Life’s little literary surprises

h1 September 12th, 2006 by jules

alphaoops.gifI woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, and that’s for sure. The morning just started off badly. But, despite my crabby mood and as a devoted children’s librarian myself, I still planned on taking The Girls on our usual weekly library story time trip. I usually drive a bit to one of the Nashville branches; there’s a library down the road from us, but this Nashville branch has a story time schedule that happens to jibe with my wee one’s nap schedule. But, to make my already cantankerous mood this morning worse, this aforementioned wee one was particularly fussy and didn’t nap as long as she normally does, so off we went for the first time to the story time at Smyrna Public Library, just down the road from us, which is scheduled a bit earlier in the day. Miss Thang (yes, we call her that — I know, it’s a tired ‘ol, blah nickname, but it stuck and is often fitting), the least wee of the two, screamed at me for the unanticipated and untimely termination of “Sesame Street,” but, hey, I had five minutes to get to story time. Oh, the toddler wails! Oh, my tetchy, ugly mood! Oh, I needed some more coffee! But we made it out the door, me still scowling, I’m sure.

And, lo and behold! There was a children’s book author at story time. From Smyrna. Yes, little ‘ol Smyrna. I say that respectfully. Really, I do. But, well . . . Smyrna, Tennessee, isn’t exactly a literary metropolis. Alethea Kontis, who I can now say has written one of my new favorite alphabet books, was there, reading AlphaOops! The Day Z Went First. And at our first story time ever at this library. My frown turned upside down; yes, indeed. My morning finally was improving.

I can hear you now, devoted blog reader. One of her “new favorite alphabet books”? We’re on to her. She’s that one who is so in love with hyperbole. But, it’s true. This book is loaded with personality and energy and much pizzazz. And the event was treated so un-momentously. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you. It was actually quite charming. I just expected this woman standing before us to, oh . . . I don’t know . . . be the librarian’s cousin or something, to read us some unpublished manuscript, some “kiddie lit” musings — one of those hey-writing-children’s-books-must-be-easy-I’ll-write-one kind of moments, and then it would turn out to be a book that really stunk. (And that’s not a slam at all on this library system. They are known for their stellar programming). I guess what I mean is that in retrospect, knowing now how irresistible this book is, I would have expected a glowing marquee out front, a huge stack of the books for sale behind the author. Instead, the author humbly (but enthusiastically — she herself used to be a children’s librarian) shared the book with all of us with nary a word as to how or where to buy it.

So, I’ll say it for her: Go buy this book for your child (ooh, um, I sound downright despotic; how about, consider buying this book for your child). If you’re a librarian or elementary teacher, order this clever alphabet book for your collection.

I gotsa have my alphabet books. Love them. The list-lover in me wants to compile the world’s most comprehensive bibliography of well-done alphabet books, and this one would be added. In Kontis’ creation, “Z” is really put out about always being the last in the alphabet. The other letters agree to present our dearly beloved alphabet backwards, but then things go awry when letters with a mind of their own have varying opinions about how to line up (a lot like your average elementary school classroom). Things on stage (as our letters are presented to us) quickly turn to pandemonium in this sharp picture book with Bob Kolar’s expressive, waggish letters that appear to have been created digitally, but don’t quote me on that, since I was sitting many feet away. (No, I don’t even have this book in hand yet, but I just wanted to share it, since it’s fresh on my mind — and share my serendipitous literary fortuity from this morning! Woo hoo for picture book surprises!) . . .

The stand-out (and most amusing) letter moments are with “V” and “U,” but I’ll let you discover them — oh, and the final double page spread (or one of the last ones anyway) in which “A” presents us with a slew of objects beginning with her, since, for once, she’s had a great deal of time to sit around and wait for her entry in the alphabet. Lots of laughs here for children and adults alike, and there’s much to see with repeated viewings. According to Kontis’ web site, Orson Scott Card says, “{a}s a paean to unpredictability, this book is a charmer. You don’t want to use it to learn the alphabet, or your child’s future as a file clerk will be severely limited.” True, my friends. But, future file clerk or no, don’t miss this one.

