Alphabet Exploration

I love libraries and I’m especially thankful to our local library for having both infant and toddler reading time. It has helped my son open up to people in a new place, make friends, and learn the letters of the alphabet. They sing songs, practice sign language, read three books, do a counting game, and wrap it up with a craft! But coming up with three quality books for the letter X is difficult. Recently, I listen to them read books about the selfish snail and a mad mouse. Two separate weeks. Finding good books, beautifully illustrated and interesting, every week is a challenge for brilliant librarians.

I am tracking down five books for each letter of the alphabet. The best stories transcend age, the goal is to find a book about character, that inspires courage and curiosity, and is beautiful. Or, just something that starts with the letter and isn’t atrocious. Twenty six  letters will take a while, but I’m sure my son will love this challenge. Each of the books will be rated for three criteria.

Story

Surprise, surprise, the storytelling blog is going to analyze the quality of the story. Kids should not be written down to. The story should be clear and well written. It should bring joy to the readers, big and small. It should challenge in some new way. It should capture and enliven the senses and the imagination.

Currently, our favorite stories in this category are Frog and Toad Together, Richard Scary’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, and Good Night, Little Farm. My son reads them over and over again, he can recite some parts because he loves the flow of the story, the characters, and learning about new things.

Art

Half of children’s books value lies in the art. What we see dictates how we experience a story, how we see the world around us, and how our framework for beauty is built. This spans the spectrum from pen and ink drawings to digital renderings. The important aspect is if it is telling the truth about what we see. We have more abstract favorites like My Many Colored Days or The Dragon and the Garden. In the case of The Dragon and the Garden, my son looks at a drawing of a of a fire flower and won’t touch it because he thinks its hot. Then there are classic sketches that are helping establish categories through color contrasts, like 123 Dream. 

Art was the forerunner to writing and communicates much. Observant children will pick up on many dynamics just by looking at pictures.

Value

This is where the art and the story must come together to become something greater than each of the parts. Sometimes the art, though lovely, does not match the story of the book or actually tells a different story than what is being said in the words. Good children’s books combine the elements together instead of competing with each other. Peter Rabbit is well known in this area. As the product of one person, the art flows naturally with the story, but it is more difficult when there are multiple authors, editors, and artist. The story becomes less of a book and more of a product.

All of the books we have referenced fit this criteria, but one of our family’s favorites was my husband’s when he was a little boy. He grew up listening to the cassette tape and now reads Rudyard Kipling’s How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin with resonance and nuance.

So, A, a, what begins with A?

Happy Reading!

Kate