Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What’s With These Abecedarians?

Fun Fact About ABC Books:
There are three types of ABC books that are known as:

  1. The Swallow Alphabet: this type involves arranging the letters by anything that revolves around eating things or use food as signifies for letters.
  2. The Body Alphabet: this type was common in the 1800s and used drawings of people’s bodies or animal bodies that were made into the shapes of letters.
  3. Alphabetic Array or Worldly Alphabet: this type is most commonly used for children today and is where each letter can stand for anything in the world that starts with that letter.
When we think about children’s literature as a whole, ABC books for children are always an area of inquiry. This doesn’t seem surprising since, each year, there are many new publications of ABC books for children. It could possibly be just a race to the top, who can think up the newest most clever way to teach children the alphabet.

From The New England Primer
Let’s starts with the basics. An abecedarian text is any construction of text that is arranged alphabetically. Texts that included the alphabet started with the primers, in the mid to late 1500’s. The primers were books used in early education and included various religious lessons within its abecedarian form. The New England Primer was the first of this kind in the United States that was intended to teach children to read so that they would be able to read the Bible. John Locke, in 1693, suggested that learning the alphabet should begin as soon as possible for a child, which then allowed these alphabetic methods to adapt into texts for children with more playful elements. In the 18th century, once realizing how profitable book publishing for children was, John Newbery published a type of abecedarian called A Little Pretty Pocket Book with images that were carved from wood and depicted playful setting, starting with “A is for Archer and shot at a frog.” These types of children’s texts were then later turned even more popular through their use of verse and rhyming patterns.

After years passed and more biblical referencing ABC books for children were published, children authors of nonsense finally jump on the children-abecedarian bandwagon and perhaps do an even better job of flipping it upside-down on its head. Alphabet book publications seem to be a common habit among nonsense authors. Edward Lear, Edward St. John Gorey, Shel Silverstein, Dr. Suess, and even Maurice Sendak all have at least one published alphabet book for children.

Within Edward Lear’s collection of nonsense literature, there is A Nonsense Alphabet, which perhaps later on inspired one Edward St. John Gorey to publish so many of his nonsense and dark ABC books for children. How does anyone forget the lines: “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by bears” (The Gashlycrumb Tinies)?

In today’s age, while there are some creative ABC books for children still being published, they may be lost on the shelves, squished between the ABC baby board book, the ABC baby peek-a-book board book, the ABC baby bath time plastic book, and any other form they come in that are harder for baby consumption. So maybe instead of worrying about eaten pages out of ABC books for children, we should worry about the content and display that these eaten pages would have contained.
And while most ABC books for children being published today have different marketing intentions, there are still some note-worthy contemporary ABC books for children.  One example is Animalia, a sophisticated alphabet book by Graeme Base. This incredibly artistic and creative ABC book took three years to create and was an international best seller. Animalia is a great example of playful ABC books with its hidden boy in each picture, which was actually the author as a little boy. Marion Bataille is another author worthy of recognition. She published a 3D alphabet book for children titled ABC3D in 2008 that also came with a cool video of a hand flipping through its pages to the tube of "Roll On Mississippi, Roll On" by The Boswell Sisters.  These contemporary examples of ABC books for children will hopefully challenge and inspire the next abecedarian books for children authors to continue to create clever, witty, and a unique design in order to continue a culture of brilliant ABC books for children.

Notes and Citations:
"Animalia (1986)." The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English. Ed. Victor Watson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Credo Reference. Web. 20 Oct 2015.
"Alphabet Books." The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English. Ed. Victor Watson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Credo Reference. Web. 20 Oct 2015.
Shortsleeve, Kevin. "Edward Gorey, Children's Literature, and Nonsense Verse." Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 27.1 (2002): 27-39.

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