11 comments to “Life’s little literary surprises”

  1. Wow, that was quite fortuitous. I’ll definitely look into that – every time I think that, really, my library doesn’t need any more alphabet books, another parent comes up and asks me for some, and they’ll all be checked out.

  2. my favorite part is when — after “V” takes his turn showcasing himself and then tries to take one more so he can say another word that starts with him — “Z” totally says, “Ooh, V is for violence.” it’s a clever book. glad i went to story time yesterday. — jules

  3. I like some picture alphabet books too. Two on my bookshelf at work:
    Albert’s Alphabet by Leslie Tryon. Albert, a goose and school carprenter, builds an alphabet for the walking path on the school’s playground. He must finish it by 3:00.
    Another is Tomorrow’s Alphabet by George Shannon.
    Samples: Y is for sheep — tomorrow’s YARN.
    H is for yarn – tomorrow’s HAT.
    Not sure where my other picture alphabet books are.

  4. Ooh, thanks, Betty! A couple I like are “Kipper’s A to Z” by Inkpen – the zebra keeps interrupting, hoping it’s his turn. And of course the classicly cool “The Z was Zapped” by Van Allsburg, which reminds me a bit of the one Julie reviewed with its theatrical format.

  5. This is fun; I could talk good alphabet books forever and always like hearing new titles. Never seen the Inkpen one or the ones you mention, Betty. But I’ll get ’em. Thanks to you both.

    Some stand-out alphabet books that I’ve seen recently (but not necessarily recently published): Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s ‘The Hidden Alphabet’; ‘Museum ABC: The Metropolitan Museum of Art’ (to expose those kiddos to some fine, fine art); the late, great Tana Hoban’s ‘A, B, See!’; ‘The Turn-Around, Upside-Down Alphabet’ by Lisa Campbell Ernst; ‘ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet’ by Alison Jay; ‘Animal Alphabet’ by Bert Kitchen; ‘The City ABC Book’ by Zoran Milich; ‘ABC Pop!’ by Rachel Isadora (this one is KICKIN’!!! It’s an homage to pop art); ‘The New Alphabet of Animals’ by Christopher Wormell (beautiful engravings, and that man never had any formal training. My God and jump back; you’d never know, seeing his fabulous creations!).

    Speaking of ‘Tomorrow’s Alphabet,’ today my 2 and 1/2 year old created a new word: “nexterday” . . . I like it and might use it when I’m evading a deadline: “I’ll get it to you nexterday, okay. Get off my back.” — jules

  6. Betty, oh how did we live without ‘Albert’s Alphabet’ before? Thanks! We just got it from the library, and Miri said, “again! again!” after hearing it . . . AND she started grabbing things around the house to build letters with. You know, that’s a good book to pair with ‘Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop’ by Lisa Shulman (ill. by Ashley Wolff) — Miri was obsessed with that one for a long time. Kids love those books about construction and tools, I find — not just boys, as it tends to get stereotyped all the time. The detail in ‘Albert’s Alphabet’ is consuming! ….and we’re enjoying ‘Kipper’s A to Z,’ too, eisha. — jules

  7. oh, and ‘Alphaboat’ by Michael Chesworth — it’s great pun!
    — jules

  8. there are two more alphabet books right under my nose that i didn’t think of (that we have from the library this week) — i know there are tons, but i’m going to note them when i have them, since i use the blog as a resource. anyway, jim aylesworth’s ‘old black fly’ is good. stephen gammell’s illustrations kind of give me the willies in this one, but it’s still a good alphabet book. and chris raschka’s ‘tell me about the alphabet’ for something different…– jules

  9. okay, i gotta add ‘Eight Hands Round: A Patchwork Alphabet’ by Ann Whitford Paul and illustrated by Jeannette Winter. i’m exploring a couple of Winter’s older books and stumbled across this one. clever theme for an alphabet book. from ’91, i think.

  10. […] in, a neighboring town), and I’ve had the good fortune of meeting her once before, as noted here in this very old 7-Imp post during the Era In Which Images Were Tragically Small and Mostly Just […]

  11. “…and John fell into the crack between time, magically landing at a point three-and-a-half-years earlier when letters of the alphabet were drifting through the sky. He lay back on the hillside and watched for a while. Cool! he thought. That one looks like a cloud…

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