In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Alphabet books for city kids

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Happily, the Leonard Weisgard Night Before Christmas contains the "settled our brains" line -- yet another reason to adore it.  I'm looking forward to being able to settle my brain a little next week.  But enough Christmas for the moment -- I'm beginning to feel like one of those radio stations that plays only holiday music from mid-November through January 1st, thus driving everyone in the supermarket and the laundry room crazy.

I've been thinking about alphabet books.  Eleanor has known the letters of the alphabet for a while now, but has only recently begun to be interested in how words are spelled and which letters begin which words.  We have a number of alphabet books, some of which have enjoyed moments of glory (Max's ABC, for one), but many of which have languished on our shelves.  I think now may be their moment.

Two good alphabet books in our collection also happen to be good New York books.  We tend to get a lot of NewYork-themed books from friends and relatives, some of which are well-illustrated but kind of plotless (I Live in Brooklyn), some of which are totally inane (Good Night, New York City and its cousins, bidding goodnight to cities around the country with no character whatsoever), and some of which are quite good.

ABC NYC: A Book About Seeing New York City
, by Joanne Dugan, is made up of photographs Dugan took while walking around New York with her young son. She was frustrated with the bucolic nature of many of the objects and animals in his alphabet books (how many New York kids see cows on a regular basis?), and decided to create a book that would speak to city kids.  Each page contains a photo of a letter of the alphabet (from signs, graffitti, subway tiles, etc.) next to or superimposed over a city thing beginning with that letter.  Some are particularly New York (C is for the Chrysler Building, O is for Obelisk); some applicable to multiple cities (M is for Manhole cover, W is for Water Tower).  The pictures, both black and white and in color, are crisp and gorgeous.  One of my colleagues told me today that his 2 1/2 -year-old twin boys adore this book; every time they see the Chrysler Building from the elevated train, they call out in excited recognition.

New York, New York!: The Big Apple from A to Z
is the kind of book you want to pore over.  Laura Krauss Melmed wrote the text: brief descriptions of the New York City landmark chosen for each letter, with additional small paragraphs of informational text scattered over the pages.  Frane Lessac did the illustrations, which are warm, colorful, and a little childlike in feel.  It's wildly Manhattan-heavy, of course, but it contains packed scenes and fun facts to engage kids on a number of levels.  It would also make a great kids' guidebook for a New York visit, I bet.

Love, Annie


  1. We have 3 of those Goodnight City books and I can't get over how awful they are. I get trying to incorporate certain aspects of the city/state (sorry Rhode Island, your cities don't rate) but they really are bad.

  2. I have some favorite ABC books - and if I get up the nerve to launch my own children's book blog, you will find out what they are! I also love ABC NYC. Another good one is ALphabet City by Stephen Johnson - he has painted letters that he "finds" - in architecture and other shapes - in NYC. And I like the title's pun, given that I grew up not far from Alphabet City itself.