An Excessive Alphabet: Avalanches of As to Zillions of Zs by Judi Barrett is a fun, multi-use picture book for many ages. (It’s always a delight to find a good book or resource that can be used for kids of varying ages and ability levels! These are super helpful for classroom teachers and homeschooling parents.) The illustrations in An Excessive Alphabet are intriguing and help further discussion and exploration of literary topics.
Because summer is right around the corner, I am going to categorize suggested activities for “Younger Readers” and “Older Readers” rather than distinguish between ideas for parents and teachers. Chances are, these will be used at home or in an alternative setting given the season! Whatever the case, I hope that you are able to take one or two of them and try them out. 🙂
Plus, families with kids in a range of ages can do these activities simultaneously!
Best Ages: pre-k and up
For Younger Readers:
While you read, ask your child to name items in the illustration that begin with the letter of the alphabet represented on the page.
Using sidewalk chalk, go outside with the book and choose a few letters of the alphabet to work with. (Maybe use your child’s initials or the first letters in his/her name.) Then practice writing the letter in lower and/or upper case before finding words in the illustration that begin with the same later. Draw those words and any others you think of!
Choose a handful of the nouns used to describe an amount of letters in the book (for example, “dozens of Ds.”) Find items in your household to represent those amounts so your child can visualize each amount and make a connection between the text and the real world.
For Older Readers:
Using sidewalk chalk, challenge your child to think of a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Guess what each picture is before your child goes on to the next letter and picture. (I recently did this while having a 7 year old over for the day and we had a blast!)
Vocabulary expansion: have your child find definitions in a children’s dictionary that are seen in the book. For example, the adjective “excessive” in the title of this book, as well as nouns used on each page to describe the number of letters like “avalanches of As.” Then allow your child to create a vocabulary book. I personally have used something similar to this one as a teacher and found it highly engaging and effective!
Design a poster to make an alternative illustration for the book using one word of the alphabet. Encourage him/her to think of additional words or even verbs they could illustrate in addition to the ones featured in the book.
When we checked out the book Alphabetics from the library, my two-year old was IN LOVE! We renewed it twice before finally returning it for another child to have a chance to enjoy the book. 😉
Suse MacDonald, author and illustrator, won the Caldecott Honor for her bright and creative illustrations she developed based on the letters of the alphabet. I admit, even I had fun looking through the pages to see how the shape of the alphabet morphed into a completely different shape…. beginning with that same letter, of course!
Not only is this an outstanding read-aloud, but what a fun book to include in the class library or in a learning station for letter work!
Looking for some fresh books to help your baby or toddler learn concepts? Here are 5 that our family recommends:
Follow the Yarn by Emily Sper (Teaches COLORS)
One of the most unique color books I’ve seen. A cat plays with yarn and the colorful lines of string build up on each page. My preschooler even loved this one because she enjoyed tracing the strands of brightly colored string back to its original ball of yarn.
We Love Each Otherby Yusuke Yonzu (Teaches SHAPES)
A one-of-a-kind book to introduce and reinforce shape learning. Two animals are creatively positioned to form each shape, and the book has cut-outs that young children will enjoy feeling and tracing.
Monkey World ABC by Matthew Porter (Teaches JOBS)
Can you think of a career that starts with each letter of the alphabet? While admittedly not my preferred style of illustrations, this book has a fun array of professions displayed… literally from A to Z. Both my daughters both enjoy reading this one!
1 2 3 Beep Beep Beep! A Counting Book by Brian Biggs (Teaches NUMBERS)
Bright and slightly off-beat illustrations make this book really fun. My daughters liked counting the vehicles on each page and sharing which was their favorite. The final page provides a cute ending.
I Love You, Papa, In All Kinds of Weather! by Nancy White Carlstrom (Teaches DAYS)
I picked this up expecting it to provide basic weather learning and found that it does a better job of clearly emphasizing days of the week. From Monday to Sunday, Jesse Bear describes the activities he does given the weather. Very sweet!
With a background in Spanish Education, I always find it fascinating to hear stories of real families who are raising multilingual children. And I’m impressed by the tenacity of many people who continue to pass along their heritage and culture through their mother tongue.
Of course, there are many factors at play and so many diverse family scenarios that raising multilingual children does not always happen, even for parents who speak more than one language. Take my family as an example. My husband is Filipino and his first language is Tagalog. I am a certified Spanish teacher. Although we each speak two languages, only one is common: English. Despite our idealistic (and sometimes good-humored) dream of raising trilingual children, the reality is that we speak predominantly English in our household. It is very challenging to teach our daughters a second language that the other parent does not understand or speak well. (Kudos to parents out there who are doing this in spite of the challenges!)
