Quick Things You Need To Know:
- These are all for the official US english alphabet. I’ll have to dig into other languages and vernaculars at another time
- I’m generally not into pushing the ABCs & reading before the age of 7, but here are some alphabet books we’ve experimented with so far.
- Both our kids got letters and sounds before kindergarten (for Q, around age 2 because I was with him 24/7, and for R2, in a montessori classroom). So most of these books, we read around 18 months to 3 years.
- But R2’s teacher (who incidentally, hates him) says he doesn’t know his letters or letter sounds at age 5.5. Which is probably because he’s too stressed/angry for testing. Either way, we’re refreshing our letters at home again at 5.5, and making another round of screenings for our favorites.
- I’ll also update this list later with some of the new socially progressive ABC books that have come out since my kids were little. Screening them now!
Quick & Messy Book List:
ABeCedarios – This is R2’s favorite at age 5.5. The gorgeous painted carvings get him interested. bilingual (English, Spanish). Disclosure: got a free copy from the little Feminist Book Club. Board book
The handmade alphabet (Rankin) – Hand signs in ASL, accessible for both Deaf & hearing kids. The illustrations are realistic and dated, but both kids have consistently liked examining and imitating the signs in the book.
the numberlys – Simple book, best for preschoolers (Age 6 might be too old, although illustrations are cute enough that Q sat through it for a single read at age 5). Story of how the Numberlys decide to create something new and interesting and make letters, which adds colors and flavor to the world. Great for letter recognition. Ages 3-5
M is for Melanin (Rose) Validating book for Black kids (not for us white & non-black POC). So lovely! Alphabet book encouraging kids to be proud of the things that make them physically and culturally Black. Includes a huge range of black skin tones, including multiple kid kids with vitiligo, pale/blonde kids, and kids with albinism. Inclusive with multiple kids with full alopecia. Works for #BlackGirlMagic and #BrownBoyJoy, unapologetic pro-Blackness, body positivity, and celebrating Black hair, and Black Futures. I want something like this for Asian kids SO MUCH!
The Funny Alphabet – This will be basically impossible to get a copy of from local libraries, but if you have the time and tenacity to make your own, this is amazing. If you are Blind, it *might* still be possible to request a free copy from the Xavier society. It’s a tactile book, intended for Blind readers, and it introduces kids to the concept of braille.
Just enough to know better – a braille primer (Curran)- Written by sighted parents for sighted parents of blind children. From the book: “Joe and I concentrated our efforts on her abilities and on trying to understand what would be the same and what would be different for her.” – Not trying to change their daughter, focusing on abilities. SO MUCH LOVE! This is for older kids starting to rad. A great primer for early elementary. This book is where I found out about ‘A Funny Alphabet’ and the NBP bookstore, which makes popular kids books available in braille at the same cost as non-braille books (at a financial loss, they take donations to cover the cost)
Recommended with reservations
A is for activist – This is the go-to progressive book that every white person who self-identifies as a SJW places prominently on the nursery bookshelf, right next to their pussy hat full of safety pins. The concepts are solid, but it just kind of makes me squirm. For background: Innosanto is a kickass AAPI activist and I love what he’s doing. But this book has been co-opted by white folks who want to look woke, but want to own a book, call themselves allies, and aren’t into the deeper work. The problem is the medium is too basic for what it is – it’s a board book, but it’s not accessible for toddlers and preschoolers. It’s not even accessible for most adults. At the age when families can really unpack what he’s talking about, kids are way too old to have patience for an alphabet book. That and – there is simply no room for nuance. Nagara has the benefit of being a 2nd (or more?) generation activist with ties to strong activist community. For those of us who are the only/ first, people to break through that academic/political ceiling and are isolated from generational resources, it feels very much like a book that criticizes us for not being born woke. I use a gas range, and I vote democrat – because these are the only options available to me in this place and time. And this book feels very all-or-nothing, painting anyone who isn’t scavenger-dumpster-vegan radical as the problematic moderate. It makes me feel kind of shitty, and I’ve heard the same from other folks who didn’t grow up with activist parents and communities. It smells a lot like the guarded snobbery of when you walk into an academic space looking too shiny.
