Seuss

Dr. Seuss' ABC

A, B, and then C? SO predictable…

While I’d like to think that any good book is timeless, there are certain kinds of books that you end up buying for your children that do seem to come with a very implicit “best if used by” date stamped on their side. For example, I know many children who, once they reached a certain age, refused to read board books anymore. To them, board books = baby books. And, regardless of the book itself (we have board book versions of older-skewing books like Olivia and Madeline), some six-year-olds just won’t be seen dead reading a board book. Another example of a kind of kid’s book that comes with a very distinct shelf-life is the Alphabet Book.

Alphabet books are possibly one of the most common kinds of picture books you can find for younger pre-readers. Their mission is simple and true – reinforcing kids’ knowledge of the alphabet from A to Z. This can be accomplished through pictures, rhyming couplets, you name it. Start at A, end at Z – they come with their own structure built in. No wonder there are so many alphabet books on the market. However, what happens to the book once a kid learns their alphabet backwards and forwards?

Unlike storybooks, alphabet books can be fairly utilitarian. They normally don’t feature stories, characters, or emotions for children to encounter and revisit. Most alphabet books just want to make sure that kids know that J comes before K and, once that’s accomplished, it’s O.K. (letters 15 and 11, respectively) to put them aside. However, there are classes of alphabet books and some are much more expertly executed than others. Some alphabet books transcend mere letter instruction and can stand on their own two feet much longer than their more cheaply produced brethren.

So, if you’re looking for a good alphabet book and you’ll like it to have a longer shelf-life than the crappy paperback A-to-Z book that came with your Happy Meal, here are six really great examples of alphabet books that do a whole lot more than just teach kids about letters.

1. The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

The Ghastlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

Simply a classic.

Let’s get this out of the way right at the top – the greatest alphabet book of ALL TIME is Edward Gorey‘s The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

Granted, it’s more of a commentary on alphabet books than anything, but it is one of the most brilliant, oddball, most often-copied books I’ve ever read. (Fair warning – there are a LOT of lame “parodies” of The Gashlycrumb Tinies out there.) But it is dark. And it is macabre. It is really, really macabre. And if your kid is into that, they might LOVE it. Personally, I know my daughter is far too easily creeped out to really enjoy a line like “X is for Xerses devoured by mice” without it giving her nightmares for a week. In regards to your own kid, you can read the whole book online here and decide for yourself. But, even though I can’t imagine ever giving The Gashlycrumb Tinies to a still-learning-to-read three-year-old, there is such genius and humor in Gorey’s work that it’d be a shame to keep this alphabet book away from kids entirely. As such, there’s a copy of The Gashlycrumb Tinies sitting on our “Books My Kid Will Read in the Future” shelf that’ll be waiting for my daughter whenever I think she’s ready for it.

The Ghastlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

Hands down, the greatest literary death of all time.

2. On Market Street by Arnold Lobel, illustrated by Anita Lobel

On Market Street

Using capitalism to teach kids the alphabet…genius.

I’ve known about Arnold Lobel since I was a kid thanks to his classic Frog and Toad books, but I’ll admit that On Market Street, a truly wonderful alphabet book, was my first introduction to the work of his wife, Anita Lobel, a hugely talented children’s book creator in her own right. On Market Street is one of those rare picture books that you’ll find your kids revisiting again and again, if only to re-appreciate and re-explore the depth and complexity of the artwork. The premise is relatively simple – a young child heads down Market Street “to see what I might buy”. The Lobels then lead us past an A-to-Z series of wildly imaginative merchants who all have bodies constructed out of whatever it is they’re selling. Thus, the apple vendor is made entirely out of apples, the book seller is made entirely out of books, etc. [read the rest of the post…]

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It’s Friday, so I thought I’d take a break from obsessing over my own collection of books and share with you a few links, videos, and other resources that might help you start building your own library of awesome kids titles.

For starters, keeping with September’s apparent theme of “new works from massively iconic children’s lit authors”, a new Dr. Seuss book was released this week – The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, a collection of short illustrated pieces that Seuss originally created for magazines decades ago. (New Sendak, new Shel Silverstein, new Seuss – this September has been amazing month for kids lit… and alliteration.)  The book was assembled by self-proclaimed “Seuss-o-logist” Charles Cohen and this video explains how the volume came to be

So, obviously, The Bippolo Seed looks like a killer addition for your home library if your kids are big Seuss fans.

In terms of general library building:

  • If you’re concerned about the price of building a home library – books ain’t cheap – this Nesting.com article by Terry Doherty has some decent guidelines for getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to tracking down books for your kids. We’re going to have some similar articles on this topic posted to the blog soon – specifically about my love of finding cheap lots of 1970s Sesame Street Book Club books on eBay.
  • And, finally, even though the link looks NSFW, ANY true book-freak will go MENTAL checking out the images on the Bookshelf Porn Tumblr page, which has created a gallery of some of the most amazing, drool-worthy bookshelves you’ve ever seen. Seriously, book fans, prepare to ache with envy.

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Truax

I am the Truax, I speak for the hardwood flooring industry….

It’s a sad fact of being a parent, but sometimes, for reasons I can’t explain, you will find inexplicably awful books appearing on your kid’s bookshelf. Usually, it’s just a crappy movie tie-in or a flea market oddity or a Burger King promotional item, but sometimes you find something really, truly odd.

Case in point – one day, while on vacation, I found my 4-year-old daughter perusing a worn copy of Truax, a weird pamphlet of a picture book, published in 1995, that is supposed to be an eye-opening rebuttal of Dr. Seuss’ classic environmental fable, The Lorax.

However, unlike Theodore Geisel, the creators of Truax didn’t rely on some stuffy, tree-hugging publishing company like Random House to release their iconic children’s tale. Instead, they wisely chose a more fair and impartial partnership to bring their story to the masses – The Truax was published “through a cooperative effort of the Hardwood Forest Association and the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.”  That’s right. Because if you want a balanced, agenda-free look at the logging industry, there’s, of course, no better source for information than the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.

(In related news, after hours of intense debate, my mom has named me Handsomest Dude in Town. I thank her for her calm, fact-based assessment.)

My daughter found Truax – the title is just “Truax”, not “The Truax,” which sounds much better – at the bottom of a toy chest in an old family cottage in northern Michigan and, when asked what she was reading, she shook her head and said, “I don’t know. I’m very confused.”  And I don’t blame her.

Truax is an odd little attempt at parody from people who obviously felt slighted by Dr. Seuss’ portrayal of the logging industry as a bunch of mean ol’ Once-lers in The Lorax. Is it amateurish? Heck yeah – it looks like it was written and drawn by the people who create kids menus for knock-off Big Boy hamburger chains – but the people creating it were, in fact, amateurs, so it’s a little hard to fault them for not having Seuss’ virtuoso skill with words and images. But, don’t worry, dear readers, there are a lot of other faults that you CAN hold against the Truax team. [read the rest of the post…]

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