Review: Take Away the A by Michael Escoffier
Take Away the A
By Michael Escoffier
Illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Enchanted Lion Books
Out September 9, 2014
There’s nothing new under the sun. And then there is.
If children’s literature were Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, alphabet books would be at the base – essential, but not all that often reaching up into self-actualized territory where creativity and spontaneity lie. Because of this role they fill as a basic literacy building block, knocking a mediocre ABC book is sort of like knocking water – it may be boring, but it’s doing something important, right? Take Away the A succeeds in having its cake and eating it too. Engaging from page one and smart as a whip, the team who brought Brief Thief to the world takes on an old standard and create something delightfully fresh.
Without the A
the BEAST is the BEST
And there, in that one quote, is the beautiful essence of this book. Each spread presents a letter of the alphabet along with a short sentence about what happens to a word when that particular letter is removed. Some are hilariously wacky (“Without the C the CHAIR has HAIR”), others thought-provoking (“Without the Y YOURS is OURS”), before the perfect conclusion: “Without the Z we cannot sing our ABC’s!”, as the reader turns the page to see a snail sawing logs with a flock of ZZZZZZZZZs overhead.
I’m willing to bet illustrator Kris Di Giacomo had a good time on this book. The text leaves plenty of room for the art to fill in the blanks, and fill in it does, with an assortment of creatures – familiar, odd, and anthropomorphized rendered in fine lines and muted colors. The illustrations bring an organized chaos to the proceedings and often explore creative interpretations of the text. Example – the spread that reads “Without the F the SCARF hides a SCAR”, where a peg leg parrot covers a line of stitches behind a piratey red head wrap. That could have gone a number of ways, and Di Giacomo found one that kids will love.
Perhaps what I appreciate most about this book is that it adds a layer of complexity to a children’s lit staple while remaining a squarely for kids. The fear in this sort of thing is that your ABC book might go over the heads of the kids who read ABC books. Take Away the A isn’t a wink for the adult reader – it’s for the kids, through and through.
An alphabet book that isn’t satisfied just covering the ABCs, Take Away the A has substantial classroom connection appeal as well. It’s something pretty new under the sun.
Review copy from the publisher.
Filed under: Reviews
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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