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  • Writer's pictureKate Hanfling

Library Favorites: A Farmer’s Alphabet

Hello again, everyone! Since last month’s book, The Hog Island Sheep in State of the Ewe-nion, was geared towards older children, I thought a book for our youngest visitors would be a nice change. If you’ve missed any of our past selections, all of the Library Favorites and lots of other informative posts can be found on our blog. This month we’re taking a look at A Farmer’s Alphabet by Charles Long, illustrated by Christina Allen. Most parents, teachers, and librarians are familiar with the idea of an alphabet book: each letter is paired with an item or concept that helps children connect the idea of a written letter with sounds and words. There are hundreds of alphabet books available, and plenty are farm-themed! With so many to choose from, why did we pick this one?

To start, each image is a work of art. Though not quite photo-realistic, the amount of detail in Allen’s illustrations makes me feel almost like they’re meant for an older audience. They remind me of botanical prints or illustrations from a longer children’s novel. I would expect work of this quality to appear once every twenty pages or so, not illustrating a simple letter sound for babies and toddlers. You can see crinkles in leaves, the texture of a mouse’s fur, and the prickliness of a bale of hay. Her work gives the book a special richness that is matched nicely by Long’s poem.

The text has an easy rhyming rhythm that children will appreciate hearing and that adults will fall into reading aloud. Each letter is paired with multiple examples and illustrations, giving children extra chances to absorb and practice the sound they make. On its face, the book is intended for very young children, but there’s plenty of value for older kids. I have to admit, there were words I didn’t know. Do you know what xylem is? I didn’t! Luckily, there’s a glossary in the back explaining the harder words and farming practices referenced in the text.

If the names Charles Long and Christina Allen sound familiar, it might be because they also wrote and illustrated our April selection, Momma Tree. Long and Allen have collaborated on a number of books together, and it was actually Allen’s farm in southern Maryland that inspired Long to write this poem. Like the National Colonial Farm, Allen’s family farm practices sustainable farming techniques, cultivates heirloom crops, and features heritage breed turkeys, chickens, and a flock of sheep. We have lots in common, so A Farmer’s Alphabet would be a great companion read before, during, or after your visit to the park.

I recommend this book for a variety of ages, especially as a bedtime book for the whole family to read together. Babies and toddlers will appreciate the rhythm of the text, while older kids will enjoy naming familiar objects and finding details in the watercolor illustrations. It can be used straightforwardly in preschool as a simple alphabet book or to facilitate discussions about the harder words and concepts in an early elementary classroom.

While A Farmer’s Alphabet is not widely available at your local library branch, you can pick up a copy in the Visitor’s Center at the park, online via the author’s website, or the online shop of your choice. If you buy through Amazon, please consider using Amazon Smile to support The Accokeek Foundation. You can always reach me at; I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book and how you’re using it in your home or work.

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