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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Isn’t Isn’t Isn’t, YES IT IS

"A Isn’t For Fox: An Isn’t Alphabet" by Wendy Ulmer and illustrated by Laura Knorr caught my eye so I begged, cajoled, pleaded, and whined for a chance to write about it. (This IS the weekend of honesty, isn’t it?)Sleeping Bear Press, 2008 ISBN-13: 987-158536-319-3 $16.95

Sleeping Bear Press has a surprising print catalog. You might think of them only when you are ordering state specific titles (like our 25 copies of "V Is For Volunteer: A Tennessee Alphabet Book"), but that would be pigeon-holing this company. Don’t! Of course, I’m happy they finally finished the Discover America Series State by State so you can easily order them all at once if you’d like.

 While I know you want your specific state books, there are so many more titles in their catalog that you owe it a second look. Go on, you know you filed it when it came in. Pull it out and flip through the pages. Look at all those other treasures! They have a great format with the double-take on each page – first you read the poetry, then you read all the information in the side bars. HEY! You! I saw you trying to skip the stuff in the side bars! Don’t you know that’s what extends each of these titles? My male students in particular soak in every fact in those side bars, so STOP DEPRIVING THEM. 

They have sports alphabet books, cultural alphabet books, D Is for Democracy, spectacular stand alone titles like  America’s White Table, and Someday Is Not A Day Of The Week. Look at their author/illustrator list including authors like Mike Shoulders, Stephen Layne (both excellent speakers, also), Eve Bunting, Gloria Whelan, Cheryl Harness, and Bruce Langton. I hate to list just a couple because they have such a stellar list.

But, I’m digressing here. I started this because I wanted to talk about an "isn’t alphabet", and I’ve wandered all over talking about everything except "A Isn’t For Fox." 

The notes on this title state "Experts know that sometimes the best way to teach a child what something is is to teach him what it isn’t." I understand that concept in relation to abstract things with students. Peace isn’t war for example. Students can visualize conflict. Visualizing the absence is much harder. So, let’s look at page one of this title:

A isn’t for box; it isn’t for fox.
A is for ants that crawl over your socks.

Okay, that was very simple rhyming that young students could read. Would they understand what "A" IS for? I decided I needed to test it out. (Yes, any excuse to borrow Jackie’s children and read to them) I agreed to babysit and took a stack of books for my guinea pigs, I mean dear ones. 

A strange thing happened. I read the first page, then they snatched the book from my hands and insisted upon re-reading the page. We spent quite a bit of time discussing the fox that had fallen on his head while balancing a box and who had ants marching up his socks. Jason and Kristie didn’t care what letter it was. They just cared about going on to read the next page.

Did they allow me to read on? No! They insisted that we would now take turns reading and identify all of the objects in the illustrations as we read. I’d lost control with the letter "A." 

B isn’t for kite; it isn’t for light.
B is for bats that fly by in the night.

The "B" page generated a discussion of how silly it was for a bat to hold a light because they had that echo thing they could do and bats don’t know how to fly kites. (Which then necessitated US flying a kite later that day to prove we were humans, not bats.)

I think you can see what happened with this title. When we finally reached the end, were we through? Oh, no! It was back through the book again several more times while we decided which pictures were our favorites. I have to tell you


You could justify buying this book solely for it’s illustrations. The great picture debate finally ended with me declaring R and S the winners. Talk about incorporating background knowledge. We were able to discuss, camping, reindeer, backpacking, lanterns, red plaid fabric, salmon, fish swimming habbits, bears, bear habbits, stories with bears sitting in chairs, rivers, currents, hooves, tuna vs. salmon, lifespans, and calendars of years. PHEW! 

Kristie and Jacob argued over whether they should be able to keep this book because they loved the pictures more than I did, but I insisted they were losing that argument, too. 

Criticisms we had: sometimes the poetry talked about objects that weren’t in the pages. Even though Jason offered to draw some in, Kristie insisted the book wouldn’t like it and that wasn’t how we handled books. I remain confused as to the text – illustration linkages, but frankly, I didn’t care. I was enjoying the artwork too much to remember that this was supposed to be an alphabet book. 

It seems that this book ISN’T what it first appeared to be and IS a lovely picture book with large illustrations that groups will like to view.


  1. Not surprisingly, I LOVE this review! As another deadline sneaks up and painting despair sets in, your kind words give me a boost. Numerous readers, especially children (my best critics) have mentioned the text/illustrations not being cohesive. Although it didn’t seem that crucial when working on the book, I, too, like Jacob, now feel the need to grab any pencil, brush or writing apparatus and draw in the missing objects. Then I think about Kristie’s wise words and refrain from offending the book. All my best to the three of you and thank you for enjoying our book!

    A grateful artist,
    Laura Knorr