5 Playful Alphabet Books

Rob Reid

Many standard alphabet books have the upper and lower case letters on a page with an item that begins with that letter. Oftentimes, A is for Apple, B is for Ball, and C is for Cat. That’s fine and good; these books serve their purpose. However, many alphabet books have very creative approaches. Here are my top five playful alphabet books (in alphabetical order, of course). Run down to your local library to check them out. 

1. A Is for Salad by Mike Lester

The kids have to pick up visual clues what the letters are really for. “A is for Salad” is what the text reads but the illustrations show that A is for the Alligator eating the salad. We learn that “X and Y are not important letters. Never use them.” The accompanying illustration shows trash collectors throwing away a yoyo and a xylophone into a garbage truck.

2. Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel

What a great concept – Bruel takes us through the alphabet not once, not twice, not three times, but four times. The first time, Kitty is show healthy foods like Asparagus and Beets. This makes Kitty mad so we go through a “naughty alphabet.”  Kitty “Ate my homework. Bit Grandma,” and so on. Kitty is then offered a weird variety of food – “An Assortment of Anchovies” – for the third alphabetical go-round. The last series shows Kitty responding well by performing a series of nice things: “Apologized to Grandma.”

3. Matthew A.B.C. by Peter Catalanotto

Easily the weirdest alphabet book on the market and possibly my favorite. Mrs. Tuttle has a class filled with all boys named Matthew. She tells them apart by their characteristics. Matthew A is extremely Affectionate (we see him constantly hugging his teacher). Matthew B is shown wearing dozens of Band-Aids. The most bizarre is “Matthew F. has a cat on his face.”

4. Tomorrow’s Alphabet by George Shannon and Donald Crews

The concept of this book allows the child reader to make logical leaps as they progress through the book. “A is for seed-” is shown on one page and then “tomorrow’s APPLE” on the next. The book next shows show “B is for eggs-tomorrow’s BIRDS.” Illustrator Donald Crews drew a picture of the book’s editor on a sack of flour and Crews himself on a box of raisins. George, a former Eau Claire resident, was slightly miffed that he, the author, didn’t have his image anywhere.

5. Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky

Different items representing the letters of the alphabet (an apple, a ball, a cat, and so on) line up backstage for a theatrical presentation. Moose is too impatient to wait for the letter M and horns in on the other letters. When M finally comes, Zebra (the stage manager) has decided to go with the mouse. Moose is first upset and then sad. Zebra brings Moose in for the letter Z as “Zebra’s friend, Moose.”

Rob Reid teaches children’s and young adult literature classes for the Education Studies department (soon to celebrate their 100th year in existence) at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He's a former children’s librarian and the author of numerous books on literature for children and adolescents. Rob and his wife Jayne will soon celebrate their 30th year as Chippewa Valley residents. Rob is the father of four grown up children and grandfather of three with another on his or her way.


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Rob Reid  author

Rob Reid is a senior lecturer of education studies at UW-Eau Claire. In addition to writing Children’s Jukebox (ALA Editions 1995/2007), Reid has also written two more books about children’s music: Something Musical Happened at the Library (ALA Editions, 2007) and Shake and Shout: 16 Noisy, Lively S

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