Horse Nation book critic Erin McCabe gets her tongue in a twist over this children’s book by Ellen C. Maze and Elizabeth E. Little.
Alliteration is Awesome!
As part of my ongoing quest to find fabulous books with which to complete my kid’s Horse indoctiNation, and because it turns out I have trouble maintaining the two-novels-a-week pace that I mastered as a Literature major, I bring to your attention A is for Apple: A Horsey Alphabet by Ellen C. Maze and Elizabeth E. Little.
Back when I was a high school English teacher and Ms. McCabe was my alter-ego, alliteration was my one of my all time favorite literary techniques (don’t even get me started on parallel structure, which is the writer’s equivalent of the way a dressage test mirrors itself when you switch directions). Probably because it’s extremely easy to explain. Or perhaps because I am a total dork and delighted in demanding my students have Thrilling Thursdays and Frenetic Fridays. But also! Alliteration makes everything more exciting (particularly if your idea of entertainment involves tongue twisters). And besides, similes and metaphors (those other literary devices English teachers love) just don’t carry nearly same smartypants quotient when you toss out them out there in everyday conversation (because you do use them in everyday conversation, right?).
That’s why it was a total added bonus when I opened up A is for Apple: A Horsey Alphabet and discovered it takes the time-honored literary technique to teach the alphabet to the next level by including an entire sentence for each letter! Ms. McCabe was resurrected for a moment and did a little dance right there in front of the Amazon box. I will admit that sometimes the reliance on alliteration makes for slightly goofy sentences. I mean really, what kind of weird horse is this Wanda who wears wigs? (Oh. Wait a minute… I forgot about this and this).
Most of the time, though, the sentences describe normal(ish) horse behavior and give a really dedicated horse indoctrinator the chance to explain why Ulysses might be unhappy under an umbrella or how you might need to be careful hosing Harry off on a hot humid day. Another added bonus is this book uses vocabulary that is not typically found in alphabet books. Words like “bashful” and “escorted” and “ornery” (a word all young horse people ought to know) and “posterior” and “vamoosed.” And parents everywhere will appreciate that this book ends with the horse characters zoning out like zombies and getting some zzzzzzz’s.
The most fabulous thing about A Horsey Alphabet is not, however, the alliteration or the vocabulary. It’s that each capital letter is represented by a horse contorting itself creatively. If you’ve ever contemplated what it would be like if horses lived at a yoga studio, well, wonder no more. Just as you might suspect, these illustrations make classical dressage look like child’s play, while still managing to appear somewhat plausible (as in, Maze has remained true to the limits of which directions horses’ joints bend—except, perhaps the extremes to which her illustrated horses can flex their backs. But maybe they’re just former bucking broncs?). My one persnickety peeve: when tricky Tommy is supposedly testing out his trot while tracking the tooting train, why does it look like he is galloping? Or is that just one of his tricks?
Minor annoyances aside, the book is definitely cute and educational. Which means it should pretty much be on any horse-crazy alphabet learner’s shelf.