alphabet jambalaya! an A to Z of alphabetical goodies

I was going to call this post Alphabet Soup, but it got so cram-jam full of tasty bits, it turned into Jambalaya!

Alphabet books sound like something for pre-readers, something that introduces the ABCs to young children.

In reality they are ever so much snazzier than that!
Often, the 26 letters serve as a scaffolding for clever creations
far more appealing to older children
(as well as adults smart enough to check them out for themselves!)


Today I’ve got an alphabet of alphabet books, 26 of them,
not meant for teaching anyone their ABCs,
but delivering everything from art to humor to baseball lore.
I think you’ll find plenty of fodder here for further exploration and creativity
including making alphabetical collections or books of your own.

Take a look, then hunt in your library for something spicy to enliven your February!

A is for Awake

all the awake animals cover

All the Awake Animals Are Almost Asleep, written by Crescent Dragonwagon, illustrated by David McPhail
published in 2012 by Little, Brown and Company

Dreamy, blanket-soft illustrations and lyrical text will lull your little ones into drowsiness even as they gaze at the richness of the natural world.

all the awake animals Dragonwagon and McPhail

  There are a preponderance of alphabet books starring animals.  This one won a place on my list because it is like reading velvet. Ages 18 months and up.

B is for Baseball

lineup for yesterday cover

Lineup for Yesterday, written by Ogden Nash, illustrated by C.F. Payne
published in 2011 by Creative Editions

Ogden Nash wrote this alphabetical set of poems for a 1949 edition of SPORT magazine. C.F. Payne’s masterful paintings capture the era’s nostalgia and the players’ brawn with a splash of good humor.

lineup for yesterday Nash and Payne

Copious biographical notes on each of these baseball icons are included. A home run for devoted fans ages 9 through adult.

C is for Code

alpha bravo charlie cover image

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes, written and illustrated by Sara Gillingham
published in 2016 by Phaidon Press

Ahoy mateys! This snappy guide to signal flags, semaphore code, morse code, and the international radio alphabet, is perfect for sailors of all stripes, Swallows and Amazons fans, or anyone keen on codes.

alpha bravo charlie interior 2 by sara gillingham

Extras include juicy ship lore and nautical history. Ages 5 to adult.

D is for Descriptions

a is for angry cover

A is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet, by Sandra Boynton
published in 2016 by Workman Publishing Company

Boynton’s endlessly-popular critters demonstrate twenty-six adjectives. Smile over the Angry Anteater, Jazzy Jaguar, Vain Vulture, while learning some great descriptive words.
Simple as that.

a is for angry Sandra Boynton

As with any of Boynton’s merry books, prepare to read it over and over with ages 2 and up.

E is for Elegant Elephants

trunks all aboard cover

Trunks All Aboard: An Elephant ABC, written by Barbara Nichol, art by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne
published in 2001 by Tundra Books

On his travels through Europe in 1909, Canadian tycoon Sir William Cornelius Van Horne drew pictures to send home to his grandson in Montreal. Barbara Nichols supplies these 100+ year old images with imaginative jottings of narrative, bringing each elephantine personality to life.

trunks all aboard Nichol and Van Horne

Quirky meets posh meets antiquated in this unusual offering. Ages 5 and up.

F is for Floral

alison's zinnia cover

Alison’s Zinnia, written and illustrated by Anita Lobel
published in 1990 by Greenwillow Books

Here’s the first of two classic Anita Lobel titles on today’s list. Sumptuous paintings of flowers from A to Z are accompanied by a clever, round-robin narrative.

allison's zinnia Anita Lobel

Beginning with Alison acquiring an Amaryllis for Beryl, and Beryl buying a Begonia for Crystal, we weave our way right around to Alison again. A feast of color for ages 4 and up.

G is for Graphic Design

the graphic alphabet cover

The Graphic Alphabet, by David Pelletier
published in 1996 by Orchard

Pelletier won a Caldecott Honor for his exceptional design in this artistic collection, in which each letter’s altered shape ingenuously illustrates a corresponding word.
The A on the front cover is for…avalanache.

the graphic alphabet David Pelletier

F is for Flame; G is for Gear

Many students have been assigned this type of creative exercise.  See how masterfully it can be done in this small stunner. Ages 8 to adult.

H is for Hebrides

a hebridean alphabet cover

A Hebridean Alphabet, written and illustrated by Debi Gliori
published in 2016 by BC Books

I’m a huge fan of Debi Gliori’s books. Here she narrates one marvelous day of outdoor adventuring in the blowsy, seaside world of these Scottish islands, cleverly advancing her way through the alphabet in the alliterative telling.

hebridean alphabet Debi Gliori

Her delightful illustrations capture the freedom and joy of outdoor play. So zesty, for ages 4 and up.

