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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Picture Books #23: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert

#23 Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert (1989)
61 points

If you watch the video, you’ll never get the tune out of your head when you read the book aloud. I’m still not sure if that is a good or bad thing. – Pam Coughlan

Because it is fun to read, it is fun to say those words strung together as they are, and some days that is all you need to make you smile. – Laura Reed

One of the catchiest books every written, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom gives the letters of the alphabet personalities and cleverly makes the capital letters parents to the lowercase letters. Of course, little letters are prone to sneaking out at night and climbing palm trees. Ehlert does wonderfully creative things like putting bandaids on “”skinned-knee D”” and “”patched-up F”” and giving us looped M and stooped N, let alone O, which is “”twisted alley-oop”” after a grand fall from the tree. And the words! They dance across the page: “”Skit skat skoodle doot./Flip flop flee./Everybody running to the coconut tree.”” This is one of those books where every word and every detail of the artwork joins together to create a lively, utterly enchanting whole. – Kate Coombs

The liveliest, loudest, most fun alphabet I’ve ever heard! – Ellen Ramsay

With its 1989 publication date I was way too old for this picture book when it was first released.  That’s too bad since a person with rhythm and tone could really make this a memorable little number.  Now a lot of people forget John Archambault’s contribution to the book, but he was right in there alongside Bill Martin Jr. when it came to writing it.  And then, of course, there is Lois Ehlert.  She’s done just fine in her own right, but this may well be her best known book to date.  It is also, as far as I can ascertain, the only alphabet book on this Top 100 list (though correct me if I’m wrong).

The plot (such as it is) from my old review reads: “Telling a tale of alphabetic foolhardiness, a troop of lower case letters (all of them, in fact) go bounding up the nearby coconut tree for a variety of reasons. When the tree can no longer support their weight the little letters find themselves splayed out on the ground. Fortunately the big letters come along to comfort the little ones, though it’s obvious by the end that not all have learned their lesson.”

According to 100 Best Books for Children, Ehlert came close to passing on the manuscript.  “She read the text, which she found rather strange, and she thought, What would I ever do with this?  She was about to send the manuscript back, but upon rereading it she suddenly was struck by the rhythm and dancelike quality of the text.”

  • For a fun time, try typing “chicka chicka boom boom costume” into a Google image search sometime.  Very amusing (and I’m grateful that the universe has not yet created a Sexy Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Costume with strategically placed letters yet).
  • I like this cake too.

Publishers Weekly said of it, “Children will revel in seeing the familiar alphabet transported into this madcap adventure.”

Here’s the Weston Woods produced video of it, in case you need a tune to tell it to.

If you ever want to feel old, I recommend reading the number of comments following that video on YouTube that talk about loving this books years and years ago when they were young.  Oy.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Christine Sarmel says

    This one sticks with you. I can still recite the entire text and my daughter’s almost 16!

  2. My daughter used to be very CONCERNED about the o that was twisted alley-oop. She’d grab the book at that point and flip back to the endpapers and point to the o there, as if to reassure herself that it survived all right. O was the first letter she recognized elsewhere….

  3. Yeah, Christine, I’ve got you beat. The book came out when my son was 1 year old, and now he is 24! Kind of perfect timing for him and this book. In fact, this was the book that got me hooked on Children’s Book of the Month Club. It was one of the first selections they sent, and a HUGE hit. Of course, now that I’m a librarian, I get to continue reading it even though he has outgrown it.