Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Learning Letter Sounds: Second Son's Alphabet Books in 2015-2016


We're nearing the end of the school year, the time when I start to think about updating the blog with all the things we've done this year and always discover half-started posts of homeschool plans from long ago. Like this one: the alphabet books I read with Second Son in 2015-2016 when he was in pre-kindergarten. (Now he's finishing up first grade). He had turned five the summer before, but we wait on kindergarten until age six for our July birthday kids.

Doodling Dragons: An ABC Book of Sounds by Denise Eide, illustrated by Ingrid Hess (purchased new)

We read Doodling Dragons the first week. Then, once a week, we read through another alphabet book with Doodling Dragons open near us so we could make all the sounds for each of the letters as we went through the books. I could easily have found enough alphabet books to last the whole year, but I figured we'd get tired of them before that and I also found that Second Son mastered all the letter sounds in Doodling Dragons before we were done. So if you're trying something like this, you might want to plan your favorite books early in the year so you won't feel sad when you drop it because your child is ready to start putting the letters together in proper reading lessons. We followed these books with The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. (Read my post on that here.)

Here are the alphabet books I read with Second Son back when he was oh so little. Our favorites are marked with asterisks (**). Unless I've said otherwise, we checked all these books out of the library.

A is for Angry (library) and A to Z (own) by Sandra Boynton - We've had A to Z since First Son was an infant and Boynton will always have a special place in our home library memories.

A is for Artist by the Getty Museum - I loved this book which uses details from works of great art to highlight the letters. Each page only has one letter and one word so it can be a simple one to start, except that the illustrations are rich and full. The end of the book shows the whole paintings, though in small size. My son was not as excited about this book as I was, except for the dog. He loved the dog.

The ABC Bunny by Wanda Gag - In this story, bunny encounters each of the letters (or, rather, things starting with the letters) in black and white illustrations. It's sweet and set to a song. The music is included at the beginning and the end.

** LMNO Peas by Keith Baker - This book shows peas performing jobs and activities for each letter of the alphabet. They are adorable and hilarious. It rhymes, too.

** Richard Scarry's Find your ABCs by Richard Scarry - My husband and children bond over their mutual love of Richard Scarry, so of course this book was included in our study. There are lots of details in each page and chances to identify the letter. The matching words are shown with the letter of the page in different colors.

** Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak - Classic Sendak illustrations of alligators in ridiculous activities. Fun and with few words so a great one to use when just introducing letter sounds.

Anno's Alphabet by Anno Mitsumasa - In general, my children didn't like the Anno books as much as I did. I guess his style didn't appeal as much to them. Sometimes that happens.

Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur - Each page of this book describes a fall scene with an acrostic poem beginning with each of the letters in alphabetic order. The beginning letters of each line are red, standing out well. The illustrations are linoleum-cut and brightly colored as well. I picked this book because we read it early in the school year, when it was fall, but there are versions for Spring, Summer, and Winter as well.

A is for Altar, B is for Bible by Judith Lang Main is an alphabet book filled with pictures of a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium (own)

** The Z was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg - This book shows each letter of the alphabet being destroyed, mangled, or outright murdered by methods that begin with their letter. The text is on the back of each page, so children have a chance to identify the method before seeing the word. It's grim but my children loved it. They laughed and laughed...Let's not dwell on what that means about their personalities.

** B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner - I just love the illustrations in this book. We read it during Advent (of course) and, though we read a library copy, I've since gotten one of our own. (own)

Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni is a good book to read later in the study because it's not an alphabet book proper. Instead, it introduces the idea of words, phrases, and sentences. Second Daughter (7) enjoyed this book even more than Second Son (5) because she'd learned the secret of reading. The idea of connecting the letters together delighted her.

An Alphabet of Catholic Saints by Brenda and George Nippert is an adequately illustrated book of saints, a saint for each letter of the alphabet with four lines of simple verse and a short description for each one. Kateri Tekakwitha's name is misspelled on the K page, which my nine year old noticed immediately. (She was making cornstarch quicksand a few steps away while I read the book to Second Son.) It also mentions the "legend of Santa Claus," just in case your children are believers who will be confused or dismayed. The main dissatisfaction I have with the book lies in the stories of St. Odilia and St. Ursula. For example, for St. Urusla, it says "When bad men tried to make them sin, / they said "We'd rather die!" These women lived long ago and their stories are clouded. It's possible they were killed because one of them wouldn't marry a pagan, but it's too easy in my mind to read this as the insistence on purity that can make a young girl feel she has sinned when she is a victim. So I've read this book to my kids but I don't really recommend it. (owned, purchased used on Cathswap)

** Into The A, B, Sea: An Ocean Alphabet Book by Deborah Lee Rose, pictures by Steve Jenkins - I wrote about this book a few years ago and I still love it.

I Spy: An Alphabet in Art devised and selected by Lucy Micklethwait is an alphabet book with a painting for each letter. The little reader is drawn into the painting by searching for something that begins with the featured letter. Second Son loved this book. Some items are obvious and easy (apple and dog, for example), but some were more difficult (even for me, luckily the "answers" are listed in the back of the book). A wide variety of interesting and lovely paintings are included.

** If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet by Leslie McGuirk is an alphabet book created around rocks found along the coast of Florida, collected over many years by the author and designer. Rocks form the alphabet and items beginning with each letter sound.

There are, of course, probably millions of alphabet books. I knew of a few of these before I decided we'd read through alphabet books once a week for the first couple of terms or so, but it was easy to find more just by using a few search terms on our library catalog: alphabet and abc.

Here are a few we didn't read, but you might not want to miss.

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert - We own this book and had read it a hundred times already, so I didn't include it, but it's lots of fun. Bright colors and unusual fruits and vegetables as well as more familiar ones. (own)

A B See by Elizabeth Doyle - This was a new book when we started our study and I think I'd already chosen them all before it was published. Since then, I've gifted it many times. Each letter is shown as an embossed collage of things that start with the letter and a sentence using some of the items shown, so you can search through the letter to find them. At the end is a list of all the things you can find for each letter. The textured pages are inviting even for young pre-readers, but the illustrations and sentences are worthy of any child old enough to be learning to read.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell - This is a new book (fall 2017) and contains few words. Instead, you have to figure out the alphabetic connection of each sketch. It's entertaining and enjoyable for a range of ages, including those who are learning to read and identify letter sounds. If I were doing this study again, I would definitely include it.

D is for Dress-Up: The ABC's of What We Wear by Maria Carluccio - This is another book that came out after we were done with our alphabet book study. There are boys on almost every page, but it's mostly illustrated with girls. I love how the boys and girls are all different colors and shapes. And the girls are not all wearing pink. There is a boy wearing a pink shirt, too. The illustrations are full of colors, designs, and textures. It's a wonderful book and I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up gifting it a time or two.

Because there are so many alphabet books being published and stored in libraries, it's easy to find the ones that will appeal to your child. It's important to take into account age and maturity; lots of alphabet books are designed for babies or toddlers. There are plenty with more integrated plots and quirky jokes to entertain pre-kindergarteners and even kindergarteners.

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