O Is for Orca:
A Pacific Northwest Alphabet Book.
Andrea Helman. Photographs by Art Wolfe.
Preschool - grade 3 / Ages 3 - 8.
- A is for auklet.
- The little auklet is a skillful swimmer. It dives into cold North Coast Water, propelling itself forward with narrow wings and steering with its feet.
- B is for bear.
- A tiny black bear cub is born without teeth or fur, but it grows up to be a powerful adult. Each autumn, bears eat and eat so they can sleep through the long winter.
- C is for coyote.
- Coyotes live an hunt together in family groups called packs. At night, they often howl together in a beautiful chorus. . . .
THIS BEAUTIFUL alphabet book is about a specific area: the Pacific Northwest, comprising Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. The pictures are by the Seattle-based photographer Art Wolfe, acclaimed for his images of nature and wildlife. Wolfe has previously published fourteen books, including two for children. The text, by Andrea Helman, plays a less obvious, but meaningful role in the book. Helman is a published journalist; this is her first children's book.
The subjects, all found in the coastal Northwest, are mainly animals, but also include plants (for example, xerophyllum tenax, which is bear grass), people (the Yakamo), places (Mount Rainier), and objects (Haida totem poles). The author and photographer have fulfilled the goal of teaching the alphabet by highlighting the natural world of the region well.
Wolfe's photographs, many of them close-ups, are striking for their lushness, clarity, and colour. For example, the sea stars in the tide pool have amazing hues; the reader wants to be there.
Helman's writing adds further information, some of it obscure but interesting. For example, natives used the course blades of the bear grass to weave baskets that could hold and carry water. The only place the book's U.S. origin is evident is in the facts about the eagle -- which uses miles rather than kilometres, and spells "favourite" without a "U."
Large block letters on each page and borders around many of the photographs add colour. The alphabet also subtly decorates the end-papers.
This impressive book is perfect for reading aloud, reviewing the alphabet, doing secondary research, or just plain browsing. O Is for Orca is also guaranteed to make prairie dwellers yearn for the West Coast.
Carol Carver is a Primary Teacher at École Dieppe School in Winnipeg.
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