They She He Me, easy as ABC Disclosure: Got a free copy of this from Reflection Press. I wish this came in a board book. It’s a bit too simple for 4+ to sit through, so having it as a board book for younger kids would have been a better medium. That said, at 5 & 7, the Earthquakes love discovering each person’s pronouns. They like choosing a letter, as in “My name is Q—, who else in the book has a Q name…” And they have an affinity for the characters who share the same first letters that they do. pronouns, gender, nonbinary. also includes kids who use names instead of pronouns. would use for ages 2+ (would be younger if this were a board book). this would also work in a movement book bin, inclusive of disability. this isn’t really a companion to ‘they she he me free to be,’ but more of an alternative. i wouldn’t bother getting both.
An ABC of Equality. Disclosure: Got a free copy of this from LFBC: Overall recommended if only because this is the first book of it’s kind in this era – and way better than previous books such as John Seven’s series on Anarchy.But would love to see this shared with a link/article for parents to follow to identify and discuss the problematic issues with the book, which would appease folks who are more aware and annoyed by these things, and would give newbies a better understanding of how complex bokos can be both good and problematic. Issues: White and brown skin seems to be the primary dominant color, with other people of color (tan yellow, and pink, both shades so light they code as white to me) thrown in almost as tokens. There’s really not an excuse for a book so socially oriented not to have a wider, and darker, range of skin tones. The token folks with disabilities reduced to wheelchair and white cane users is kind of frustrating. There are many different ways to visually code folks as disabled, and it’s pretty clear the illustrator didn’t bother to run this by any disability advocates. “We’re all human beings because of abilities like standing, talking, laughing, and pointing your finger” is a weird thing to put in the human section. LOTS of folks with disabilities don’t do these things. Regarding the ageism in the text – it’s definitely not written for a board book crowd. But I’m actually okay with that. While the writing certainly could use some editing and clearly wasn’t tested with real kids (lazy!), I see the definitions existing for adults to read and paraphrase to be age-and cognitively appropriate for their kids. Trying to reduce it to infant or toddler speak would have left the book too vague, particularly since most parent’s don’t ACTUALLY know what many of these issues and terms mean. We’re pretending the books are for the kids, but the books are ACTUALLY for adults who are too insecure to admit they don’t know anything. So for the sake of scaffolding, I’m okay with the world count. I appreciate the use of a few token chubby folks in there. Could have been done better, and I do notice that everyone has hair and limbs, but this tracks with the entry-level tone of the book. Privilege can be construed as accessibility “Privilege is when a human being receives benefits and advantages based on a category like gender or class or an ability like seeing and hearing.” (removes power). The ‘Sex’ page erases intersex kids (they should have known better, given that they even include intersex in LGBTQIA). Also sex is not always assigned by a doctor, and this feeds into the supremacy of the medical industrial complex. Which again, tracks with the sophomoric SJ basics the author is at. I’m noticing that those token physically disabled folks are fairly rare and aren’t DOING much (getting pushed (YIKES), handing off an umbrella, holding a tennis racquet). Other than these isolated incidents, they they’re just sitting there inactive. Contrast that with the lively and active tone throughout the book with physically non-disabled kids jumping and swinging and smashing stuff.
