Book Review

S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet


Title: S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet
Author: Esther Hershenhorn with Illustrations by Zachary Pullen
Publication Info: Sleeping Bear Press 2009
ISBN: 585364398
Genre: Young Adult

Book CoverDespite the focus on romance novels in the hot pink palace, I buy many other different types of books, including cookbooks (boy is that a problem), computer instruction guides, and children’s books. This past week I’ve found two children’s products – one book and one DVD/CD – that have rocked my socks enough that I wanted to spread the word.

Book CoverMy older son, known online as Freebird, has a book from Sleeping Bear Press called “H is for Homerun.” It’s an alphabetical poem with verses about baseball, from “A is for the All Stars,” to my favorite, “Z is for all zeros, a rare feat with a name: no runs, no hits, no errors, it is a Perfect Game”. He loves this book –  though some of the rhymes are a bit of a stretch. (Pun intended, totally).

So at BEA this year, I stopped at the Sleeping Bear Press booth (which was oddly not at all near the children’s books but upstairs right next to Net Galley) and told the sales reps how much I loved their books. A new one came out last week that I pre-ordered – I couldn’t not order this book: S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet.

Oh, is it fun. My favorites: “D is for the Drafts we write, from rough to finally ready, our chance to tell our good tale well, rewriting slow and steady:” and “Then E? It’s for the page we Edit, making sure all’s right: no misspelled names, no missing marks, no unclear words in sight.” Freebird loved it so much we read it twice in a row, and he usually doesn’t ever like to repeat a story.

Compared to “H is for Homerun,” it’s not as beautiful, as the illustrations in the baseball alphabet are very realistic looking while the figures in S is for Story  are more caricatures with exaggerated features. I thought Freebird would be scared of some of them, but he didn’t seem bothered aside from noting that one little girl had really, really big eyes. Some of the rhymes, as usual, are a bit of a stretch, and I don’t think that the author, Esther Hershenhorn, used the word “alas” correctly in the verse for H: “H is for Hero and Heroine, their journeys grand tales to be told, of beaten foes, and bested woes, of triumphs, alas, to behold.”

Maybe she meant “At last?”

The best part of the books is the annotations on each margin: the illustration is in the center, with the verse in a corner, and both the right and left margins are full of explanations, history, surprise facts, and commentary about that verse or letter. S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet also has writer’s tips mixed into the annotations, and quotes from famous writers including Lois Lowry, P.L. Travers and Mark Twain. The different notes on each page can make reading the story longer, but it also creates some variety if you read a different one each time, or talk about what the notes mean. They also give adults something to think about.

The fanciful, somewhat exaggerated illustrations and the varying strength of the rhymes doesn’t detract from how much a pleasure it is to read this book aloud, especially because it creates questions about writing, and telling stories – and how anyone can create one.

Sleeping Bear Books are also exceptionally glommable, so be warned. In addition to cultural alphabets, like “K is for Kabuki: A Japan Alphabet,” and “M is for Maple: A Canada Alphabet” (PLEASE let “E” be for “Eh?” is all I’m thinking – I haven’t read it yet), there’s also a whole series of alphabets about books, writing, science and music. Just try to avoid buying these from the Sleeping Bear Press collection – I’m having a hard time of it. I might have to go put Ye Olde Visa in Ye Olde Freezer.

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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jenn L says:

    Hate to disappoint, but in “M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet”, E is for English (“one of our two official languages”). Can you tell I’ve read it to my kids a few times? :)

    It’s a fun little book, though. My kids both love it.

  2. 2
    Nicole says:

    I already have the Z is for Zamboni one and it’s really cute.  Can’t say if kids will like it as I have none, but I like it.

  3. 3
    jessica says:

    M is for Meow is one of my all time favorite books and I don’t even have kids!  Really beautiful cat pictures and great rhymes.

  4. 4
    S. W. Vaughn says:

    *wants k is for kabuki right now*

  5. 5
    Erin says:

    One of my favorite alphabet books is Animalia by Graeme Base……The artwork alone is awesome, trying to find all of the tiny pictures within the main picture is just great fun.  Its like a big book of “Highlights” hidden picture puzzle.  My daughter’s both loved this book when they were little.  Oh, and Hello, im new here. :)

  6. 6
    Erin says:

    Just couldnt resist posting the little blurb from the book:

    What’s this elaborate illustration? “Horrible Hairy Hogs Hurrying Homewards on Heavily Harnessed Horses,” of course. Graeme Base’s astonishingly creative oeuvre begins with Animalia, the 1993 alphabet book that challenges the standard idea of how long reading a book for small kids ought to take. Animalia, like many of Base’s books, is a vast puzzle, built with entrancing pictures that unfold into layers and layers of objects—all matched to each page’s corresponding letter. Base leaves us stunned and amazed, painting reflections into the oddest surfaces and driving the urge to page-turn. This wonderful picture book works for 2-year-olds, 5-year-olds, and adults alike—something few other alphabet books can manage.—Andrew Bartlett—This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

  7. 7
    Sisuile Butler says:

    OOOH! Sleeping Bear also has a line of State alphabet books that we keep giving to my nieces, and they grow with the girls. Full disclosure, one of my good friends, Cindy Reynolds, wrote several of the states and a couple others in the series. She’s turned into quite the children’s author.

  8. 8
    Silver James says:

    I know what is going on my Christmas list. Good thing The Only is graduating from college. I’ll be able to hide them from her better! Thanks for sharing these wonderful books, Sarah.

    spamword: hold63 – I’d like to hold 63 of them but I have to thaw out my credit card, first. :D

  9. 9
    soco says:

    Nice – I’m always looking for gift ideas to put on the kids’ Christmas lists – too many family members buying too many presents, but you can always use more books!

  10. 10
    Brienne says:

    Another great book published by Sleeping Bear Press is The Legend of Sleeping Bear. It’s a beautiful story my elementary school librarian read to us.

  11. 11
    snarkhunter says:

    Well, I think I know what my nephew will be getting the next time I see him… (He’s almost 2. I see him 2-3 times a year, so I feel the need to buy his love. So far, it’s going pretty well.)

    Also, a *lot* of people use “alas” to mean “at last.” It’s very annoying.

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