Tag Archives: abc

A Garden of Ordinary Miracles

This book is the reason why I write about picture books.  I write about picture books because they offer a particular window into the genius and creativity of the human spirit. Picture books are able to touch on the simple, the complex, the whimsical, the sobering… all printed and bound and held in your hand. A Garden Of Ordinary Miracles: An Alphabet Book is not a normal, polished picture book. It is as if we are reading the exact, unedited nature journal of author Robert R. Zakanitch. Each spread of pages includes one side of raw sketches… really raw— you can even see the eraser smudges still on parts. And the other side of the page is a glorious, large scale watercolor of whatever flower he is illustrating for that letter. This is an important book.

morninggloryIt’s a book that is so beautiful it could be displayed on coffee tables. (Anthropologie thought so too.) It’s a book that makes someone like me want to rethink my whole resistance to doing a systematic ABC-preschool plan… just because I want to display a page from this book every day or week we cover that letter. Truth be told, I am not organized or dedicated enough to operate preschool in any sort of structured manner outside of “Let’s count how many Hot Wheels mommy pulls out of the toilet!” But still… the desire is there because of beautiful things like this.

I currently display pages from The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady in the window box above my sink… but I would be absolutely thrilled to display Garden on a homeschooling shelf or even as a centerpiece to my table during morning lessons.  We have a divinely mandated duty to bring beauty in our homes… and owning, reading, displaying, and talking about this with our children would be an exemplary way to start.


Top 10 Little Books

Beatrix Potter knew what she was doing as she created the world of Peter Rabbit. When she turned down initial publisher’s offers (due to their requests to modify her books in length and size), she went ahead and self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit on her own at first, because she had a very specific vision for her work. Namely, she wanted her books to be small enough to fit in a small child’s hands… and her illustrations were designed to fill the page of one small book.

To this day, while there are many compilations and anthologies of the Peter Rabbit series, nothing… NOTHING compares to the magic of the small, hardback set of single, independent, tiny volumes. If your home library of picture books consists of nothing other than this set, you’ll be leagues ahead of 90% of your parenting peers in the sheer quality of what you’re offering.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the awesomeness of tiny books in general. What child doesn’t love miniature things designed just for their size? Especially when the miniatures are real, be it functional tea cups, utensils, brooms, aprons etc. So it is with books. There is something special about volumes published under 7 inches tall. And the only thing I love more than reading tiny books to my children, is seeing my young ones sprawled out in the grass on their own with a little book of their own fitting so nicely in their little hands.

Little books pack into diaper bags well, fit into stockings, Easter baskets and everyday baskets, and make fantastic little bonus gifts to accompany other items.  Here is my pick of the 10 best little books on the market today:

 The Peter Rabbit books. Of course. Just go ahead and throw all 23 titles into one listing here. Each is excellent.

 The Story of Little Black Sambo. Okay, so all the modern parents prefer The Story of Little Babaji (also on the small side) because it is more PC, but I love the original myself. I have both books and my children like both equally but I have a nostalgic spot for the old one because my mother read it to me so many times…

 The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. Alligators All Around is the standout book in this 4-volume set but they are so well priced as a collection, I’d go ahead and purchase the others with that title.

 Pelle’s New Suit (mini edition). I normally prefer my full-sized Elsa Beskow books, but this one in particular works as a mini because it doesn’t have as much text as most of her other titles.  For that, and the fact that it is the perfect springtime book, it’s on the list.

 A Hole Is to Dig is perhaps my very favorite “nonsensically profound” books (I made that category up; nice eh?). From the silly to the thought provoking, Ruth Krauss found magic in pairing with Sendak on this title.  The hardback is out of print, but worth finding…

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog is the first in the series and my favorite Mercer Mayer books by far. They are wordless but tell a lovely story… don’t forget the equally excellent sequels Frog Goes to Dinner,  Frog, Where Are You? and others.

 The Brave Cowboy. My three year old fell in love with the Brave Cowboy when he first met him and it’s still one of his favorite books to call his own and to be found curled up with in a corner somewhere. That’s enough to merit a spot on this list.

 Alphabet of Boats. Linocuts. Boats. Education. Beauty. Simplicity. All under 5 square inches.  I can’t help that so many of the books I love are out of print— sorry!  Just keep your eyes peeled for this little gem.  (Which reminds me… I’ve seen enough good stuff now to warrant “Volume 3” version of Top Ten Alphabet books… hmm, will attend to that soon hopefully.)

