Concept books including and beyond ABCs

These recent concepts books bring added depth and enjoyment to learning ABCs, 123s, mapping skills, and more.

Where’s My Cat?
by Seymour Chwast; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Minedition    32 pp.    g
6/22    978-1-6626-5069-7    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-1-6626-5070-3    $7.99

In this odd little delight, Chwast takes objects you might find around the house and turns them into improbable animals. The story begins on the book’s cover, which asks readers to “please find” the author’s missing cat. Then the front endpapers introduce the series of objects featured in the book. From the very first pairing, where a pickle and a handsaw grow little green legs and a lower jaw to transform (after a page-turn) into a crocodile, young readers will know that they’re in for a strange journey. A wrinkly old sock becomes a walrus, a table turns into a very square cow, and finally a pair of scissors improbably resolves itself into the face of the titular missing cat. Iconic graphic designer Chwast’s signature psychedelic style is on full display here, including his large colorful lettering; huge question marks or exclamation points on every spread add an energetic, exuberant quality. The overall effect will induce giggles with each page-turn and may inspire children to try drawing something they see and turn it into a fanciful animal of their own. LAURA KOENIG

A Is for Bee: An Alphabet Book in Translation
by Ellen Heck; illus. by the author
Primary    Levine Querido    40 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-64614-127-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64614-153-1    $17.99

It would seem that alphabet picture books have covered everything from A to Z (including mixing things up à la Bingham and Zelinsky’s hilarious Z Is for Moose, rev. 3/12). Taking a more scholarly approach, Heck adds a new twist. For a familiar animal (a bee, for example), she has found names in different languages that begin with the same letter — but not the same initial letter as the English word. The letter A is for “Anu in Igbo, Ari in Turkish, Aamoo in Ojibwe, and Abelha in Portuguese,” all of which translate to bee in English. The pattern continues with “B is for monkey,” “H is for tiger,” and so on. Heck’s stunning scratchboard illustrations are enhanced with bold colors; the image fills the entire page, with the animal taking up most of the space and the words placed around the central figure. Sixty-eight languages are represented; European languages such as French and German are featured among less frequently included world languages such as Azerbaijani, Cherokee, and Wolof. An author’s note relates challenges inherent in this project and explains such terms as transliterated and Romanization. A big plus is the QR code that allows one to hear the words spoken by “native or fluent speakers.” Although it could become repetitive to read this book at one sitting, the variety of languages and animals will keep curious kids poring over individual pages and thinking about the differences and similarities among languages. SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

H Is for Harlem
by Dinah Johnson; illus. by April Harrison
Primary    Ottaviano/Little, Brown    48 pp.    g
7/22    978-0-316-32237-9    $18.99

This engaging and beautiful alphabet book features and celebrates not only Harlem’s history, including the Harlem Renaissance, but also contemporary figures and iconic places that bridge Harlem’s past and present. From the Apollo Theater, Harlem Children’s Zone, and The Brownies’ Book to food, sports, and the arts, there is something here to spark any of a wide range of interests. Equal parts love letter and travelogue, this book is a virtual trip through the sights and sounds of one of New York City’s most iconic neighborhoods. Harrison’s (What Is Given from the Heart, rev. 1/19) vibrant paint and collage illustrations are equally adept at representing the historical and the contemporary. Every inviting spread is alive in color, detail, and respect for the subject matter. This book is a starting point to learn more about one of the most important artistic, cultural, and intellectual incubators of Black culture in the United States. What a splendid way to learn the alphabet! MONIQUE HARRIS

Time Flies: Down to the Last Minute
by Tara Lazar; illus. by Ross MacDonald
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.    g
4/22    978-0-7595-5492-4    $17.99

In the third punderful picture book (7 Ate 9, rev. 5/17; The Upper Case) featuring Capital City’s dogged detective Private I, clocks and watches are disappearing, the time-strapped letter citizens are increasingly wound up, and Private I is ticked off. The nostalgic palette of the digitally assembled watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations enhances the mood of this not-so-hard-boiled noir spoof. The lively letter characters steal the spotlight with their distinctive features (a goatee on T, an apron on B) and stick-like cartoon arms and legs. Viewers may figure out the culprit before I does, as Z is pictured in plain sight running away with the gumshoe’s wristwatch early in the story. The real question remains: why steal time? Thanks to an ingenious, low-tech plan, I nabs the thief in broad daylight, and the clock-napper reveals his motive: by making the other letters late, Z hopes to finally go first. The sympathetic letters explain that life isn’t all that perfect earlier in the alphabet (A is sleep-deprived, for example), and the Grammar Police take a remorseful Z away “to serve hard time.” This book’s wordplay and visual humor are just right for the intended audience; time is sure to fly with Time Flies in the story-hour mix. KITTY FLYNN

