scene with a number of other things that start with that letter. (Some are really obscure, but there is a list at the back of the book, the feature word written in bold capital letters, to figure out the rest if you’re stuck.) Each page also has a small mouse pulling a wagon full of stacked letters at the bottom, and it deposits each new letter so that readers can see the alphabet progressing as they read. (There’s a second mouse somewhere in the illustration as well, and that gives young readers who may not know what some of the other items are have something to look for on each page.) Although there are no words in the book, many of the item names are too sophisticated for your average alphabet-learner, so this is good either for reading with a child or for an older reader to explore independently.

Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types, by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss (2009): I think this is my new favorite alphabet book for the main reason that it introduces children to letters in different typefaces so that they can learn to read/interpret whatever crazy font they encounter in life! One of my biggest pet peeves (I have plenty, as my associates and relatives will attest!) with books/materials for very new readers is the use of fonts with lower case a with “a little hood” (as this book describes it) when pretty much all new writers are taught the basic circle-and-line (geometric) type of a when they are learning to write; the other a (like this one!) doesn’t even look like the same letter to them!  (GirlChild used to think it was an upside-down lowercase g. <– Look, another bizarre-looking typed letter!) This book plays with the letters by using a variety of each one to create the shape of an animal that begins with that letter, showcases different, somewhat unusual fonts with a description that utilizes the featured letter, and includes a number of other interactive elements throughout. The publisher-suggested range of preschool to grade 3 seems about right, and I would recommend it for use one-on-one or in a classroom group exploration with the opportunity for the students to peruse it independently after the class share so they can become familiar with the letters and see all the details of the illustrations.

Alphabet Books for Seasonal or Unit Studies:

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z, by Lois Ehlert (1989): Using large, bright watercolor paintings, Lois Ehlert records and illustrates her adventure in the produce department that took her a full year to complete! (She visited the grocery store every two weeks to pick up new fruits and vegetables that began with the next successive letter in the alphabet.) Each fruit or vegetable is pictured and named in all capital letters and all lower-case letters on the appropriate letter page. While much of the produce is likely familiar, there will surely be some surprises. At the back of the book is an appendix with a brief description of Ehlert’s research findings about the origins of each fruit or vegetable. This alphabet book would be a great addition to a unit on healthy foods, a letter-of-the-week experience, or a botany or plant unit (even for older students).

The Graphic Alphabet, by David Pelletier (1996): This Caldecott Honor Book doesn’t have much in the way of content, but the stylized letters that represent the chosen word (a k made to look like tied string to show the word “knot”) make this book perfect for inclusion in an art center or for use in art class (although I don’t know that it would be much of a read-aloud).

Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet, by David McLimans (2006): Another Caldecott Honor Book, I have to say that the book could be more useful for instruction if there were actual photographs of the animals referenced, but the scientific information included (both in a sidebar with a basic drawing of the animal and in the appendix) would be interesting to budding ecologists or zoologists, and it would be useful to include in a unit about endangered species or conservation (particularly as a springboard for choosing an animal to research for that topic).

Country Road ABC: An Illustrated Journey Through America’s Farmland, by Arthur Geisert (2010): Clearly, this book has a farm theme, but it’s not your basic “A is for animal” kind. (A is actually for ammonia fertilizer…) There is a “farm glossary” at the end as well as acknowledgements that suggest that each of the detailed illustrations represents a real place! Good for a higher-level farm unit or for comparing and contrasting city versus country living.

City Seen from A to Z, by Rachel Isadora (1983): Although the illustrations seem somewhat dated (I hope New Yorkers don’t dress like this anymore, at least!), the concepts and quality of the art really help convey city life accurately. A simple word (“Art” for instance) accompanies a black-and-white, detailed drawing of a city scene for each letter. Look for a paperback copy rather than an original hardback for cost effectiveness. ABCers, by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Pierr Morgan (2012) is another title that paints a rosier (and more simplified) picture of the city, perhaps for a younger audience. Each letter features a description of the child(ren) pictured (like “F is for Friend greeters” for a page showing children hugging when they meet at a park) that seem a little forced, but they are appropriate and understandable for young readers.

A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, by Debra Frasier (2010): Perhaps because we’ve hit two fairs in the last two weekends, this book caught my attention on the shelves! Each illustration is a collage made using, in part, photographs of letters that were taken at fairs (including the State Fair of Texas, the source of the letters J, Q, and X, one we visited several times in the last few years while we lived near Dallas!) to write the words in ransom letter style. While this book may not be a particularly useful book in an educational setting, it is certainly good for reminiscing with your children about (or preparing them for) the fair!

A Is for Autumn, by Robert Maass (2011): Featuring photographs of fall-themed items or scenes along with a sentence beginning “A is for…” (etc.), this is just one possible choice for seasonally-themed alphabet books! Try searching “alphabet” along with the seasonal name of your choice in your library’s catalog!

L Is for Lincoln: An Illinois Alphabet, by Kathy-Jo Wargin, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (2000): While this was the title I remembered best (being from Illinois originally), there are many state-based alphabet books available in this series (Discover America State by State) as well as many other geography-based alphabet books (again, just search “alphabet” and the name of the state, country, or continent you’re trying to find!). Perfect for state studies!

Are there any other alphabet books that you and your kids really love? Share in the comments!


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Filed under reader input sought, teaching suggestion, theme

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