I am so thankful for this book, which actually knows how to use rhyming text properly. It’s an alphabet book about the various things a child might see around town, but each letter is accompanied by a verse which not only rhymes perfectly, but also manages to include several uses of the letter sound. I especially like the page about the escalator, which says “It’s nicer than scaling ladders / Or scrambling ‘round a hill, / For you climb and climb / But all the time / You’re really standing still.” I also love the clever line about the jay-walker who “turns your knees to jelly / and the traffic into jam.” Despite its being 64 years old, the illustrations in this one are still fresh and I think a contemporary child could enjoy the entire thing just as much as his/her grandparents might have way back when.
Gone Wild by David McLimans. Published 2006. Caldecott Honor 2007. Walker & Company. ISBN: 9780802795632
This book was a disappointment. I was expecting a very accessible alphabet book all about endangered species. Instead, the book simply lists a few facts about each animal and presents an abstract image of each one, which is somehow molded into the shape of the letter it starts with. The illustrations are well done, and interesting to look at, but I don’t see how the audience for an alphabet book would ever understand the images without lots of adult intervention. This book is too basic to satisfy any kid’s real scientific curiosity, but too complex to entertain small kids who are into ABC books. The back matter does got into a bit more depth about the various animals, but I was so bored by that point, I only skimmed.
An American ABC. by Maud and Miska Petersham. Published 1941. Caldecott Honor 1942. ISBN: 9789997489968
Like Robert Lawson’s They Were Strong and Good, this book tries hard to convey a set of specific American ideals, this time using the alphabet as the vehicle for sharing information about famous American people, places, and other icons. The book is obviously dated now because it refers to Native Americans as “red men,” “redskins” and “unfriendly Indians,” and it uses the word “Negroes,” but it’s actually not a terrible introduction to American history. I learned the origin of the word “knickerbocker,” which appealed to my New York roots and I was pleased that the authors did note that American Indians were the first real Americans. Finally, I thought it was interesting to see the version of the pledge that does not contain “under God” and to note the 48-star flag.
Hosie’s Alphabet. by Leonard Baskin. Published 1972. Caldecott Honor 1973. Viking Children's Books. ISBN: 9780670379583
This strange alphabet book actually includes more dark figures than I was expecting. D is for Demon might not have been my first choice for a children’s book. (A quick Google search reveals that this book was challenged in Seattle in 1996. I don’t agree with banning books, obviously, but that was my first thought when I saw that particular page.) As a lesson in the ABCs, this book pretty much fails - it’s really more like a collection of paintings inspired by an alphabetical series of concepts. Some of the pictures are neat, such as the page for octopus, where the text is doubled so that four words become 8. I also love the rhinoceros, where light and shadow work together to convey the animal’s size, and the unicorn, whose silver outlines hint as invisibility.
See other Caldecott Challenge participants' blogs on the challenge page at LibLaura5. Follow my challenge progress here.