Letters and numbers add up delightfully


September 12, 1992|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Looking for an alphabet book you can count on? A counting book that deserves an A? Here are a few newer ones to check out.

* "The Handmade Alphabet," by Laura Rankin (Dial Books, $14, all ages) proves that this genre -- all too often a dumping ground for dull, boring ideas -- can be elevated to an elegant art form.

In colored pencil, Ms. Rankin illustrates each letter of the manual alphabet -- a key part of American Sign Language. Each page shows a letter, depicts a hand signing the letter and includes a clue to a word beginning with that letter.

It is a lovely, clever book. And the drawings are clear and easy to follow, so kids will pick up the manual alphabet in no time. Even adults can learn with a little practice.

* Another book that lives up to its "for all ages" designation is "I Spy: An Alphabet in Art," by Lucy Micklethwait (Greenwillow Books, $19). Using 26 paintings from the world's greatest museums, Ms. Micklethwait has made art accessible to everyone from toddlers to their great aunts and uncles.

Reproduced on thick, glossy stock, the paintings range from "Son of Man" by Rene Magritte to Joan Miro's "Woman and Bird in the Moonlight." On the left-hand page is the phrase, "I spy with my little eye something beginning with [fill in the letter]." On the right, is the painting.

In her foreword, Ms. Micklethwait writes: "Most art books live on the top shelf, out of reach, but this one is for the picture book shelf." It's a welcome addition.

* If you find alliteration alluring, here's an alphabet book for you: "Once Upon A to Z: An Alphabet Odyssey," by Jody Linscott, illustrated by Claudia Porges Holland (Doubleday, $15.99, all ages). It concocts a plot centering on Andy (who "always ate an astounding amount") and Daisy the delivery girl (who brings Andy "dozens of delicious delicacies daily").

They run through the 26 letters of the alphabet using lots of adjectives and adverbs that add little to the story. It's annoying as a read-aloud, but kids who have been reading for a couple of years could get a kick out of it on their own. There's a glossary for some of the more unfamiliar words, and the cut-paper collage illustrations are vibrant.

* Clever counting books can be harder to come by. For ages 18 months to 4 years, try "One Yellow Lion," by Matthew Van Fleet (Dial Books, $7.95). It's a fold-out book that hides a different number of brightly colored animals behind each numeral.

* Ellen Stoll Walsh won acclaim for "Mouse Paint," and she's got another smash on her hands with "Mouse Count," (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $11.95, ages 2-6). This time her cut-paper mice -- reminiscent of Leo Lionni's work -- find themselves at the mercy of a hungry snake. He snatches them up, counting them one by one, and stores them in a jar until he has collected 10 for his supper.

But the mice are too sly for the snake. Urging him to go after just one more mouse -- a big, fat one in the distance -- they wait until he leaves and then rock back and forth until the jar tips over. By the time they uncount themselves and run home, the snake has discovered the big, fat mouse is really a cold, hard rock. That's a lot of drama for a counting book.

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