Alphabet books that take kids to new places

By Kristi Jemtegaard
Sunday, June 20, 2010

By Kristi Jemtegaard

Schools out! Summer's here! But now's not the time to forget your ABCs. Who knew the alphabet could have so many different personalities or be so much fun?

In LMNO Peas (Beach Lane, $16.99; ages 3-6), Keith Baker unleashes those round green symbols of similarity from their pods and reveals their impish individuality. "We're gardeners, gigglers, givers and takers./We're hikers, inventors, and investigators." The rollicking rhyme continues apace as the little spheroids, in all kinds of get-ups, cavort atop, inside and underneath oversized capital letters. One intrepid green sleuth, for example, dons a deerstalker cap and trench coat as he treks, magnifying glass in hand, around and around the base of a giant H, circles the I and wanders off the page in search of clues. After one reading of this jolly romp, expect to hear choruses of "Pass the peas, please!"

Planning a trip to the country? Take along a copy of Arthur Geisert's latest offering, Country Road ABC (Houghton Mifflin, $17; ages 5-8). The subtitle is "An Illustrated Journey Through America's Farmland," and that's exactly what it is, in alphabetical order naturally. Bucolic describes Geisert's serene panoramas, each of which features a road passing by fields, farmhouses and barns. However, no gentlemanly gloss or nostalgic glow covers the muck and the mud, the rusted-out cars, the low-flying crop dusters, and the quicksand that sometimes lies beneath the corn field. These are all working farms. Careful eyes will sometimes spot a vehicle moving from one page to the next: A blue pickup with an oversized object in the bed turns down a side road and, on the following page, reappears beside a big red tractor with a flat rear tire. Expect some standard words -- M is for milking, P is for pigs -- as well as surprises -- I is for inoculate, V is for volunteer fire department. Like a leisurely drive down a tree-lined lane, this homage to a still vibrant part of our country invites repeated visits.

Maybe crowds, junk food and heart-stopping rides are more your style. Dip into A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, by Debra Frasier (Beach Lane, $16.99; ages 4-7), for a sneak peek: no tickets necessary. The author is something of a side-show aficionado, as well as a photo junkie. Having taken thousands of pictures of midway signs, she chose a few hundred to assemble into this alphabet-photo collage, a tribute to that most American of institutions: the country fair. The letters depict not only the hurly burly -- F is for Ferris wheel, R is for roller coaster -- but also the food -- L is for large lemonade, C is for cotton candy -- and the exhibits -- Q is for quilts, J is for judging. In addition to the single word, every page is also arrayed with extra letters (A has over 80, X over 100) to study and enjoy. And what is Z for? Why Zucchini, of course, and also for zzzzzzz . . . at the end of a very busy day.

Kristi Jemtegaard is a library manager for Arlington County.

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