 Let’s Be Enemies. Sendak illustrating again!  He excelled at the tiny books. Janice May Undry created a lovely little tale of making and breaking friendships. It’s very fun to read with a 5 year old…

 The Little Train… or really, any Lois Lenski books. All are small. My favorite ones are his seasonal books which are a bit spendy OOP, but any of his occupational books like this one or Policeman Small or The Little Airplane, etc are vintage winners as well.

And now, some qualifying remarks:

I would’ve included the gorgeous Flower Fairies Alphabet, but I’m mad that they skipped the letter X. You can cheat a little or work around it… but don’t skip the letter altogether!

Also, these are slightly larger than ‘tiny’, but of immense importance in the picture book collector’s world: The Year in Brambly Hedge Set and Adventures in Brambly Hedge Set. Unfortunately these books are long out of print but they are really wonderful to own and cherish… in the same botanical goodness vein as one would find the Beatrix Potter books.

And lastly, I’ve requested an inter-library loan to get my eyes on The Treehorn Trilogy. It looks fabulous. Edward Gorey is not everyone’s cup of pictorial tea but I like him and am eager to see these books!


The Glorious ABC

If you haven’t surmised by now, I have a thing for alphabet books.  I also have a thing for Christmas books and wordless books and certainly other categories as well… but I really have a thing for alphabet books.  In fact, I probably need to make another top ten list because the first TWO lists weren’t enough!!! Just the challenge of finding a great theme and being able to execute each page of the book well… it takes skill and the thrill of the puzzle is what delights me.

Cooper Edens is a special sort of author/illustrator.  He is best known for his “horizontal storytelling” where the reader solves the string of “problems”… as can be seen in one of my very favorite gift-giving books (for people of ALL ages): If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.

Well Edens thought it would be special to make a hall-of-fame picture book… one that celebrates many of the fantastic illustrators of picture book past and does a blessed fine job of it.

The Glorious ABC is a lovely diversion in picture book time travel. I had such a delightful time going through this book… and I wondered about how much fun it would be to come up with my own picture book titles “Hall of Fame” for each letter of the alphabet.  Possible I’m sure… and so many possibilities!


Butterfly Bonanza: a Top Ten List

Yesterday, we just celebrated a butterfly-themed birthday with my 5 year old.  I never do birthday themes, but after my mother-in-law gave her a lovely butterfly dress and I purchased the excellent Live Butterfly Garden… we decided to go ahead and make a butterfly cake and call it a theme.

This of course led to me thinking about all my favorite butterfly books since the tail end of June is just when our weather starts to think about heating up a bit around here and fluttery creatures can finally be seen in earnest… so here’s my vote of Top Ten Butterfly Books in no particular order:

A bright and colorful starter book. The novelty factor in turning different sized pages helps engage kids. I like the very basic ID primer to butterflies and the flowers they like in the back.

One of Kleven’s newer books, this continues to offer her typical feast for the eyes with a sweet lost and found story about a glass-wing butterfly—(a real creature!).
A lovely, nostalgic memory put into picture book form
Studying the Middle Ages? Scientists?  This is an excellent, easy biographical story for very young readers on how our understanding of the natural world has changed for the better, partially through the work of Maria Merian.
An exquisite photographic journey through the alphabet that will awe young and old alike; one of my very favorite alphabet books.
Sublime illustrations… truly.

I love the size of this book.  It is a great mix of story and information Meilo So‘s art is really the standout.

One of the four gorgeous books that this author has made in this series; these are the ideal “strewing” books.
Not a lot of older Jack Kent books are still in print, much to the dismay of his cult followers.  But this one is!  It’s a silly, simple story of a smug caterpillar changing into a butterfly much to the confused amazement of a polliwog who does some changing himself.
I would hope that this one is a given… I prefer it in board book myself.  

And these are the titles of a few more books I’ve just requested from the library to check out; butterflies are a prolific genre of bug!

