CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 7. . . .October 16, 2009
A Northern Alphabet. (ABC Our Country).
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 1982/2009.
32 pp., pbk., $9.99.
English language-Alphabet-Juvenile literature.
Arctic regions-Pictorial works-Juvenile literature.
Kindergarten-grade 6 / Ages 5-11.
Review by Jonine Bergen.
Mary runs by a moose munching in the muskeg.
The northern lights shine at night.
The owl can see the oilrig from the outhouse.
Ted Harrison's A Northern Alphabet follows the successful formula found in the "ABC Our Country" series by Tundra Books: a well known Canadian artist providing signature art for the region, combined with alliterative prose in an "I Spy" format. It should be noted that, like the other titles in this series, A Northern Alphabet is a reprint of an earlier publication.
Harrison's long association in the Yukon makes him an excellent choice to represent this region. Admittedly, I have not been to the Yukon, and so I really cannot comment on how accurate Harrison's pictures are of the North. However, his use of bright colours, fluid shapes and the simplicity of the central figures are evocative of the art of this region. Northern lights and spectacular skies are essential components of the imagery used.
Harrison's beautiful paintings are reason alone to purchase this book. However, the text provides additional value. Ted Harrison's experience as an educator is evident in his careful word choice and suggestions on how to use his work. At the beginning, he describes his book as "an alphabet book, a puzzle book, a story book, and a games book about the North." He lets the reader know that, at the back, there is a list of things found in each picture that begins with the prescribed letter. He also suggests that each page could be used as a story starter, and he encourages readers to see what words they can come up with using the letter of the page in their stories.
The simplicity of the art and text allows A Northern Alphabet to be accessible to the young reader as a read-a-loud primer. Readers will also enjoy searching for the items in the picture that begin with the suggested letter. Further, the art and region specific content will make this a "must have" book for the upper elementary grades studying the North. Finally, this book provides an inexpensive example of Ted Harrison's work for art programs with a focus on Canadian artists.
The earlier edition of A Northern Alphabet has been used to encourage elementary through high school students to create collages, as story starters and as examples of alliteration. Though originally published in the 1980s, it still has a place on the shelves today. It is definitely a "keeper" in my library.
Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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