I is for Invention

steampunk ABC cover

Professor Whiskerton Presents Steampunk ABC, written and illustrated by Lisa Falkenstern
published in 2014 by Two Lions

Adorably-outifitted mice rummage through bins of bolts, drill through metal plates, engineer complicated gears to equip an elevator.  What are they up to?

steampunk ABC Lisa Falkenstern

Brimming with mechanical gadgets and burnished with steampunk brass and bowler hats, it’s an inventor’s dream, for ages 5 and up. (Be sure to read the author blurb!)

J is for Journey

z goes home cover

Z Goes Home, written and illustrated by Jon Agee
published in 2003 by Hyperion

Jon Agee’s off-beat perspectives pulse through this account of the Letter Z’s commute home at the end of the work day. Agee remodels the shapes of the letters to form a hodgepodge of eccentric elements that Z encounters along the way.

z goes home Jon Agee

So clever, and wait’ll you see who he comes home to! Ages 6 and up.

K is for Kooky

g is for one gzonk cover

G is for One Gzonk!: An Alpha-Number-Bet Book,
written and illustrated by by Tony DiTerlizzi
published in 2006 by Simon & Schuster

The spirits of Dr. Seuss and Edward Lear are happily at home in this riff on their work which riotously introduces weird creatures from the Angry Ack straight through to the Zanderiffic Zibble Zok, complete with copious asides and a struggle to keep numbers out of an alphabet book.

g is for one gzonk Tony DiTerlizzi

Spectacularly silly for ages 4 and up.

L is for Lively

roar like a dandelion cover

Roar Like a Dandelion, written by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
published in 2019 by Harper Kids

What?! A never-before-published manuscript from Ruth Krauss, illustrated by the uber-talented Sergio Ruzzier?! These two brilliant souls deliver an alphabetical sequence of imperative sentences for active kids to follow.

roar like a dandelion Krauss and Ruzzier

Act like a sprinkler in summer. Butt like a billy goat. It’s a gem to read over and over and watch the sunshine spread in your household. Ages 3 and up.

M is for Minnesota

antler bear canoe cover image

Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet, written and illustrated by Betsy Bowen
published in 1991 by Houghton Mifflin

Betsy Bowen is one of Minnesota’s fine artists. From her workshop in Grand Marais — one of my favorite places on Earth — she creates gorgeous woodblock prints capturing the ethos and beauty of the northland.

antler bear canoe illustration betsy bowen

This spin through the seasons is one of my all-time favorites.  If you have any Northern blood in your veins, it’s one you’ll love. Ages 4 to adult.

N is for Nature

flora forager abc cover

Flora Forager ABC, created by Bridget Beth Collins
published in 2018 by Little Bigfoot

Exquisite compositions made entirely of petals and leaves foraged by Bridget Beth Collins near her Pacific Northwest home adorn these pages, as they form an alphabet of animals.

flora forager abc Bridget Beth Collins

Each one is a stunning ode to the extravagant beauty found in the smallest details of nature. Sure to inspire efforts to create foraged artwork of your own, for ages 4 to adult.

O is for Original

abstract alphabet cover

Abstract Alphabet: A Book of Animals, by Paul Cox
first published in France; English edition published in 1997 by Chronicle Books

What if you invented a brand new set of alphabet symbols, one never before used by anyone, anywhere, in the history of the world? What might it look like?

abstract alphabet Paul Cox

Use the guide at the left to read this three-letter word!

  Paul Cox created an alphabet of abstract shapes. Open the flap for an identification key, then decode the names of animals from A to Z spelled out in this new alphabet. Brilliant for kids of any age who have already learned to read English.
Now can you make your own new alphabet?

P is for Photography

p is for peanut cover

P is for Peanut: A Photographic A B C, by Lisa Gelber and Jody Roberts
published in 2007 by The J. Paul Getty Museum

Using historic, black-and-white photographs from the Getty Museum, this small volume is a quiet, intriguing, artful collection. It’s a lovely way of introducing the fine art of photography as well as the delights of looking and wondering.

Very short comments on each photograph are included in the end pages. Ages 5 and up.

Q is for Quaint

on market street cover

On Market Street, written by Arnold Lobel, illustrated by Anita Lobel
published in 1981 by Greenwillow Books

This classic collaboration between the Lobels won a Caldecott Honor and has been a beloved favorite of many for almost 40 years. Amble down Market Street and purchase goods from apples to zippers from merchants who uncannily present their wares.

Imaginative, captivating, and timeless for ages 3 and up.

R is for Rocky

if rocks could sing cover image

If Rocks Could Sing, written by Leslie McGuirk, photographs by Denise Ritchie
published in 2011 by Tricycle Press

Leslie McGuirk has done something dear to every child’s heart: collected rocks.  The rocks she collected have something in common — each one resembles a letter of the alphabet! She also found rocks that look like objects corresponding to those letters.

if rocks could sing dog and elephant by leslie mcguirk

The result is an absolute delight and provides inspiration for cool collections of your own. Ages 3 to adult.

S is for Stories

once upon an alphabet cover image jeffers

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
published in 2014 by Philomel Books

Jeffers has a deft hand for the slightly off-beat, for strands of narration that roam a bit from our normal center of gravity.

once upon an alphabet illustration2 jeffers

You will find yourself cheering and consoling this cute cup in the cupboard.

