I feel like the 26 letters of the alphabet are some kind of end-all, be-all in the toddler world. Does your child know his alphabet? Does he really, or does he just know the song? Will he fail kindergarten if he doesn’t have them memorized before that glorious graduation day? It’s nerve-wracking and annoying, really.
Then again, I lucked out in the ABC category. Let me #humblebrag and be done when I tell you that my son could identify the letters by sight by 18 months (although, he did mysteriously call “X” “equis” for a really long time…). We were shocked. No one really saw it coming, and, no, I didn’t stage-mom him into it. He just likes letters. My sweet almost-3-year-old wants his PB&J cut into 16 pieces, needs help taking his socks off, and has no interest in dressing himself, but the alphabet is his jam. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, I suppose.
Like any “good” (trying-my-best?) mom, I’m feeding the
passion with a fervour. To be honest, I selfishly ply him with alphabet games and books so that he’ll entertain himself while I scroll through Facebo…I mean, uh, scrub tile grout and buff the, uh, silver. I’ve come across some clever alphabet books, but I’ve also suffered through some duds. Since we have the letter-learnin’ down, the book had better be freakin’ entertaining for Mama, or it’s getting tossed into the “return to the library” pile quickly.
I snagged four of George’s alphabet-themed titles before he went to bed. Otherwise, I’m sure my list would be longer, and you’d wander off to social media that much sooner (as will I while writing this).
The Numberlys by William Joyce and Christina Ellis
This chipper book is based on early 1900s film director Fritz Lang’s silent film, Metropolis. I only know this because I was fortunate enough to take a sci-fi film class for my English major.
(Side Note: 2001: A Space Odyssey was incredibly boring and over-hyped, and Alien was terrifying. I did, however surprisingly, enjoy The Terminator for Michael Biehn’s character. I am the only person on planet Earth to have this opinion.)
The Numberlys are cute, obedient, hammer-pants wearers who live in a black-and-white (literally and figuratively) world of numbers, but no letters. As the book sets up, “Everyone liked numbers. They had nice shapes and kept things orderly. And everything added up … so life was sort of … numberly.” Five friends decide to buck tradition and invent something new. When they form letters, magic takes place, and the gray-shaded world turns colorful, fun, and beautiful.
Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli
George received this book as a first-birthday present, and I’m forever grateful. This one quickly became a favorite and helped him solidify his ABC-learnin’. Each page has the letter cut out, asking the reader what word begins with that letter. “A is for…(page turn)…apple!” X is, of course, for x-ray, but it’s a bit creepy to see the bones of a toddler-sized hand. Also, I love that “Y is for yacht.” What 2-year-old needs to be able to say “yacht?” Maybe those trust fund babies…may as well give them a strong head start.
Take Away the A by Michaël Escoffier (yeah, I’m not going to attempt to pronounce that bad boy.)
I’m about 82% sure George isn’t catching the gimmick of this clever book, but I assume it’ll kick in one day. Every time I read it to him, I wonder how Michaël Escoffier came up with an example for all 26 letters. Each page explains how taking away one letter completely changes the situation. For instance, “Without the L, plants wear pants.” (See? Removing the “l” from “plants” makes “pants.” OK, it took me a few pages to understand the concept, but that’s probably just me.)
My favorite is “Without the G, the glove falls in love.” I mean, it’s a giant, man-purse-wielding glove mooning over a baguette-carrying octopus, and I totally buy it! I’m also a fan of “Without the P, the plate is too late,” featuring a cat eating a mouse while other mice scurry (do mice to anything but scurry?) to bring food to him. I love the confidence of calling your children’s book “an Alphabeast of a book!”
Achoo! Bang! Crash!: The Noisy Alphabet by Ross MacDonald
For about a month, I hated this book. George made me read it again and again. I normally don’t mind encore readings, but this book requires the reader to make sound effects. I find it impossible to simply read a book monotone, so, regardless of my personal well-being, I’m achoo-ing, singing an operatic “lah!,” and energetically spitting out words like “fa-dwap!” and “squeak, screech, squish, splat…!” All for the love of the game, I suppose.
I think of this book as perfection for boys. It’s loud and a little obnoxious, but in the fun way that little boys think farts and falling down are hilarious. I can’t write about Achoo! Bang! Crash! without commenting on the artwork. MacDonald used 19th-century wood type, and he includes photos at the end of the book. It’s beautiful and unique, which is highlighted only by the fact that “J” is about Santa being stuck in a chimney (jingle, jingle, jingle … jiggle, jiggle, jiggle) and “I” about a little girl smooching a boy (ICK!).
Those not-quite deserving the effort of a photo:
- B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano. — Hannah, you lost points by “B,” when you made me read about bear scat. Ew.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault — A classic, but I wanted to showcase something fresh and new.
Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book! by Dr. Seuss — I get tired of trying to explain what a “Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz” is to my 2-year-old.
- The Z was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg — strangely violent.
- LMNO Peas by Keith Baker — Y’all know I’m a fan.
How have you urged your kid to learn the alphabet? Was it really as important as we’re told?