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More New Alphabet Books!

Share ABC books do more than just teach the alphabet. Check out these new ABC books to see what else your students can learn!

If you thought that alphabet books just teach youngsters their ABCs, then you should take a look at four new books that prove that alphabet books can teach a whole lot more!

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Prairie Primer: A to Z (Puffin Books), written by Caroline Stutson and illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb, offers an enjoyable look at family life on a midwestern farm in the early 1900s. This rhythmic, rhyming book uses the alphabet to introduce a variety of practices common to rural life at the time, such as churning butter by hand, wearing knickers, and riding to church in a horse and buggy. The prairie-related objects and activities are presented in alphabetical order, although the ABC format takes a back seat to the rhyming text:

A the Alphabet I'll learn
B for Butter in the Churn
C so Cozy by the stove
D we're rolling out the Dough

Lamb's delightful illustrations of family members participating in a wide array of activities employ soft colors and lines that help evoke a sense of nostalgia. The family of two adults and four young children, their farm, and their community supply Stutson with a variety of appropriate words, so the ABC format never seems forced or artificial.

A glossary might be a helpful addition, as a few of the more archaic words -- such as teetotum (a spinning toy) and velocipede (a two- or three-wheeled pedaled vehicle) -- will not be familiar to the average elementary school reader.

Prairie Primer: A to Z is an excellent introduction to life in a bygone era.


After almost forty years of growing all manner of plants, I have almost learned how to garden. I am convinced that gardening is the most difficult of the arts. ... But, the garden provides such an intriguing challenge and is such a source of wonder and joy that not to garden is unthinkable." -- Mary Azarian A Gardener's Alphabet

Book Cover Image With only one word or phrase per page, A Gardener's Alphabet (Houghton Mifflin Company), written and illustrated by Mary Azarian, seems to be appropriate for only the youngest readers. That is not the case, however, as one look at the intricately detailed woodcuts proves. Full of warmth, energy, and humor, the artwork celebrates both the joys and frustrations of gardening.

For the letter N, Azarian uses the word nibble, wryly illustrated by several wild animals -- raccoons, a deer, and a rabbit -- helping themselves to the crops. Nearby, from inside a humane trap, a surprised cat looks on. The letter Z, represented by zucchini, features a man and a woman nearly collapsing under the weight of a zucchini that is larger than either of them. On the page for F, two youngsters enjoy a rather formal looking fountain, sitting on its edge and cooling their bare feet in the water.

Mary Azarian, a Caldecott medalist, is skilled as both a gardener and a woodblock artist. In A Gardener's Alphabet, she has created the perfect vehicle with which to spark discussions on the topic of gardening.

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The great day has arrived for two ants who have "loved each other since they were larvae" -- and nothing is going right for the about-to-be married couple. The final -- and worst -- disaster occurs when the bride falls into a puddle, precipitating rescue efforts of epic proportions. By the end of the day, however, all is set right and the newly married couple head off on their honeymoon.

The Wacky Wedding: A Book of Alphabet Antics (Hyperion Books for Children), written by Pamela Duncan Edwards and illustrated by Henry Cole, is no run-of-the-mill ABC book. On one level, there is the literal story of the wedding of the queen ant and her hapless husband-to-be, who is practically suffocated when a bird drops a berry on his head. Then there is Edwards's skillful use of alliteration throughout the book; her words are great fun to read and to hear, as in the section describing the cleaner ants who drop the wedding cake:

Carpenter ants carried a cicada with confetti. Cleaner ants carried the colony's cake. "Dear me!" cried a dragonfly. "The daydreamers have dropped it!" "Disgraceful!" declared a drone in disgust.

Illustrator Cole's bug's-eye view includes tall, treelike blades of grass; berries as large as watermelons; and a puddle as wide and as deep as a lake. The featured letter is hidden somewhere its page. For those who enjoy this type of visual game, many of the letters are quite difficult to locate.


Book Cover Image For an excellent example of how the ABC book format can be used to teach other subjects, look no further than Touchdown Mars! (G. P. Putnam's Sons), written by Peggy Wethered and Ken Edgett and illustrated by Michael Chesworth. As eight youngsters -- of both sexes and a variety of ethnicities -- and their cat embark on a three-year mission to Mars, readers learn all about space travel.

Each page features Chesworth's appealing pen and watercolor illustrations that highlight amusing pictures of the young astronauts and simple but factual maps, cross-sections, and more. A green box contains simple text -- consisting of one or two sentences -- utilizing a word for each letter. For example, for the letter K, the text reads "You know you are getting closer to Mars because it is appearing larger and larger every day. Your knowledge of this planet will grow and grow after you arrive."

A separate box for each page elaborates on the highlighted word:

Your spacecraft's computers are programmed with the knowledge necessary to automatically fire small rockets at a precise moment to slow your vehicle. This will put the spacecraft into orbit around Mars. You can't wait to get there and start exploring!

For those readers who want even more information, there is a brief, four-page set of additional Mars facts arranged in alphabetical order at the end of the book.

Wethered and Edgett have written a book that is actually two books in one. Younger children will enjoy the pictures and the simple text that advances the action and allows them to view Touchdown Mars! as a typical ABC book. Older readers will want to read the expanded text that covers topics relating to space travel and Mars.

The books highlighted this week are available in most bookstores. If you are unable to locate any of the books, ask your bookseller to order them for you or contact the publisher directly:

  • Prairie Primer: A to Z, written by Caroline Stutson and illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb, is published by Puffin Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014-3657.
  • A Gardener's Alphabet, written and illustrated by Mary Azarian, is published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.
  • The Wacky Wedding: A Book of Alphabet Antics, written by Pamela Duncan Edwards and illustrated by Henry Cole, is published by Hyperion Books for Children, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011.
  • Touchdown Mars! written by Peggy Wethered and Ken Edgett and illustrated by Micchael Chesworth, is published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Putnam, Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014-3657.

Lauren P. Gattilia
Education World®
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