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Banner: Beyond the Letters: A Retrospective of Canadian Alphabet Books
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Reflecting the Land

In the last 20 years, one of the trends in children's literature has been the publication of books that portray the Canadian landscape. Alphabet books are no exception. There is much ground to cover, with ABC books designed around such regions as the Prairies, the North, the Pacific and Prince Edward Island; the cities of Toronto, Montréal, and Halifax; and mountain and seaside habitats.

Whether a region, city or habitat, children will recognize familiar territory or discover places they have yet to visit. The illustrations are works of art. Not just a vehicle for learning the alphabet, these books offer a rich source of knowledge about Canada's geography from coast to coast, its flora and fauna, its history and way of life (both urban and rural). Written and illustrated by people who often have a deep love and understanding of their subject, these books are packed with authentic information. Often, the books provide games of observation that not only add to the child's reading experience, but encourage valuable interplay between parent and child.

Featured books

A Prairie Alphabet

Bannatyne-Cugnet, Jo. -- A prairie alphabet. -- Illustrated by Yvette Moore. -- Toronto : Tundra Books, ©1992. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 0887762921

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The creators of this award-winning book know the Prairies -- both the author and the illustrator were born, raised and still live there. Their intimate knowledge and love of the land is clearly evident in this tribute to rural life on the Prairies. Packed with information, the full-colour paintings that illustrate the various letters of the alphabet contain objects that begin with the appropriate letter. The alliterative text points out some of these objects and a list at the end of the book enumerates many others. There are also notes that give further explanations for what is being depicted in each illustration.

A Seaside Alphabet

Grassby, Donna. -- A seaside alphabet. -- Illustrated by Susan Tooke. -- Toronto : Tundra Books, ©2000. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 0887765165

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You can almost smell the salt air and feel the ocean breeze as you peruse this beautiful seaside ABC book. Discover the secrets of the Atlantic coastline that artist Susan Tooke has hidden in the evocative, full-colour paintings that make up this book. Some clues are given in the alliterative text that accompanies each picture. Maritime objects, beginning with the appropriate letter, can also be found in the paintings. To see if you have missed any objects, readers can check the list at the back of the book. There are also notes that give additional information about the Atlantic Coast's flora, fauna and marine history. The location for each illustration has also been included.

A Northern Alphabet

Harrison, Ted. -- A northern alphabet. -- Montréal : Tundra Books, ©1982. -- [32] p. --ISBN 0887762093

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Artist Ted Harrison has created an alphabet book that is also, as he says himself, "a puzzle book, a story book and a games book." It is also a loving tribute to the North. The vibrant oil paintings hold many images, each beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet. Some of these are mentioned in the text, but others lie waiting to be discovered and are listed at the end of the book. Harrison challenges the reader to find these extra words and to finish the story that each illustration reveals, by thinking of other words that could be included with that alphabet letter.

Cover of book, THE CITY ABC BOOK
The City ABC Book

Milich, Zoran. -- The city ABC book. -- Toronto : Kids Can Press, 2001. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 1550749420

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Photojournalist Zoran Milich captures the image of letters in architecture and manufactured objects, offering a novel approach to the alphabet. Milich shows us that big cities everywhere have letters of the alphabet waiting to be discovered, if the viewer is observant and has imagination. Each beautiful black-and-white photograph houses a letter of the alphabet, highlighted in red to help the reader find it. It might have been more fun and added another dimension, if the book had been designed to present the photo unmarked first, to allow readers the opportunity to find the letters for themselves. Still, the message comes across -- there are interesting things all around us, if only we choose to look.

Cover of book, A BIG CITY ABC
A Big City ABC

Moak, Allan. -- A big city ABC. -- Toronto : Tundra Books, ©1984, 2002. -- [30] p. -- ISBN 0887765874

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Toronto is bursting with life and artist Allan Moak catches the action in brightly coloured and detailed paintings. This new edition includes five new illustrations and revised text. Familiar landmarks, such as Casa Loma, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Skydome and Kensington Market, are featured and were chosen for their interest to children. The text offers only one alphabet word for each picture: "A is for Art, B is for Baseball…" but there are other objects in the pictures that begin with the featured letter. Notes at the back of the book provide a description of the location for each illustration.

Ah! Belle Cité! : abc = A Beautiful City: ABC

Poulin, Stéphane. -- Ah! belle cité! : abc = A beautiful city : abc. -- Montréal : Livres Toundra = Tundra Books, ©1985. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 0887761755

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The illustrations in this ABC book are unmistakably of Montréal, although they are not always of the famous landmarks of this wonderful city. Artist Stéphane Poulin has chosen to illustrate places that are important to children. The book's vivid paintings, in Poulin's inimitable style, pulse with the life that makes Montréal unique. Poulin has given himself the additional challenge of designing the book to work in both English and French simultaneously. Only one word (in both languages) is presented for each letter of the alphabet, but there are many other words for that letter, in English and French, to be found in the pictures. The words are listed at the end of the book, along with a paragraph about Montréal and a list and description of the location used in each painting.

Cover of book, A HALIFAX ABC
A Halifax ABC

Roache, Gordon. -- A Halifax ABC. -- Montréal : Tundra Books, ©1987. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 0887761836

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Celebrate Gordon Roache's personal tour of Halifax, his childhood home. The atmospheric paintings feature children enjoying life in this picturesque and historic city. Some scenes are easily recognizable to anyone who has been to Halifax. For other scenes, the reader may need to check the back of the book, where the location for each illustration is described. A brief history of Halifax is also provided, along with some information about the artist. There is no list of additional words to be found in each picture, but if the reader looks closely enough, some additional words will no doubt be found.

An Island Alphabet

Rutherford, Erica. -- An Island alphabet. -- Charlottetown : Ragweed Press, ©1994. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 0921556446

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Visit beautiful Prince Edward Island. Formed from a colour palette dominated by shades of aqua and orange, the acrylic paintings that make up this book present a view of Island life as seen through artist Erica Rutherford's eyes. The Island's red sand, beaches, potato fields and fishing boats are all here, along with other Island scenes. Notes at the back of the book describe the location depicted in each painting and provide some historical background.

A Mountain Alphabet

Ruurs, Margriet. -- A mountain alphabet. -- Illustrated by Andrew Kiss. -- Toronto : Tundra Books, ©1996. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 088776374X

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The majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains, and the flora and fauna that inhabit them, are featured in this panoramic ABC book. Full-colour paintings, detailing the life that abounds in a North American mountain landscape, are paired with a text that contains well-chosen alliteration. Wildlife artist Andrew Kiss has hidden the appropriate letter in each painting for an observant viewer to find. A list at the back of the book records all of the words to be found for a particular letter of the alphabet. Additionally, there are descriptions of the aspects of mountain life shown in each illustration. Lots of information is packed into this book, making it useful for more than just learning the alphabet.

A Pacific Alphabet

Ruurs, Margriet. -- A Pacific alphabet. -- Illustrated by Dianna Bonder. -- Vancouver : Whitecap Books, ©2001. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 1552852644

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This delightful romp into the underwater world of the Pacific coast of North America will bring hours of reading pleasure. The humorous rhyming text refers to some of the alphabet words to be found in the illustration, but many others lie waiting to be discovered in Dianna Bonder's brightly coloured and whimsical paintings. A list at the end of the book itemizes the hidden objects for each alphabet letter. The illustrations, which include lots of fun-loving details, delve into the realm of fantasy and will amuse children and adults alike.