M is for Mustache: a pride ABC book – hernandez – very cute illustrations, and great for learning about LGBTQAi2S culture, but it’s not really an alphabet book even though it uses the device of ABC. little girl celebrates pride day with her single mother and their chosen family. Even though Flamingo Rampant book can be kind of slapped-together and sloppy, this book is tight. “F is for the flowers that Tita” Audrey puts in my hair. She tells me stories of a very important person named Marsha P. Johnson, who wore them just like this.” H is for hands for sign-language, super inclusive, lovely, and really beautiful illustrations. “O is for Out on the street with our songs, our families. P is for Pride, which is what we feel when we can be who we are and not be afraid.” “Queerspawn is one word for kids as lucky as me to have parents who are lesbian or gay or bi or trans or queer or two-spirit.” “S is for Smudging. We burn sage to remember that we’re marching on Native land.” Disclosure: got a digital for free from flamingo rampant, and I can’t get a hardcopy to screen it with the kids. Keywords: single mothers, chosen family, breaking gender constructs, trans, nonbinary, trans women’s history (Marsha P. Johnson), normalizing disability (Deaf, sign language), chosen names, queerspawn, gay parents, trans parents, Indigenous. Character is Filipina (based on the author’s daughter) and the author is also #ownvoices AAPI (well, Filipina Canadian), kickass girls of color, woman makers of color, LGBTQAi2s history. See read aloud with hte author here.
- Giveaways – An ABC book of loanwords from the Americas (boyden) – centers ‘americas’ and that old ‘multicultural’ chestnut just one click above colorblindnes. “America is a melting pot.” surprising given her other work. author appears to be #OwnVoices indigenous based on the use of ‘we’ “Giveaways are a tradition among most Native People. We often give gifts to visitors and friends.” Talks of Columbus ‘and his crew’ almost like pleasant visitors. Despite the whitewashing and multiculturalism, each word goes into detail in a way that would scaffold or be a good companion to other Native books to show the history (and modern endangering due to settler actions and colonialism) on Native traditions and items, particularly about climate change and endangered animals. Would include this in a collection for indigenous, or even climate justice. but it is basically a nonfic encyclopedia, not at all engaging, particularly for kids under 7. centers settlers and others native kids “Most modern Navajo families live in homes like yours” endangered animals, problematic whitewashing and keeps centering ideas on white encounters, which I guess makes sense since it’s specific words that we’ve picked up by europeans for modern american language “In 1804 when captains Lewis and Clark explored the Louisiana Territory, the Native people they met called the plant by different names, too.” Some problematic ableist language on a controversial guy: “Sequoyah, a crippled Cherokee man who could not read English…” Includes Hawaii as a part of the Americans.
- The Waldorf Alphabet Book AKA the living alphabet – zonneveld – Famously problematic for objectifying Indigenous people. This Waldorf standard has been a thorn in the side of Indigenous academics for decades and the [white] Waldorf community, as a general rule, refuse to let this book die. Depicts Indigenous people as fantasy creatures/animals. Deb Reese has a great breakdown of this, which she actually includes as an Amazon review, where some asshats attack her for it.
- AB to Jay-Z – Checked this out for research on Black culture back in 2017, but it doesn’t actually tell you anything about the musicians. Something about this felt OFF about this board book, very performative and shallow, felt like mockery. The whole book read very ‘white-folks-using-words-like-ghetto’ so I double checked. In 2017, I found that the kickstarter page rips off a ton of clips from artists’ music videos and the music to go along with it. Which seemed lazy and kind of shitty. Now that I’m compiling this list in 2020, I did another search. It turns out the author is WAY WORSE than I expected, and is currently in a legal battle with Jay-Z GOOD. These assholes! Note, these are also the creators of 1 2 3 with the notorious BIG.
Skip it – forgettable, not worth the paper its printed on
The ABC of Stimming (Par La Fenêtre) – #OwnVoices autistic author. I want to boost this as a book created by trans autistic makers, but honestly I would never read this to my kids. It’s boring, with story, and centers on a white masculine-presenting person, with some questionable choices on how and under what circumstances they include women (lots of high-heels, and the women are accessories used only when their femininity is helpful). It looks like what it is – a self-published book of illustrations, with no narrative to carry or assist the reader. We need books that celebrate stimming, by my kids would roll their eyes at me if I tried to read this with them. keywords: disability
Mrs. Peanuckle’s vegetable alphabet– ford – board book, veggies (there are a bunch of these), but way too visually cluttered for the board book crowd.
