June 24, 2013

The ABC's of the Alphabet


Hi everyone! I'm going to admit right off the bat that this post is probably a bit less cohesive than the rest--I'm in the midst of traveling up and down the east coast trying to get things done, and I'm writing this post a little later than usual. But fear not, blogosphere, it'll still rock your world...

So originally I was going to do a combo alphabet/counting post, but when I started pulling out all of my alphabet books I realized that was the craziest idea I’ve ever had. There are just too many! Therefore, this post will be exclusively alphabet books. And (like always) there are sooooo many good ones out there!

When I was a wee one my mom bought me Anita Lobel’s Alison’s Zinnia, and I immediately fell in love with it. Each spread features a girl who gives a flower to another girl, but the catch is that the giver always gives a flower to a girl whose name begins with the next letter of the alphabet, and the flowers go alphabetically, too. For example, Alison gives an amaryllis to Beryl (lovely name, no?) and Beryl passes on the love by giving a Begonia to Crystal until eventually it makes it down the alphabet and Zena brings it full circle by giving Alison a zinnia. At the time, it really made me think about the alphabet not letter-by-letter, but as a concept that can be taught in a creative, colorful, and floral way. 



And these days I have quite the assortment of books that carry on the same tradition. It’s actually hard to know where to start. Tiny DiTerlooney (aka Tony DiTerlizzi) has a great alphabet book out called G Is for One Gzonk! that serves as a combo alphabet/counting book. I’ve been a fan of DiTerlizzi’s art for a long time, and this book does not disappoint. Neither does the humor. The story follows a boy named Tiny DiTerlooney as he attempts to move smoothly through twenty-six pages of “creachlings,” or made-up creatures that are named according to letters of the alphabet. But as he moves through and explains who these creatures are, readers start to notice numbers popping in, attempting to steal the spotlight (it's supposed to be an alphabet book, after all). Needless to say, chaos ensues and soon it's hard to tell what kind of book it is. Here's a spread:


And here's another where you can see a number squeezing his way in (he's the little jellybean character at the bottom):



It’s such a great, silly book that makes learning numbers letters really fun.

Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O Zelinsky is in the same vein, with a rude moose who insists on taking the spotlight in his alphabet book. But what happens when the narrator (a zebra) gets to the letter M, and it’s for mouse and not moose? Insanity, that's what. It’s almost impossible for the narrator to finish the alphabet, and it falls to him to jump in and make sure the moose doesn’t destroy anything else.


That's one angry moose.

Mike Lester’s A Is for Salad is also another amazing alphabet book, but what places it apart from other alphabet books is the juxtaposition of the letters and the illustrations. Take a look at this spread and you’ll see why:


It’s up to the reader to understand that the N is for Narwhal and O is for Ostrich, not "lunch" and "bow ties." It engages readers in a fun dialogue with the book and each other that will incite giggles and create a demand for a second reading.

Other great alphabet books that are perhaps more straightforward (even if some are a bit more disturbing) include Chris Van Allsburg’s The Z Was Zapped, Meher McArthur’s and Esther Pearl Watson’s An ABC of What Art Can Be (a great list of art terms for beginners), Chris Raschka’s Talk to Me About the Alphabet, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert, Neil Gaiman’s and Gris Grimly’s The Dangerous Alphabet (it’s amazing how creepy some letters are…), Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies (again, such creepy and deadly letters), and the Canadian classic Eh? To Zed by Kevin Major and Alan Daniel (you know, if you like Canadian books, or whatever). 

Can anyone else think of other unique alphabet books?

M-E-L'ingly yours,
Mel