Monday, September 12, 2011


by Mary Quattlebaum

We tend to take the letters of the alphabet for granted.  Face it, we’ve sung the ABC song umpteen times as parents or teachers.  We use letters daily to construct words; we’re familiar with their basic shape.

But take another look.  Letters are amazing!  Check out the delightful “oo” sound and waggly tail of the round, capital “Q,” the explosive, breath-puff of “P,” which looks like a flag.

Letters and alphabet books might be a jumping off point for playful writing explorations for folks of all ages.

Sound and (Non)sense.  In 1871, Edward Lear published an alphabet book that tickled the ear and the funny bone.  Using Lear’s book as a model, you might have students each choose and embellish a favorite letter.  For example, Lear’s poem for “C” reads “C was once a little cake,/Caky/Baky/Maky/Caky/Taky caky/Little cake” in An Edward Lear Alphabet by Edward Lear, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky (HarperCollins).

Letters and Things.  As a tot, my daughter loved the short rhymes and photographs of everyday things in John Updike’s A Helpful Alphabet of Friendly Objects, with photographs by David Updike (Knopf).  After sharing this book with students, you might have them bring in a photo of something that begins with a particular letter and write a short poem or description.  Updike’s “V for Vacuum Cleaner” begins with sound and action:  “In goes dirt,/out comes noise!/Rumpling the rug/and scattering toys…”

Mischevious Alphabet Books.  Tired of the staid, predictable “A is for apple” type of alphabet book?  Shake things up with An Alphabet of Rotten Kids by David Elliott, illustrated by Oscar de Mejo (Philomel) and Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook).  Such books encourage larking about.  Students of all ages might write poems or silly descriptions of their own names or create a naughty human or critter character.

Who knows what wild, wacky, and wonderful writings these four alphabet books might inspire—for your students and yourself?  Have fun!

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