Raising Richmond: Favorite alphabet books

Nine books to help your kids know (and really understand) their ABCs.

As our son JR prepares to enter pre-kindergarten in less than a month (!!!), we’re doing our best to clear out the summertime cobwebs so he’s able to make use of the skills his preschool teachers so diligently nurtured in him over the last two-and-a-half years. As you can imagine, alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness are The Big Ones for the preschool/pre-K set, what with them being some of the first steps in that whole “learning to read” thing.

Like most kids his age, JR isn’t one to sit and practice writing his ABCs in a workbook or flip through flashcards. Besides, rote memorization isn’t what we’re going for here. To really understand something requires engagement. And while we’ve done our fair share of forming letters out of pipe cleaners, constructing alphabet-themed obstacle courses, and singing round after round of “The Name Game,” JR’s always responded best to the no-bells-and-whistles approach: a few good books and some conversation.

Since I know many of you are also getting ready to send your wee babes off to preschool or kindergarten in the next few weeks, I thought it’d be helpful for us to compare notes. So to start us off, here are a handful of alphabet books that have been especially instrumental in helping our little guy get to know those ABCs–what the letters look like, the sounds they make, and how they work together to create those magical things called “words.” I’d love to hear about your favorites as well.

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Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book

Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

The major draw for this one its is emphasis on the fact that each letter has an upper and lower case version; it’s also just a great book for learning about beginning sounds. Meanwhile Dr. Suess’s rhymes are silly enough to keep kids interested, but his use of familiar words also helps them make connections to things they see in their everyday lives. For example, “Big C, little c, what begins with C? Camel on the ceiling, C, C, C!” is a favorite in our house and always inspires lots of giggles and conversation about what other words we could use in such a sentence. Personally, I prefer this one to the I Can Read By Myself Version because the rhythm is a tad peppier, and it’s also typically found as a board book, giving it a better to chance to survive those “enthusiastic” preschooler page turns.

My ABC Book

Pictures by Tadasu Izawa

This one is a bit harder to find (probably because it was published in 1971), but if you can get your hands on it, take it home and love it forever. It’s about as simple as alphabet books come, with each page featuring a letter, a word that starts with the letter, and a photo representing that word. The objects in the photo are reminiscent of the characters we see in stop-motion classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, so the whole feel of the book is a little bit quirky and a lot nostalgic–it’s just a nice break from your typical picture book illustrations.

Alphabet Adventure

Written by Audrey Wood; illustrated by Bruce Wood

A fun alternative to the “here’s the letter, here’s a picture” approach, this brightly illustrated book creates a story around the alphabet—Charley’s alphabet to be specific. Charley’s about to head to school for the first time, and the letters of “his” alphabet are on their way to meet him. But there’s just one problem: lowercase i loses her dot in transit, and it’s up to the rest of the letters to help her find it. Guys, it’s adorable. And if you like this one, author Audrey Wood’s got about a billion others to keep you and your preschooler happy.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Written by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault; illustrated by Lois Ehlert

Look, this book pretty much comes standard in every preschool and kindergarten class, so you might as well embrace it and reinforce the greatness at home. There’s just something about those crazy letters climbing up that coconut tree that kids can’t get enough of. Yes, the words will be stuck in your head for the next year or so (I can recite that bad boy in my sleep), but I think that’s a reasonable price to pay in your child’s journey towards literacy.

A Isn’t for Fox: An Isn’t Alphabet

Written by Wendy Ulmer; illustrated by Laura Knorr

You know what kids love? Being contrary just because. This little gem plays right into that tendency as it makes use of the idea that sometimes the best way to teach a child about something is to talk about what it isn’t. Through beautiful illustrations and rhyming text, readers first learn what each letter of the alphabet is not for before getting an example of words that do begin with that letter. Kids will love the general silliness of it all while parents will appreciate the extra level of critical thinking this book requires from its young readers.

Alphabet City

Illustrated by Stephen T. Johnston

When it comes to our kids learning the alphabet, we tend to just focus on whether they can recognize a letter when they see it. But we often forget to talk to them about is the structure of each letter: “Why is that a B?” or “How do you know that’s a Q?” In this wordless book, Stephen T. Johnston showcases each letter of the alphabet through pictures of the everyday objects a kid sees as he goes about his day—sawhorses as the letter A, the letter O in the arms of park benches, a stop light’s profile representing the letter E, and so on. The illustrations (which could easily be mistaken for photographs at first glance) are so rich and beautiful that you can’t help but mosey through the book, hopefully chatting with your little one about the significance of each image as you go.

A to Z of Animals

Written and illustrated by Peter David Scott

Nothing groundbreaking here, guys–just gorgeous illustrations of exotic animals, each representing a letter of the alphabet. If you’ve got a kid who’s a little resistant to chatting about her ABCs, this book is a great way to get her attention.

Apple Pie ABC

Written and illustrated by Alison Murray

The little board book passes as a simple tale of a very persistent pup with his sights set on a slice of apple pie, but there’s a lot more going on. The phrases filling us in on the dog’s shenanigans follow the order of the alphabet, helping young readers realize that we don’t just use letters to spell out the names of objects; we also use them to describe actions and tell a story. Added bonus: the illustrations are so sweet and whimsical you’ll hardly be able to stand it.

Sign Language ABC

Written by Lora Heller

Some kids just learn better by moving, and this fun introduction to American Sign Language is a great way to engage those kinesthetic learners. And really, a book like this is great for any child who’s ready to take their ABC skillz to the next level. The extra step of taking letter recognition from the visual to the physical requires them to use their brains a bit more…which is always a good thing.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. JRsgrma on said:

    I LOVE the sign language thing. I learned some sign language when I was in my preteens and still remember it to this day.

  2. Jeb Hoge on said:

    “Curious George Learns The Alphabet” (H.A. Rey, 1973) was a surprise find at the library one day and it really seemed to make alphabet learning click in. It’s not a typical Curious George adventure…it’s the Man In The Yellow Hat using letter-based animal art and some supreme alliteration to explain the letters. Really worth looking up.

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