Friday, December 10, 2010

32. ABC's and 123's: Two Books

Gyo Fujikawa's A to Z Picture Book, written and illustrated by Gyu Fujikawa, Sterling, ages 4-8, 72 pages. Fujikawa's 1974 classic returns to delight a new generation of learners ready to leap into life and embrace their imagination. A joy to look through, no matter how many times you've seen it, this charming book teaches the alphabet while celebrating the innocence of childhood. Every letter of the alphabet receives a grand, happy welcome -- first, with a softly painted illustration spanning two pages and short sentence or bouncy poem about the letter, then with another spread of delicate ink drawings of dozens of things that start with that letter. Crosshatching and finely drawn lines and dots make every picture in here a delight to look at, though it is the larger-scale illustrations that make your heart soar. One of my favorites is for the letter M. To the left, furry beasts with three-toed claws and snarling mouths reach out to scare a little red-headed boy. To the right, the boy lays on his tummy in the grass with his chin in his hands, staring at his imagined beasts with wonder. "M is for / my mean / and marvelous / monsters," reads a poem above him.

Perfect for giving to a grandchild, niece or nephew, the book includes a whimsical nameplate designed with sticks to write the child's name. Fujikawa, who passed away in 1999, also wrote the darling book, Babies, published in 1963 -- a book I still have from my childhood with all the nibble marks of my mother's teething babies.

Counting Chickens, written by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Flensted Mobiles, Blue Apple Books, $16.99, ages 4-8, 36 pages. Sunny, simple graphics hanging peacefully off mobile strings make this book a must for any little child who loves to count, whether it's with Count Dracula or alone on her fingers and toes. Birds, fish, mammals, a clown with juggling balls and even mice and a slice of cheese take turns being counted as readers tackle simple problems of increasing difficulty. The book charms first with its cover, which shows three colorful silhouettes of chickens, each with an egg still in their tummies. Each of the eggs is printed on see-through plastic that can be see on the other side. As you open the cover, the endpapers reveal all of the chicks that were born on a two-page mobile, along with the three from the cover, which are still in their eggs and look almost like yolks in whites. With beaks wide-open, they appear to be chirping or chipping away at the shell. My favorite spread covers two pages, each with its own mobile. On the right is a mobile with a large black fish and three tiny fish in red, yellow and blue in its stomach. On the left, is the other mobile with eight black fish scattered about. The creators asks readers to count how many fish the big fish ate and for "extra credit," how many of the little fish got away. The book, appealingly crisp, clean and fresh looking, is the creation of Denmark's Flensted Mobiles, a company acclaimed for their ability to keep mobiles in constant motion while maintaining balance. To view some of Flensted's real-life creations, click here.

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