A Kunwinjku Counting Book
by Gabriel Maralngurra and Felicity Wright; illus. by Gabriel Maralngurra
Primary, Intermediate    Enchanted Lion    40 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-59270-356-2    $19.95

This informative and visually sumptuous picture book highlights twelve creatures native to West Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory, from “One crocodile with many sharp teeth” to “Twelve barramundi swimming upstream.” Each spread includes a descriptive header in English and Kunwinjku, an Indigenous language of the Bininj, with the numeral and the number color-coded (“2 Two snake-necked turtles swimming in a billabong / Ngalmangiyi bokenh kabenedjuhme kore kulabbarl”) along with the name of the creature (“Northern snake-necked turtle / Ngalmangiyi”). Brief, clear paragraphs in English, with interspersed Kunwinjku vocabulary, follow, with details about each animal’s behavior, diet, appearance, relationships to humans, protected status, and other information (such as how good they are to eat — or not). Facing pages feature gorgeous illustrations “inspired by rock art that is thousands of years old,” with the creatures depicted in precise lines and crosshatching, deeply inked color blocks, strong black or white outlines, and a limited palette including striking matte umber backgrounds for every image. Maralngurra is cofounder of a thriving Aboriginal arts organization and (per an appended note and interview) acts as an “ambassador for Bininj culture”: “I want people all over the world to learn something…and maybe come over and visit.” Back matter includes more about cave paintings and about ancient Bininj art and techniques still used today; the six seasons of West Arnhem Land and their effect on flora and fauna; and a pronunciation guide. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

Whose Bones Are Those?
by Chihiro Takeuchi; illus. by the author
Preschool    Candlewick Studio    40 pp.    g
7/22    978-1-5362-2145-9    $17.99

Colorful, bold type; brightly saturated backgrounds; and simple, clean design set the tone for a concept book that doubles as a surprisingly joyous celebration of bones. A friendly-looking hippo faces its own skeleton on the book cover. Inside, each two-spread animal-guessing-game sequence begins by asking “Whose bones?” followed by a page of jumbled bones from the animal in question. On the next spread the bones have resolved into a full skeleton on the verso; and finally on the recto, the living animal, drawn in a simple, cartoonish style, is revealed. The concluding pages of the book are where things get complicated, as viewers are presented with an entire double-page spread of jumbled bones, including six different skulls — a hint at how many skeletons are present. Discerning which bones belong together to form each complete skeleton may make children think differently about how scientists learn from materials found in nature. Brief back matter identifies all the skeletons as being from vertebrates and gives facts about some of the animals. Front endpapers consisting of an array of human skeletons with a few interspersed oddities resolve on the closing endpapers into a parade of children (with a robot and an alien hidden among them). A strong choice for curious young scientists. LAURA KOENIG

Eggs from Red Hen Farm: Farm to Table with Mazes and Maps
by Monica Wellington; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Holiday    40 pp.    g
3/22    978-0-8234-4782-4    $18.99

How do eggs get from “farm to table”? From the very outset of this cleverly presented and organized book, readers are invited to find out: “Let’s go with Ruby and Ned along the stone path, past the apple trees, the cows, and the sunflowers to the henhouse.” After collecting eggs “from every nook and cranny” of the henhouse, Ned and Ruby hop into their bright red truck and begin the trek to sell and deliver the eggs. While Ned runs their stall at the farmer’s market, readers ride along with Ruby to her many delivery locations — bakery, school, grocery store, and back home — where she and Ned receive a sweet surprise. Composed of straightforward dialogue and simple sentences, the text both complements the busyness of the illustrations and welcomes beginning readers to navigate the narrative on their own. The book design is inventive: Some double-page spreads include a simple, nearly full-bleed map and a panel of directions with labeled illustrations. Other spreads feature a decoratively framed verso, whose details reflect the next location along Ruby’s many stops, while a small vignette on the recto, shaped subtly as an egg, highlights each friendly handoff. Warm and cheerful colors brighten the folk art–like illustrations. A delightful entry point for young readers to learn valuable mapping skills and enjoy searching the pages for all the nooks and crannies where eggs can be found. GRACE MCKINNEY

From the July 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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