This fab book provides a teensy story for each letter of the alphabet, introducing enough eccentric characters and quirky scenarios to fill a plum pie. A whimsical feast for ages 4 and up.

T is for Transformation

the hidden alphabet cover image

The Hidden Alphabet, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
published in 2010 by Roaring Brook Press

Seeger is a genius at turning the expected upside down and inside out in each of her unique creations. This stocky book features a picture for each letter.  We can see it through a window cut into the page. When we turn that page, though, the picture magically transforms into the letter itself.

So, so cool. You have to see it to appreciate just how enthralling this book is. Ages 2 and up.

U is for Urban

alphabet city cover

Alphabet City, by Stephen T. Johnson
published in 1995 by Penguin Books

This wordless book also won a Caldecott Honor for Johnson’s incredible paintings which you will assume are photographs until you pause and look a little more closely.

alphabet city Stephen Johnson

He focuses his vision on bits and pieces of the urban scene, finding the shapes of our alphabet in everything from a sawhorse to cracks in the pavement or the negative space formed by skyscrapers and walkways. Another excellent beacon for really seeing what is around us and a great game to play in your own neighborhood, for ages 4 and up.

V is for Vivacious

oops pounce quick run cover image

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run!: An Alphabet Caper, by Mike Twohy
published in 2016 by Balzer + Bray

A zesty story unfolds beginning with one Asleep mouse who is disturbed when a bright orange tennis Ball, bounces — ooof! — into his tiny tummy. Before long a Dog enters the scene and off we go on a wild rumpus!

oops pounce quick run interior mike twohy

Twohy’s illustrations careen with energy and personality. It’s a blast and a half for ages 2 and up.

W is for Wintery

bear is awake cover

Bear is Awake!: An Alphabet Story, written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison
published in 2019 by Dial Books for Young Readers

I adore Hannah Harrison’s charming artwork! Here she unreels a sparkling, amusing, endearing story narrated by a sequence of alphabetical words.

bear is awake Hannah Harrison

We commence with one galumptious bear who is Awake in the middle of winter and who waddles his way to a Cozy Cabin where he finds a lot of yummy Food and one darling little gal who has got to figure out how to manage this fella. It’s a new favorite of mine that I think you’ll love! Ages 3 and up.

X is for eXtra!

the alphabet of alphabets cover

Alphabet of Alphabets, illustrated by Allan Sanders, text by Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley
published in 2018 by Wide Eyed Editions

Yes, this book is very extra! There are 26 different alphabets in it, one for every letter, each with its own full-color, full-page illustration, some of which are search and find puzzlers. Thus we have a treeful of 26 Birds with names from A to Z, and a Forest-ful of things you might find in a forest…

alphabet of alphabets Allan Sanders

…and a Toyshop with its windows stocked with toys from A to Z.  You get the idea.  A book to wile away the hours, for ages 6 and up.

Y is for Yummy (or Yucky!)

what pete ate from a-z cover

What Pete Ate From A-Z (Really!), written and illustrated by Maira Kalman
published in 2001 by Puffin Books

Maira Kalman’s superb art, deliciously-quirky sense of humor, and adoration of dogs meet up in this fantastical account of her dog Pete’s stupendous and most alarming appetite! Pete begins his alphabetical consumption with cousin Rocky’s Accordion, and proceeds to eat everything unimaginable…with the exception of Zug Zug Dog Grub.  Wouldn’t you know it.

what pete ate from a-z Maira Kalman

  It’s a book to read from cover to cover — literally! — and find zesty, lemon-cream-pie happiness on even the grayest of days. Ages 4 and up.

Z is for Zany

z is for moose cover image

Z is for Moose, written by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
published in 2012 by Greenwillow Books

I laughed out loud in the bookstore the day I discovered this hilarious book in which a troupe of animals is set to perform an orderly, alphabetical revue, directed by Zebra.

z is for moose illustration paul o. zelinsky

The problem is, Moose does not want to wait his turn, and with his large girth and cumbersome antlers he barges his way onto the stage at most inopportune moments. A gleeful bundle of mayhem for ages 3 and up.

If, after all of that, you’re looking for an alphabet book to entertain a small one under the age of two, you might give this a try:

alphabet street cover

Alphabet Street, text by Jonathan Emmet, illustrations by Ingela P. Arrhenius
published in 2019 by Nosy Crow

This new board book features 1) Arrhenius’s classy, retro artwork, 2) flaps to lift for each letter with…

alphabet street Emmett and Arrhenius

…3) catchy rhyming text behind them introducing the folks of the town and…

alphabet street2 Emmett and Arrhenius

…4) an accordion-style binding which lets you unfold the w-h-o-l-e charming scene. Pretty cute, huh? And full of imaginative possibilities.

Meanwhile, I’ve featured quite a few other alphabet books over the years, each with a unique spin. So — if you’re looking for more, check out the whole list here.