Authors: Patrick and Traci Concepción
Illustrations by Dawid Ryski
Published 2014 by Little Gestalten (an imprint of Gestalten Books, Berlin, Germany)
Full color, hardcover, 64 pages
Ages 5-7, when most children have learned the alphabet, how to match letters (especially initial letters) with sounds, and understand rhyme and silly phrasing.
Read-aloud book report:
Alphabetics’ text is made up of alliteration, and includes many uncommonly used words. Each illustration depicts what the sentence for that alphabet letter says, providing context clues. The glossary in the back of the book gives definitions for most of the rare words.
This book introduces new words to the audience in a fun format. Children with opportunities to use vocabulary in playful contexts learn better than those who learn only under didactic instruction (Han, Moore, and Buell). While these specific words are not critical to children’s vocabulary base, they teach wordplay, and enjoyment of language, which encourages exploration and curiosity, and hopefully makes words less intimidating.
My strategy was to interact with the kids while reading the book, explaining that these are uncommon words for many of us, explaining alliteration (encouraging further examples from the kids), and showing how to use the glossary, and how fun words (and tongue-twisters) can be.
Aside from the appeal of the content, the other reasons for my read-aloud book choice:
- Bold, clear illustrations, with high-contrast colors and dominant white space, making it easy for viewers to focus on images.
- Images are on every right-hand page (with a couple of full-page spreads), making it easy for viewers to stay connected with images.
- Text – mainly the alphabet letter that is being discussed – is clear. Bold upper and lower case, using easy to read, san-serif Helvetica Neue typeface.
- Playful, sparse words, with room for discussion and interaction with viewers.
Complimentary materials that could be used: Letter blocks or forms, to play with physical letters at the same time. A white board, to write other words of alliteration for each letter. Because of limited time, I will not use these materials.
Reflections on in-class read-aloud:
Overview – I presented my read-aloud to the MLS Children’s Literature class of just over 20 people. They were supposed to be an audience of 5-7 year old children, as I determined was appropriate for this reading.
Book choice – I thought that my book selection might be a risky choice, and that my class audience would perceive it to be too mature and therefore, inappropriate for my age group. I think we should introduce kids to rare words so that they continue to build their vocabularies and notice/engage with words that are not familiar to them. I considered an older age, but wondered if they would shut down because I was reading an “ABC” book to them at a time when they felt they had full command of the alphabet. I think, for example, 8-11 year-olds might have told me that book was too young for them.
I discussed my concerns with Dr. Serantes before I made my final book selection, and followed her suggestion to engage the audience by having them to call out letters they wanted me read. Alphabetics was ideal for this activity. Since the book is not a narrative story, it allowed for effective non-linear book use. It enabled me to take Dr. Serantes’ suggestion one step further, asking individuals to read one of the tongue-twisters out loud to the audience; allowing them to interact with the words, and the book, for themselves.
As expected, I did receive many very low assessment scores for read-aloud and age appropriateness of my book choice, which does not necessarily change my thoughts about challenging young children with complex new words and non-traditional read-alouds. If I had it to do over again, I would adapt my strategy for introducing the book to children, as I address below.
Introduction of book – Since my audience was supposed to be children, 5-7 years old, I wanted to establish some basic information about our book. I read the title and defined “alphabetics.” Then, I explained what alliteration is – well, I tried to define alliteration… I started being aware of my nervousness instead, and lost my concentration. I tried a couple of times to explain alliteration (something that I had practiced at least 20 times before the presentation!), and I’m not sure I ever gave a coherent definition.
It was suggested by classmates and our professor, that after I explained alliteration, I should create (or have the class help create) a simpler example. As Dr. Serantes said, even a nonsensical example might help reinforce the concept. And as another option, I’m not sure I needed all of those definitions at the start – except to explain alliteration and create a couple of fun examples with the class. I could have focused on the joy of the illustrations and wordplay, and answered questions as they came up instead.
Read-aloud mechanics – I remembered to hold the book properly for read-aloud, though it was not a habit for me. I rested it in the palm of my right hand – at the bottom of the book spine – and turned the pages with my left hand. I held the book at about shoulder height so that the back of the room could see the book. I also remembered to keep the book mostly still, and not try to over-navigate the book for viewing. It turns out, these are not easy things to do when you aren’t practiced at them! My appreciation for those who do read-alouds all the time is higher now!
My oral presentation – My professor’s review mentioned that I spoke too fast while reading. I don’t usually have that issue either, but I am certain that I was concentrating on reading the alliteration smoothly, so I may have sped up in order to get through each sentence clearly and without fumbling. I also have a sort of monotone voice, and would concentrate on inflection more next time.
Book images – for presentation in the larger room, my professor pointed out that some of the elements in the images were smaller and detailed. She, and one assessment group suggested (and I agree) that Alphabetics might have been better presented as a projection, so that viewers could see the details and “get” the context clues for the more complicated words in the text.
Interaction with class – I wanted to engage the class in the book, and the fun of reading the alliteration. I started by reading the first 3 letters of the alphabet, and using the glossary for a word or two. Then, I asked the class what letter they would like to hear. Morgan suggested the letter M (for her name, so I read that). I thought I heard N requested too, so I read that letter as well. That sentence included the word “narwhal,” and it reminded me that Eileen has just reviewed a book about a narwhal, so I asked her to tell us what kind of animal that was.
I asked if anyone would like to try reading a letter, and knew I could count on AmandaP and Morgan. They each read one out loud as well. I was about to wrap up (too many more might have been too much – I had planned to read about 7-8 of them total), but was asked what was written about the letter X, so I quickly read that one too.
I felt like the class was engaged and interested, and that made the reading rewarding and fun for me. I’m not sure if 5-7 year-old kids would have responded as well, and my class is a very kind and courteous group. Many of my classmates have actual experience in reading to groups of children, so their feedback is useful insight.
I tried to remember to thank people for their contributions, but I really cannot recall if I did that consistently – so thank you Eileen, Amanda, Morgan, and class!
Concepción, P., Concepción, T., & Ryski, D. (2014). Alphabetics: an aesthetically awesome alliterated alphabet anthology. Berlin: Little Gestalten
Han, M., Moore, N., Vukelich, C., & Buell, M. (2011). Does play make a difference?: effects of play intervention on at-risk preschoolers’ vocabulary learning. American Journal of Play.
Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., Berk, L. E., & Singer, D. G. (2009). A mandate for playful learning in preschool: Presenting the evidence. Oxford University Press.