So if we aren’t raising bilingual or trilingual kids based on our own language abilities, what can we do to expose them to other languages? There are obvious answers such as enroll them in language classes, purchase software or utilize online programs… even access free apps like DuoLingo and FluentU. These are all wonderful resources and ideas, but there is another essential way we can help our children become multilingual: exposing them to other cultures and languages through good, solid children’s literature.
Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel and Tom Feelings is an outstanding example of good children’s literature that will teach our children something basic while setting a foundation for a multilingual future. Although I doubt many of our kids will grow up to study and speak Swahili fluently, they will undoubtedly be more eager and open to learning a new language when they are exposed to many languages and cultures in a respectful manner. And don’t let your inability to speak Swahili (or any other language) hold you back from reading it to your children or students: this book contains straight-forward phonetic clues for pronunciation, as do many other books like it.
So are you ready to set a multilingual foundation through children’s literature?
Check out my other posts for another Caldecott Honor book and great ABC book. To read more about the reasons that learning another languages is useful, click on this link from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade
C is for Chakula (food)- Use magazine pictures or grocery store ads to create a collage of the foods that your family likes to eat. (Bonus points if you include embe or mango, which also appears in the book!) Write the word “chakula” in Swahili somewhere on the paper and practice saying it. And for more gluing and grocery ad fun, check out a wonderful blog post by Angela at MOMtessori Life… With a great explanation of how kids learn through the use of glue sticks!
H is for Heshima (respect) – Use cut-outs of colorful paper handprints to have students write one way that they show respect to others in our school/community. Create a respect bulletin board and include the Swahili word “Heshima” for other students to see.
J is for Jambo (hello) and K is for Karibu (welcome)- As a class, brainstorm other phrases we use in English to greet one another, then think of words we use to say goodbye. (Include non-verbals such as waving.) Ask for student volunteers to demonstrate kind and polite ways to greet one another and say goodbye.
R is for Rafiki (friend) and W is for Watoto (children) – Get together with another class at your grade level to play group games together at recess or a free period in the day.
Parents, caregivers and educators alike frequently read alphabet books aloud to our juvenile audiences. After all, the alphabet is an important topic and we may deem these books “educational” even if they become rote or uninspiring to us. Why? Because knowledge of the alphabet paves the way to the essential skills of reading and writing. But what if you are worn out of the same old alphabet prose: A is for apple and Z is for zebra?
This week our family thoroughly enjoyed reading through Anita Lobel’s Playful Pigs from A-Z. Although an apple does show up in this book, it is a wonderful read-aloud with little ones. I particularly liked that Playful Pigs from A-Z contains unique names, strong verbs of alliteration (think “nibbled an N” and “unveiled a U”), whimsical illustrations, and a lovely border that shows the full alphabet in upper case and lower case. As an extra bonus, the illustrations include an item that begins with its corresponding letter. We used a Google search at our house for a few of the lesser known items and – hooray! – the grown-ups and kids were learning together!
And, of course, what my children liked most about the book were the cute and playful pigs.
Best Age: prek – kindergarten for Reading, 1st-2nd grades for Language Arts
Have your child trace the large letter on each page as you read together. This helps some kids to better remember how to form the letters by kinetically, or physically, relating to its shape. It is also good practice for writing.
Look for the “hidden” items in the illustrations for each letter. What surprised you? Did you know all of the items immediately or did you need a moment to figure some out?
In Playful Pigs from A-Z, the verb for B is “balance.” Put a line of painter’s tape on your classroom floor and ask students to balance on it with one foot. Have them draw items out of a box (another B word!) that start with the letter B and see if they can hold on to the items while balancing on one foot. Examples may include books, reusable bags, empty plastic bottles, balls, empty cereal boxes, binoculars, a jar of buttons, a pair of boots, a small blanket, a can of beans.
Have students choose a letter from the alphabet using slips in a jar, popsicle sticks or flash cards. (You may want to use more common letters and avoid tricky ones like Q and Z.) Together as a whole class or in small groups, come up with objects that begin with that letter, similar to those in the box of “B” items in your earlier activity and the hidden illustrations in the book.
Create a chart that has 3 columns: Names, Actions (Verbs), Objects (Nouns). Decide in advance whether you’d like to use appropriate terminology for verbs and nouns. Take time to review what a verb is as this is likely the most challenging of the three columns for students to come up with. Together, select a high-frequency letter and fill in the chart. For example: S. Sam, Simon, Steve, Sara, Sophia, Savannah/See, Stomp, Swim, Scoop, Sip/Sand, Sun, Snake, Snail, Socks, Soup. Then instruct students choose a word from each column to create their own sentence, such as Simon scoops the sand. Allow students to draw a picture if desired.