7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #797: Featuring Ellen Heck

h1 June 5th, 2022 by jules

(Click image to see spread in its entirety)


There’s no shortage of alphabet picture books, but be sure to make way for the distinctive and dynamic A is for Bee: An Alphabet Book in Translation (Levine Querido, June 2022) from Ellen Heck. It’s a book that (per the author’s bio) was inspired by Heck reading Lithuanian alphabet books to her son.

“We speak to each other in many languages, and in some of them … A is for BEE,” opens Heck’s picture book debut. (Kudos to the author for a picture book title that’s hard to forget!) A bee dominates the recto, and around it — in hand lettering by Jon Gray — are the Igbo, Turkish, Ojibwe, and Portuguese words for bee. Underneath each word (in Caslon type) is the language represented by these words.

In the images featured here today, you can see how Heck composes these spreads and conveys the information. Heck, a printmaker, created the art on scratchboard, which results in detailed and delightful textures all throughout the book. The palette is also striking, alternating between more subdued teals, moss greens, sapphire blues, peach, and ivory colors and richer, brighter reds, pinks, and pops of lemony-yellows (“R is for fox”). This palette, Heck’s sure, graceful lines, and the eye-catching details in the book all add up to a vibrant stylishness. To boot, there’s a playfulness here. Readers see a mouse hanging from a stem, looking directly at readers; the porcupine’s face is captured in a square shape, its eyes shining; and the cat (“G is for cat”) reaches for a ball of yarn, which begins to unravel and loops around the text: “Gato in Spanish; Gaazhagens in Ojibwe; and Goyangi in Korean.”

Words are included from Czech, Gujarati, Hebrew, Icelandic, Malay, Marathi, Navajo, Somali, Tlingit, Ukrainian, and so much more. An index at the book’s close lists the languages in alphabetical order and shows readers to which letter they correspond. Also included here is a page that notes a link where readers can listen to native or fluent speakers pronounce all the words found in the book. (I checked and the link isn’t yet at the page, but the book also doesn’t release until June 14.)

This is a visually rich alphabet book, and it’s one likely to mesmerize linguist wannabes everywhere. Heck’s closing author’s note is fascinating for anyone (of any age) who loves to read or learn about languages. She lays out her approach to the book; she explains what transliteration means and what it has to do with A Is for Bee; and she describes how she leaned on native speakers to confirm each entry in the book, explaining how “even then, different speakers of the same language can have different ideas about what the correct transliteration should be.” Heck puts it best in an acknowledgements section in which she writes: “And many thanks to the speakers who shared their voices, words, and explanations. I learned so much and wasn’t even trying to translate a complete sentence!”

By the way, the endpapers are GOLD (in more ways than one), but you’ll have to find a copy to see why. These endpapers are for anyone who appreciates thoughtful design.

Here are some spreads. …



(Click either image above to see spread in its entirety)



(Click either image above to see spread in its entirety)


(Click image to see spread in its entirety)


A IS FOR BEE: AN ALPHABET BOOK IN TRANSLATION. Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Ellen Heck. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Levine Querido.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

1) Long walks on sunny days.

2) Our Flag Means Death RENEWED for season two!

2½) Bonus (and related) kick: This piece on the actor who plays Jim.

3) I was happy to see this from Pamela Paul and hope more publishers pay attention.

4) All of Kelly Barnhill’s When Women Were Dragons — but particularly chapter 35.

5) A belated kick: Brunch with friends and reading favorite picture books to each other.

6) The new national spelling bee champion and this badassery right here:

7) New opportunities in an older package.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

5 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #797: Featuring Ellen Heck”

  1. Wow, I hate when I miss. This is a book I need. I would love to create Scottish Gaelic alpha book. I love the intense bold colors.
    Jules, thank you for the new show for our watchlist. We have finished Ozark and Outlander. Started the Sopranoza (Can you believe we have never seen, it reminds Chuck of his house with the Italian slang) and we started Severance.
    My kicks:
    1. Dropping off 65 copies of Imperfect II to my former school’s fifth grade. They are the last class that I new the best.
    2. Crochet
    3. Art
    4. Books
    5. Decktime
    6. Opening night of the Portland Pickles (collegiate summer league ball)
    7. Preparing for my trip to Ireland/Scotland.
    Have a great week.

  2. What gorgeous and fierce illustrations. Love the fox, the bunny and the lion the most.

    Jules – hooray for a second season of OFMD! Putting When Women Were Dragons on my to-be-read list. Also, your brunch with friends where you read favorite picture books to each other sounds so fun!

    Jone – how lucky your former class is to have had you, and what a lovely gift for them! The anticipation of a fabulous trip can be so fun, and I haven’t made it to a Pickles game yet, I will have to remedy that this summer.

    My kicks:
    1) Read “Meditations With Cows” by Shreve Stockton and loved all of it, including her honesty on her grief when a beloved bull died, as well as the work involved in ethical agriculture.
    2) Finding unexpected art on walks in my neighborhood.
    3) The first daisy of the year blooming in my garden.
    4) Visits from Pinky Pie, my favorite of the neighborhood feral cats.
    5) Working on my garden.
    6) A fun morning coffee visit with a friend I hadn’t seen since pre-pandemic.
    7) Planning a weekend getaway.

    Have a great week imps!

  3. Hi Imps, hi Ellen, hi foxes and bees! Yay for appreciating different languages and valuing communication and connection in various forms.

    Jules: Yay for opportunities! I hope everything goes well. That speller is so impressive!

    Jone: Sounds like a good mix of things for you!

    Rachel: Hello to Pinky Pie, and hello to the daisies in the garden. Glad you got to catch up with your friend.

    1) The right thing at the right time
    2) Attuned
    3) Follow through
    4) Catchy tunes
    5) Connection
    6) Connected
    7) Fixed

  4. Jone, can I sneak into your suitcase? When’s the trip? And I agree that that was a lovely gift for your former class.

    Rachel, what a good week, what with unexpected art and daisies and visits with friends and PINKY PIE. I think Pinky Pie likes you.

    Hear! Hear! Little Willow (to communication and connection). I like that first kick. What’s a catchy tune you recommend?

    Have a good week, you all!

  5. Jules: Ooh, I love recommending songs! Have we discussed Glen Hansard before? I think you’d like him. If you haven’t heard Seven Day Mile by his band The Frames, give that a try.

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact sevenimp_blaine@blaine.org. Thanks.