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Alphabet Books | Great Books for Kids | Letter Books | Sweet Peas & Stilettos
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Alphabet Books

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A is for Aisle by Susan Fry

Once my kids started school, I realized that “the alphabet” I took for granted isn’t actually made up of twenty-six letters. If you think about it, kids really have to learn multiple alphabets.

Take capital and lowercase letters, for example. They often seem to have no logical relationship to each other. Even “A” and “a” could come from separate species. And the difference between handwritten letters and fonts can make even an expert teacher sweat. Compare the “a” kids are taught to write vs. the Times New Roman “a.” Serif and sans-serif fonts can confuse kids, and deciphering some of the more decorative fonts is a downright challenge. I don’t even want to think about the cursive alphabet(s) coming in second grade.

No wonder there are so many alphabet books. Amazon.com alone lists 6,390.

The books seem to fall into three categories:

• Decorative books that make letters out of objects such as snakes (for S) or houses (for H).

• Theme books that revolve around a single subject, such as ballet (A is for arabesque) or sports (B is for baseball).

• Story books that create some kind of adventure around the alphabet.

While the standard alphabet books can help a child learn, they can also be tedious for grown ups and kids alike. I was happy to find the following extra-playful books, which entertain and teach at the same time.

How to Build an A, by Sara Midda. This excellent introduction actually lets kids build their own letters. The book comes with an ingenious set of foam blocks – eleven rectangles, curves, and dots – that can be combined to form all twenty-six uppercase letters. Open the book to the letter “F,” for example, and you’ll find not only the standard “F is for flower” and flower picture combination, but also a small cartoon figure building the letter to show kids which blocks to use.

AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First, by Alethea Kontis, illustrated by Bob Kolar. When the letter Z decides he’s tired of coming last, all the letters jockey for new positions in the alphabet. An outlined alphabet on the bottom of every page means kids can compare the “new” order with the traditional one. The puns are clever enough to make grownups laugh, and the cheerful, blocky cartoons will appeal even to children too young to learn their letters.

Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Types, by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. I was terrified that my kids wouldn’t love this book as much as I did, but I couldn’t get my five-year-old to put it down. Each two-page spread presents an animal formed out of letters. But these aren’t ordinary letters – the authors use a wide variety of fonts to help kids understand how an “a” can be written many different ways. This book is a work of art, with heavy, satisfying paper stock and stunning, midcentury-modernish design. It even has flaps to open!

Crazy ABCs” from the Barenaked Ladies’ Snack Time. Yes, I know this song isn’t a book. But it should be. Spelling can be frustrating, and the song finds the humor in the fact that so many English words don’t sound the way they’re written. The singer explains that “Everyone knows apple ball and cat, / I wanted to get into some, you know, some stranger words.” His choices, such as “a is for aisle, g for gnarly, p for pneumonia,” will have parents and older kids in hysterics.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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