I am so sick of “X is for xylophone.”
I get it. There aren’t many words that start with x. And “X is for xenopus” will likely garner blank stares from the preschool set.
But when you read books to kids nonstop, the tedium of alphabet books can become A is for aggravating.
So here is me being H is for helpful. Nab these unorthodox alphabet books the next time you’re at the library. You and your kids will love breaking free of the predictability of A to Z.
Oops Pounce Quick Run, by Mark Twohy. This is an alphabet book with a plot: a super-simple yet fun chase that zips along the whole alphabet. It should come as no surprise that Twohy is also a New Yorker cartoonist: The understated but funny pages could easily find a home in that illustrious magazine (if it were published for kids). Peeper, who also loves classic Mickey Mouse cartoons, cracks up as the mouse tries to outrun the dog.
Take Away the A, by Michaël Escoffier. Children are introduced to the magic alchemy of language in this out of the ordinary alphabet book: When you take away a letter, words transform—and hilarity ensues. One of Peeper’s favorites is “Without the L, plants wear pants.” Silly (and sometimes slightly dark) scenarios with their quirky illustrations entertain me just as much as my preschooler. Peeper will grow into this book, too—as she learns to read and write, she’ll start to see the humor of changing words one letter at a time.
Once Upon an Alphabet, by Oliver Jeffers. This collection of interconnected short-short stories is as inventive and quirky as you’d expect from the illustrator of The Day the Crayons Quit. The tales are just a few sentences long—a perfect length for a preschooler or toddler’s short attention span—but they are irreverent and clever, too. Take, for example, the adventurous cup that pursues its dream to live near the window—only to realize that the jump down to the counter is disastrous for a ceramic mug, or the particularly dim parsnip that can’t figure out what kind of vegetable it is. If you like weird mini-stories, you’ll love teaching your child the ABCs with Once Upon an Alphabet.
A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara. Poke around on the bookshelves of a certain set of families and you’re sure to find this must-buy book for progressive parents. Written in an eclectic style that mixes protest chants with poetry slam-like rhythms, it embodies the spirit of activism. The gorgeous illustrations look like graffiti and Communist propaganda posters, and your little will enjoy looking for the black cat that pops up on each page—sometimes in the most unlikely places. Whether you’re the type to wear your baby to a rally or watch from afar, this alphabet book will teach your little about fighting for human rights.
Z is for Moose, by Kelly Bingham. Kids will identify with Moose as his unbridled enthusiasm deteriorates into impatience and then an epic tantrum. The antlered hero butts into other animals’ pages as a frustrated zebra—the referee, of course—tries to maintain alphabetical order. Kids who already know the alphabet will correct poor Moose, who simply can’t wait for his turn to take the stage as M’s representative.
Alphabetum, by Vladimir Radunsky and Chris Raschka. The authors invent names and mini-stories about the children posing in antique black and white photos. The rhymes spin histories, personalities and very strong opinions for these kids, all based on the tiniest of details in the images. Alphabetum mixes old with new, serious with silly in this alphabet book that is unlike anything else you’ll find at the library. (Side note: I’m pretty sure Peeper identifies with many of the kids’
grumpy serious countenance as a camera is aimed at their face. Sorry, kid!)
A B See, by Elizabeth Doyle. Peeper loves playing I Spy, and this book occupies us for a toddler eternity as she hunts for alphabetical treasures. Doyle crafts each letter with dozens of tiny objects and animals that begin with that letter. What’s more, it pushes beyond the regular A is for apple and includes more obscure items (alpaca, alien, acrobat)—which may serve up an opportunity for a vocabulary lesson.
Dr. Seuss’s ABC, by Dr. Seuss. I dare you to read this and not be sucked into the bouncing rhythm of Dr. Seuss’s rhymes. In fact, we adopted the pattern (“Big B, little b, what begins with B?”) for a weekly homeschool preschool activity, and a few moms have reported overhearing their preschoolers repeat it to themselves as they identify letters at home. In this book, Dr. Seuss mixes the fantastical with the mundane, so you get unexpected doses of silliness—like a fiffer-feffer-feff or, Peeper’s favorite, the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz. I’ll take a made-up Seussian creature over a plain ol’ zebra!
LMNO Peas, by Keith Baker. This adorable book shows a whole slew of very talented, very diverse peas doing what they do best. They rock out, rob banks, parachute out of planes and make balloon animals. Just about every page has a detail sure to make parents laugh just as much as the kids do—like the pea standing on a mountain of ballots but holding up its vote: “Maybe?” In addition to being a great alphabet book, LMNO Peas is a fantastic opportunity to discuss jobs, actions and all the possibilities for your budding (and non-vegetable) inventor/gardener/astronaut/interpretive dancer.
On Beyond Zebra! by Dr. Seuss. Why limit your kid’s education to the first 26 letters of the alphabet when Dr. Seuss has created a lesson for the rest of the alphabet, too? My older sister Beth often read this one to us littler siblings, and she gifted it to Peeper. (“I love you on and beyond, so need to use some of these letters to tell you how much!” she inscribed in the front cover. Aw!) This book encourages kids—with their limitless creativity—to consider what unexpected delights might come with a little extra imagination.
What about you and your kids—do you have a favorite alphabet book that goes beyond the usual A to Z?