“In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all.” That catchy little ditty was from one of the earlier abecedarian picture books for children in America (the 1784 edition of The New England Primer, in case you’re curious). Practically from our nation’s inception, alphabet books were a go-to resource for teaching children to read. Every year more and more of them come out, but how many can you name off the top of your head? Just before typing this I was reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to my son and marveling at how Bill Martin Jr. managed to create an actual honest-to-goodness alphabet classic. I don’t know if any of the books on today’s list will ever hit such heights, but I the alphabet books of 2016 have dabbled in some truly sophisticated fare.
2016 Alphabet Books
ABC by Xavier Deneux
I was very good when I posted the board book list. I didn’t say how many names featured were French. After all, once you start seeing the influence of the French on board books, it’s difficult to stop. M Deneux is no exception. This isn’t his first time around the block, but his previous titles do feel as though they were gearing themselves up to this. It is the culmination of all that he has accomplished.
ABC: The Alphabet From the Sky by Benedikt Grob and Joey Lee
Is it as cool as it looks from the cover? My friend, it’s even cooler. Every year I have regrets about the books I didn’t have a chance to officially review. This year it included this book. It’s probably more for older kids and there’s one letter that I think they could have improved, but all told it’s a remarkable effort. It’s also a neat way of talking about our planet. AND it could well be a great book to take onto an airplane with a kid, since the shots will look somewhat familiar from 10,000 feet in the air.
ABCs on Wheels by Ramon Olivera
It’s pretty standard stuff. Vehicles plus the alphabet. Yep. But Olivera’s art is what makes this book a bit better than a lot of similar titles out there. It has this cool retro vibe that obliquely references James Flora for spice.
An Artist’s Alphabet by Norman Messenger
Undoubtedly there must have been alphabet books before now that integrated both upper and the lowercase letters into their art, but I think it’s fair to say that almost none of these are as visually stunning as Messenger’s book. I was just sitting here trying to figure out how I’d describe it. It’s not hyper-realism, though there’s a bit of realism to some of the shots. And it’s not surreal in a David Wiesner sense. I hate to use the d-word, but it seems I have no choice. It’s dreamlike. Nuff said.
A Beauty Collected by Rachel Garahan
If you read this blog regularly then you’ll know that I have a weakness for beautiful photography. And they don’t come much more beautiful than Garahan’s title. I hesitate to call this a picture book. Coming in at 192 pages it is the first true coffee table alphabet book I’ve ever seen of its kind. So why include it on this list? Because in addition to being just the loveliest thing, older kids really do enjoy it. It has the kind of purified beauty that appeals to a wide range of ages. I’m a fan.
Never Insult a Killer Zucchini! by Elana Azone & Brandon Amancio, ill. David Clark
Only two alphabet books on this list truly count as having any kind of a plot. This is another book that will appeal to older kids. The alphabet trope is more of a way of setting up the story (such as it is) than anything else. That said, it’s funny. And funny alphabet books are fairly rare indeed.
Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper by Mike Twohy
I know a librarian who is so gaga over this book she’ll bring you around to it pretty quickly. There’s just one word a page, and it follows the story of a canine and its dogged (har har) pursuit of a mouse. If you’re looking for a really simple alphabet book with a clear plot and even clearer pictures, this is your best bet. I’ve a lot of really sophisticated alphabet books on this list today so it’s nice to have something on the younger end of the scale as well.
Olinguito, from A to Z! / Olinguito, de la A a la Z! by Lulu Delacre
Can I convey adequately how deeply satisfying it’s been this year to see this book showing up time and again on so many Best of the Year lists? DEEPLY satisfying, sez I. This book does so many different things all at the same time but never overextends itself. If I had my way it would be a staple in every library.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books