CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 9. . . .October 30, 2009.
A Prairie Alphabet. (ABC Our Country).
Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet. Illustrated by Yvette Moore.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 1992/2009.
32 pp., pbk., $9.99.
English language-Alphabet-Juvenile literature.
Farm life-Prairie Provinces-Juvenile literature.
Prairie provinces-Pictorial works-Juvenile literature.
Kindergarten and up / Ages 5 and up.
Review by Jonine Bergen.
Sarah shivered when she saw sun dogs in the sky.
Theresa takes her toolbox and thermos to the tractor
Uncle pulls up and down on the udder to get milk.
We wade through the wheat as it waves in the wind.
Usually, when I review books, I begin with a summary of the plot and discuss the writing of the author. We will get to that, but, in A Prairie Alphabet, we must first discuss the beautifully detailed illustrations by Yvette Moore.
As with most of the “ABC Our Country” series from Tundra books, illustrations are the focus of this beautiful classic. The text is of secondary importance. Through her richly detailed and highly realistic paintings, Yvette Moore evokes the feeling of space and light found on the prairies. Her strongest paintings include the changing colours of a prairie sky speckled with prairie monuments, such as the elevator, in the distance.
The text by Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet uses alliteration to describe the basic scene – making it a simple and basic read-aloud. However, the depth of complexity of each picture can also allow the reader to play a prairie “I spy” game. The older child can be encouraged to try to find the other objects or people in the scene that also begin with the prescribed letter. This is where, I suggest, the fun and difficulty with this book begins.
Children, particularly in grades four through six love I spy games. They can spend hours poring over pictures to find the hidden gems. A Prairie Alphabet capitalizes on this interest by providing, at the back of the book, a list of items that can be found on each page that begin with that letter. In this way, a child can check to see if they found everything. However, most prairie children do not live on the farm anymore, and, I would suggest, most would not know what a leghorn rooster or a culvert are. This is when having a parent, grandparent or some farming adult may be necessary.
Also in the back, there is an explanation of what is happening in each picture to provide some context for the uninitiated in farm life. But, again, it is in the back. Most readers will not think to peruse the book and find these important and, for some, required nuggets of information. And, without them, this picture book may be found lacking.
A Prairie Alphabet was originally published with great success in 1992. Though still beautiful and an asset to a collection, it has become more of an nostalgic look at what the prairies were versus being a contemporary look at what prairie life – and farm life – looks like in the new millennium. Like the elevator, this book is a prairie icon; but, similarly, it may not be functional today without some help and interpretation.
Jonine Bergen is a librarian in the prairie “town” of Winnipeg, MB.
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