Friday, February 1, 2013
ABC Books: Works of Art, Humor, or Pedagogy?
I love alphabet books. Like certain poetry forms, the limits imposed by the form can be one of their strengths. But they can also get repetitive and unoriginal. For example, I thought the non-traditional alphabet books, Z is for Moose (reviewed here) and A Call for a New Alphabet were unique and funny. In both of those, a letter towards or at the end of the alphabet wants to be moved up in the world. But when I saw A is for Musk Ox and A is for Salad (which, to be fair, was published the earliest of the four mentioned here), I just thought, How many of these types of alphabet books do we need?!? A is for Musk Ox follows the pattern of Z is for Moose and A Call for a New Alphabet, as the musk ox pastes the word musk ox over the correct word for each letter (e.g., on the cover you can see that it is covering up the word apple). A is for Salad has an "incorrect" word choice for each letter... but a picture of an animal that does start with that letter eating or doing the "incorrect thing: e.g. the F page says "F is for soup" but depicts a frog eating that soup. These books appeal to a very narrow audience - children who already know the alphabet and are old enough to get the joke, yet young enough not to be bored or turned off by an alphabet book. These are works of humor more than teaching tools.
In The Absolutely Awful Alphabet by Mordicai Gerstein and An Annoying ABC by Barbara Bottner and illustrated by Michael Emberly, each letter does (or names a person who does) something bad to the next letter or person.
Denise Fleming's Alphabet Under Construction also has a plot, as a mouse creates each letter of the alphabet, airbrushing the A, gluing the G, kinking the K (my favorite) and finally zipping the Z. I prefer these, as they do have a plot. My favorite alphabet book with a plot is Alison Murray's Apple Pie ABC which I review here.
There is room on the bookshelf, of course, for all types of alphabet books. But not my bookshelf, in my small NYC apartment. I'll stick to my old favorites, discussed here and here, many of which are works of art more than humor or pedagogy. The rest I'll just borrow from the library.
What would make you buy an alphabet book? Which would you buy as a gift? To teach your own child? For a classroom? For a library?