play learn slide and find ABC – okay to have around (we found ours at a thrift shop and I regret spending the 99 cents). it’s very ‘a is for apple’ basic. Really the kids were into it for the interactive sliders. Good for ages 9m-3y, but we mainly used it as a filler book to play with on the potty book (and there are better books out there for his purpose)
once upon an alphabet – some darker stories, like a girl who falls off of a broken house to the ocean. tiny stories, refer to other stories in the book and other works by he author, macabre
my first book of chinese words – abc rhyming book – faye-lynn wu – I made the mistake of trying this with kids under 5, and it made learning both letters and vocabulary way more complicated than it needs to be. If you’re using it to learn Mandarin, it has almost all the same words as the Gordon & Lili board book, but Gordon & lili was more fun and easier to read. It just doesn’t work as an English alphabet book. #OwnVoice AAPI makers
Lady Legends alphabet book (Feiner) boring bios, odd illustrations with women’s heads growing out of the letters. can’t get it at the library to check out the full thing, but you can tell just from the previews. some amazon reviews alluded to ‘odd choices’ but since I can’t see the full roundup, can’t speak to that. skip
ABC3D – simple 3d shapes with a few gimmicks like transparent pages to convert one letter into another. neat, but not sure who it’s for. too fragile and complicated for 3 and under. after 4 they basically know all the letters. could make a decent gift for cautious 3.5-4y, or as a study for older kids 6+ who are interestd in making their own pop ups (although a kit would be better for that. library copy was moderately damaged.
tiger in my soup – sheth – AAPI author. indian(?) boy who can’t read bugs his sister to read a book to him. imagines a tiger coming out of his alphabet soup. a little surreal and bizarre, meant to make kids laugh. not bad, but not worth my time.
The alphabet tree – lionni – good for age 4/5 introducing the concept of letters, and how they go together to form words, and how those go together to form sentences, but those sentences have to say something worth saying. the caterpillar brings the message “peace on earth and goodwill toward all men” to the president. But the Little Earthquakes weren’t interested in reading it twice
ABC pop-up – McCarthy – small. not for toddlers, MAYBE older preschoolers. R2 is okay with pop ups at 4.5, but since the letters aren’t obvious they need a n adult to discuss with them. (R,S, and T are on the same page – R are roots, T are tree, can’t find the S. fragile enough that I wouldn’t leave him alone wiht it because it’s so easy to rip. but overall it’s not worth reading more than once, so skip it.
- Jerry Pallotta’s ‘___ Alphabet Book’ series. All for ages 3+, all forgettable. We used the truck one for Q during his hyperfocus on trucks, but a kid has to be REALLY into the subject to care about the book.
- H is for halloween – kontis – style is conversation between letters and being out of order from the alphabet. too advanced for 2.5y. meh.
- the day Z went first – kontis. Too advanced for <2 years, but it was a nice way to point at letters not in alphabetical order. Maybe better for 2.5+, but ultimately forgettable
- ‘[letter] is for [thing] Alphabet book’ series (various authors) – I’ve yet to read a single one of these that is accessible or engaging for kids. I DO occasionally read them as an adult to give me an idea of topics to research and look into. Some are great (usually the #OwnVoices ones) and some are absolutely abysmal. There are so many of these and I can’t tell if they are all create by the same publisher, or they are just copies of each other. But they all more-or-less feature unengaging, dated colored pencil illustrations and a weak alphabetic vocabulary word paired with a brief paragraph about a cultural.ithing.
- D is for Dancing Dragon, for instance, is written by a white woman about Chinese culture. It’s reductive, bland at best, and reductive and insulting below the surface.
- A is for Aloha is written by an #OwnVoices Hawaiian author, and it’s subversively radical, subtly digging at colonialism. I love it, but it’s too bland for young kids.