Gotta Go! Gotta Go!
Butterfly Butterfly: A Book of Colors
Wings of Light: The Migration of the Yellow Butterfly  (update: very nice book following the tale of migration)


S is for Salmon… and Sadness and Suspension

This is me today:

I earned a tiny commission check from my essential oil business today.  I proudly deposited it with the responsible intention of paying library fees that have reached their limit (after $25 you can’t check out books anymore).  Cleared that slate and then remembered with disgruntledness that my toddler had ruined a book recently which we will now have to buy. And then the kicker: I noticed on my account that I had 13 books a week late.  In dollar terms that’s about $26 at this particularly stingy library. Crimeny.  Boo. Wail.  Lament. So now, when all is said and done… it’s a $70 day at the library.  This is no bueno. 
My usually supportive husband may put us on library suspension for a while again (I’ve been there before… it was a deserved sentence… but not one fun to serve!).
 In other news, I’d like to suggest a lovely, lovely little new book: S is for Salmon: A Pacific Northwest Alphabet.  If you live in the Northwest, or know someone who does or are studying the area… this is a wonderful book to own or give as a gift.  I love paper cutting artwork and Hannah Viano does an excellent job in this.  This is a REAL alphabet book, designed for little ones with the perfect amount of text.  It is not the encyclopedic or contrived type of state book that you’ll find in the  “Discover America State by State” series (like E is for Evergreen: A Washington State Alphabet ).  (As a disclaimer, there is reference to a plant being millions of years old… Creationists may object to this. I personally present such “facts” in books as simply “theories” while staying happily within the boundaries of what my faith allows.)


ABC Animals: Pick of the Week

I didn’t think I could get excited about any new alphabet books.  There are so many fabulous ones on the market already.  (See my Top 10 posts Part One and Part Two about that— which means I either need to amend these lists or start a Part Three!)  But this is like someone reinvented the wheel! Produced by the American Museum of Natural History, ABC Animals is a large board book that is one of the best alphabet books I’ve seen in a long time. What makes it so appealing?  The simplicity for one thing. It’s printed on excellent, high glossy pages with incredibly engaging photographs of various animals.  The text is very brief too.  Many alphabet animal books act like encyclopedia entries and kids almost never take the time to read through the whole bit.  This one is perfect, just one or two sentences describing a fun fact about each animal.  And it succeeds on one of my most critical alphabet-book-judging-points!  They didn’t cheat on the letter X!  (X-ray Tetra Fish indeed!) Considering that this was just a spontaneous grab at the library, I am highly impressed!  Now I have to go seek out the AMNH’s other ABC books: ABC Dinosaurs and their new ABC Oceans which will release next month.


The NEXT Top Ten Alphabet Books

I can’t help it; there are so many good ones!  Whether it’s lovely alphabet books that tell a story or clever ones that explore a concept or theme, the genre is loaded with many books that are much better than any disconnected alphabet books that may exist. So, here is my Top 10 NEXT best Alphabet Books… to be taken as a follow-up to the first titles that made the cut.

 Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak is one title I can’t believe I forgot on the first list! Maurice Sendak at his best and I really love the size of this book. This is an important piece of psychological consideration authors and publishers have to make.

ABC Bunny by Wanda Gag. Here is a sweet, simple story (decked out in Gag’s wonderfully folksy illustrations) that just happens to be an alphabet book.

 The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg.  The man who thrives in the “books noir” category has given us a clever little treat detailing the demise of all the letters of the alphabet.  Whether the B gets bitten or the K gets kidnapped, this is a fun book for kids just past the toddler stage.

 On Market Street by Arnold Lobel.  There is nothing super clever about the text in this book, it’s the illustrations that make it shine.  Watching the man get smothered by his purchases on market street will be sure to evoke giggles from all.

 The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni.  Now this is an unusual alphabet book.  Rather it’s a story about phonics and literacy and team-building.  Don’t expect the typical “A is for…” Instead it’s a learning adventure, good for slow-to-start readers perhaps.

 The Alphabet Game by Trina Schart Hyman.  No story here, just pictures filled with words beginning with each letter of the alphabet.  I am a fan of Schart-Hyman’s work in the fairy tale genre and this came as a refreshing addition to her opus. It’s another small book for small hands… I love those.

 Anno’s Alphabet.  Who doesn’t love Anno?!  Each page spread features a letter and an accompanying picture of something starting with that letter.  It works the brain though too; there are hidden images in the border… lovely all around.

 The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vacarro Seeger.  A truly clever book. Each letter contains the shape somehow of objects beginning with that letter.  A fun exercise for kids to figure out what it’s trying to detail.  Check out the product video on Amazon.

 Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks From A to Z.  The classic.  All homes should have this in their baby basket.  It’s one of the best, simple and most engaging books for toddlers ever.  Get it now.

 ABC3D by Marion Bataille.  I love this book even though I won’t own it.  See, it’s a pop-up and we have a volatile relationship with pop-ups here in this house.  But I see it’s tremendous benefits especially for kids who may struggle with dyslexia or other learning issues.  It offers a tangible, tactile presence of the letter and that is valuable for many, many learners.


Top 10 Best Alphabet Books

Seems like there’s an alphabet book on nearly every topic these days; some of them are great! Others are obscure or random or superfluous to the opus of children’s literature. But if you are determined enough, you’ll probably find an alphabet book on most topics of interest to a child. Alphabet books are emphatically NOT just useful for preschoolers, they can be clever conduits to information and creativity in a myriad of ways. Of the many, many alphabet books out there, these are Ellie’s opinion of the Top Ten, which had to be so sadly limited. {updated to link Part II of this list!}
 Animalia by Graeme Base is my first immediate choice. The Australian Graeme Base is one of those illustrators that must really adore art since he puts so much time and detail into his lavish pictures; each page is a feast for the eyes and in this particular book, no detail is too small as everything on every page begins with its corresponding letter. Each page offers a bit of a vocabulary lesson as well: “Proud peacocks preening perfect plumage.” This books could easily double as an I-Spy book, it’s as much of a delight for 2 year olds as it is for adults.

 A Farmer’s Alphabet by Mary Azarian. I love woodcuts and you should too. This particular woman does them beautifully. The book details very simple words from farm life and black ink woodcuts to pore over. She’s produced another book: A Gardener’s Alphabet in the same vein that is also fun to peruse… though much more colorful.

B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner is another winner. It deserves a spot in the Top Ten not just for the nice, gentle rhyming… but mostly because of its illustrator– one I’ve highlighted before– Elisa Kleven. Amazon lists this book as discontinued I think, but other internet searches reveal that it is still in print; I was lucky enough to score a beautiful hardback for free on Bookmooch. Bonus points that it is available as a board book too. (Think gifting for children or godchildren.)

The Icky Bug Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta. My boys adored this book. There is so much to learn and love in the insect world and Jerry Pallotta is an excellent choice to bring insects up close for children in a fun, sometimes humorous way. I also wanted to make sure to include this author because he has a whole bunch of other topical alphabet books– everything from birds, flowers, deserts and airplanes.  Especially note his excellent Construction Alphabet Book… a little boy’s dream.

A is for Annabelle by the never disappointing Tasha Tudor. Doll lovers everywhere will swoon over this book and the exquisite and sweet illustrations that glorify the details and delights of dollies.

 Alphabet City by Stephen Johnson. This is a wordless book that cleverly shows urban landscapes highlighting each letter of the alphabet. Not only is the art extremely well done, but the concept itself inspires all sorts of scavenger hunt games in children. This will help them to see the world in a different way, to find letters in everyday things and to want to copycat this idea through photography or drawing from unusual perspectives.

 Museum ABC by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I might call this one a must-have, especially if you are lacking in art appreciation materials. This is a very clever, useful book that showcases each letter along with four famous paintings that show off the word. In the back is useful information about the paintings and artists in the book… an excellent way to squeeze some “culture” into a child’s life. There is also a Museum 123.

 Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. This book is being included because it truly is a great preschool book. Bright, chunky fruits and vegetables, in typical Lois Ehlert style, adorn each page. It obviously inspired my 2 year old as she has literally eaten our copy beyond repair.

 The Handmade Alphabet by Laura Rankin. An excellent introduction to the ASL alphabet, this book is so clever and beautiful; each page features a hand demonstrating the sign for the letter along with pictures of what’s represented (The X hand is shown through an X-Ray).
 The Butterfly Alphabet by Kjell Bloch Sandved. Now here is a truly innovative book, one to nourish butterfly lovers everywhere and to demonstrate just how ingenious God is in His natural designs of the universe. Each page shows a full picture photograph of a butterfly and the opposite page is an extreme close-up of the actual letter in the butterfly’s wing. Who knew?! Truly a beauty.

“The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones. “-John Wooden