Four Great
Alphabet Books

Children's book review by Suzanne Holland

If you are going to write an alphabet book, you need a pretty interesting come on. After all, it’s not as if plot is going to play an important role, nor is there going to be much suspense (as far as I know, j still comes after k and all the crazy consonants are still stuck at the end).

Therefore, illustrations and a narrative twist are what is going to make an alphabet book stand out from the crowd. The following four books are some of the ones I have used in my classroom with great success.

The Butterfly Alphabet by Kjell B. Sandved

letters on butterfly wings

This is a fabulous book! The illustrations are actually photographs of butterflies and moths from around the world. Magnified to an incredible degree, the wings of these creatures show a letter of the alphabet! It’s true; somewhere in the world there exists a butterfly for each letter of the alphabet.

It is not as if there is a blatant F or an R that is plainly visible without magnification. But thanks to the twenty-five year quest of Sandved, butterflies from jungles and suburbs are displayed like jewels on velvet.

The featherwing metalmark butterfly has a lovely lowercase I on its wings, and if you look carefully, you can pick out the X in the uraniid moth. My children would marvel at this book and would pore over it with a magnifying glass.

The pictures were accompanied by poetical descriptions; “merry nymphs in brilliant dress, messengers of happiness” for the letter M. However, it is the pictures that capture the eye and imagination. In the back of The Butterfly Alphabet, Sandved has included scientific information about each of the butterflies.

The Underwater Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta.
Illustrated by Edgar Stewart.

This book concentrates on sea life from coral reefs. Children love the brightly colored illustrations; they are beautifully detailed and give you that dreamy sensation of floating along with the fish.

Pallotta describes each fish in a short paragraph of about five sentences.

He picks the silliest or strangest fact for each and occasionally inserts his own funny comments, such as “Anything that is crazy enough to eat a Porcupine Fish is in for a surprise and maybe a stomach ache.”

Kids seem to retain a lot of information about exotic fish, and budding marine biologists will love The Underwater Alphabet Book.

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z, by Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert is an author/illustrator whom teachers love. While her actual prose is spare, she includes wonderful details and her illustrations are vivid and use creative methods, like cut paper.

Eating the Alphabet is a journey through healthy eating. A is for apricot, artichoke, avocado, apple and asparagus. The names of the vegetables are presented in both upper and lower case, which is a nice touch. Review continues.

There are some unusual foods presented as well as the old standbys. When I was a little girl, I certainly did not know what endive, gooseberries or jicama were (I’m not sure if I’d eat them today, either). For a picky eater this could seed (pun intended!) a new appreciation of vegetables.

Many children love to garden and Ehlert’s book would be a wonderful inspiration. Adults are sure to love the reference page at the end.

The Sweet and Sour Animal Book by Langston Hughes.
Illustrated by students from the Harlem School of the Arts.

With a forward by Ben Vereen, readers are introduced to the magical poetry of Langston Hughes who, as one of America’s preeminent writers and poets, brought fame and recognition to the Harlem section of New York.

Apparently, this selection of little poems is a discovery of a lost manuscript, and it is exciting to think a new generation is able to discover this talented author. The short and silly poems are aimed right at a young audience and formatted in an alphabet style.

Thus, L is for

“A lion shut up in a zoo,
lives a life of smothered rage”

And Z reads

“Zebra, zebra. Which is right -
White on black - Or black on white?”

This is poetry meant for memorizing, laughter and discussion. The illustrations are wonderful for many reasons, not least because they are made by children. Created in the mid 1960s, the Harlem School of the Arts gives children a place to nurture and explore artistic possibilities. The illustrations are mixed medium; cut paper, glue, paint, Styrofoam, etc.

As a teacher, I can show this to my students and send them off to try their own interpretations.

I love that this is a book that appeals to children on many levels, while at the same time can facilitate a discussion of diversity and famous Americans.

The Sweet and Sour Animal Book is a worthwhile investment.

Visit our main alphabet book page.

Read more of Suzanne's reviews.

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