- touchthinklearn: ABC – deneux – very fancy and artsy looking alphabet book, but not very much fun as a read aloud. more of a tactile book and tool to create a hip nursery bookshelf for instagram
R is for robot – the robots are a little creepy but good for an advanced alphabet book – each letter is a robot sound, and has a robot with a few hints to catch relating to the letter (E has a robot with an eye on it). Might be fun for older kids, but ultimately forgettable.
alphablock – so graphic! such cutouts! We tried over and over, and every time both kids were uninterested and bored by this.
- A is for all aboard – kluth – nope. illustations are blegh, just a alphabet book for train things with short definitions, and not a good one. no story at all.
- Z goes home – agee – despite Q adoring Agees books, this was bland, skip it
- G is for one gzonk! – very complex alphabet book with larger words and humor. More confusing than it’s worth
- oh beyond zebra – 4+ fun rhymes and animals, but introduces ‘extended’ alphabet – which isn’t that interesting or funny to a kid who has a limited concept of letters. better for kids who have a hyperfocus on linguistics and letters
- LMNO Peas – 2.5+ too advanced for 22 months. Q is interested in letters, but this is more focused on actual reading, the order of the alphabet and is mostly lowercase letters for the examples of words. For older kids, it’s just too boring. Alphablock is better, and alphablock is meh. Also 1-2-3- peas sucks.
- Chicka Chicka boom boom – bill martin – why is this a thing? it’s in every fucking classroom. People have given us copies of gifts. I don’t get it. There is nothing interesting about it. What am I missing?
- Compost stew – siddals – alphabet book. Simple and boring, environmentalism
ABC Ready for school – delaney – super boring and didactic. But decent racial diversity and even included a kid with arm crutches and a kid with a wheelchair, wih a hijab, a south asian, boy and girls, lots of skin colors. but completely forgettable – I’m actually working from notes but I have no recollection of reading it (rare!). Actually, I’m not even sure it has an alphabet in it. best for ages 2-3 just starting preschool to see what to expect, from washing hands to storytime, but sooo boring and no story at all. oddly has a cafeteria and bus, which feels elementary-schoolish, but his book is too young for the k crowd. first day of school, daycare, preschool.
- Abc’s Of physics – Ferrie- no scaffolding, just kind of a glossary of physics terms. Would be a headache to read aloud and expand on it even with 6.5. How is this a board book? Skip. I’d consider getting this for like, an 8yo who is really into science, but by that point hey are not going to want a board book. there is something so dreadfully sad when I imagine a parent of an infant struggling to cram this stuff down a 2 year old’s throat when they could be outside learning science by inspecting bugs and throwing blocks off their highchairs/ steam. This is another one for instagram parents to look cool, but fails in execution.
- Lexie the word wrangler – jessie hartland good for early readers, shows them compound words and adding letters (or reorganizing letters) to make new words. story is lacking and the illustrations are a bit messy. introduces some fun concepts for kids who are still only on sight words. But also sight words are kind of bullshit and I’m not on board with thm. not worth reading again
- Fish (Walsh) – R2 picked from library at kindergarten. boring, but fine for a single read. technically it’s got words, but I’d classify this as a wordless book. meant to be read multiple times so you can see the hints at the beginning (a marathon is happening) and how it all pulls together in he end. the huge C and shark-fin As are confusing to me. anyway, he goes fishing for the letters in fish to create a finish sign. booooring
- Little i – michael hall – ages 5+ what a let-down. I want him to make another ‘red’ and instead this one is kinda just about punctuation, with a very thin underlay of ‘growing up.’ little i loses his eye and goes on a journey to an island to find it, goes through a bunch of adventures kiiiinda pertaining to the punctuation he encounters, and gets to the end to realize his dot doesn’t fit him anymore, so he returns as a big I. Q found it interesting since he’s learning about letters in kindergarten, but hte story is too thing and boring to be worth reading. The rest of Hall’s work make it almost seem like ‘Red’ was an accident. hero’s journey, grammar, growing up