Author and teacher Anastasia Suen over at the blog Picture Book of the Day has randomly declared Mondays as Nonfiction Mondays for any bloggers who’d like to join in. Just like with Poetry Fridays, the idea is that, if you post about a nonfiction title on a Monday and send her the link, she’ll round ‘em up over at her blog and, voila! You’ll have a cornucopia of posts about nonfiction titles.
I, for one, love this idea. I can still hear the words of one of my grad school children’s lit profs, knocking around in my head, reminding me that librarians, print journals, etcetera and yadaya don’t give enough attention to nonfiction titles. ‘Tis certainly true here at 7-Imp. Arguably, we should devote more to it than just one designated day a week. But for now I’ll leave it to an author who writes nonfiction to help whip me into shape with, at the very least, some Monday posts about nonfiction — when I can get to them, that is.
And here’s a fabulous nonfiction title I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while. It’s called Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet by Don Robb and illustrated by Anne Smith, published by Charlesbridge last year. As the Booklist review pointed out, this title will find a happy home in both social studies and language-arts units. In describing the development of our Roman alphabet from the time of early Sinaitic peoples approximately 4,000 years ago to the present day, the book covers a large scope yet impresses with its conciseness. And the aged 9 to 12 readers at which the book is aimed are gracefully eased into the subject with an introduction about how people communicate; a discussion of symbols; and how we got from drawings that represented words to letters. The following spread explains in nine short paragaphs how through “caravans, commerce, and conquest” we developed what has become the modern alphabet, beginning with the 4,000-year-old carvings found on a rock wall in Egypt’s Nile Valley and ending with Rome, A.D. 100 — with stops in between to the
Sinaitic peoples of 1500 B.C.; the Phoenicians, who adapted the Sinaitic alphabet to their own language; and to the Greeks of 800 B.C.
The book then takes you to visit each letter of the alphabet and its origin, showing for each letter the Sinaitic, Phoenician, Early Greek, Classical Greek, and Roman symbols used. As Kirkus Reviews put it, these symbols show the evolution of the symbols “from near pictograms to the abstract symbols we know today. The design incorporates representational illustrations, icons and sidebars to break this labyrinthine process down, allowing readers to see how a picture of an ox (aleph) was variously turned, flattened and extended to become an ‘A.'” It’s really fascinating stuff if you’re a fellow Linguistics Nerd. Or perhaps you just want to impress with some alphabetic fun facts at your next cocktail party. “Did you know that Z is the only letter that was once thrown out of the alphabet and later allowed back in?” you could say. Or: “The origin of the letter E is uncertain. And D! Oh, that rascally D! Scholars aren’t sure where this letter came from and if originated from the image of a door or a fish.” See? You can amaze and wow ‘em.
Robb also inserts onto each spread additional related information set apart from the letter-origin text, such as brief discussions about pronunciations, the sounds of the early alphabets, the origins of fonts, even the origin of the punctuation mark we call the period.
Smith’s colorful illustrations (reminiscent to me of an early Maira Kalman) are a good match for the tone of the book — semi-scholarly yet also playful. And she seems to have really done her research. This is her first book for children, and I look forward to what she does next.
A list of resources (online and print) for both children and adults completes the book.
A big thumbs-up from me. An appealing look at the history of our ABCs.