by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Stavy Innerst. 2003, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Recommended Ages: All


Alphabet books are not all alike. Some can be pretty dull: A is for apple, B is for bear . . . and so on. Forget ordinary. Forget routine. Come inside Kathleen Krull’s musical masterpiece and discover how wondrous a specialized alphabet book can be. A is for . . . anthem and accordian. Oh, not to mention alto, allegro, a cappella, aria, and Armstrong–yes, Louis, naturally. Similarly, B is not only for Beatles, but (thinking musically) also for Broadway, Beethoven, bluegrass, ballad, Brahms, beat, band, banjo, bass, and bongo. And that’s only the beginning. The language in this beautifully presented book is precise, imaginative, and enlightening. The illustrations are artsy, irresistible, and edgy. The kind you want to show friends–or hang on your wall. Words are woven throughout the illustrations so you won’t discover them all your first time through. That–among other things–will pull you back again and again.

In the Classroom

  • Explore the words, including popular names. See how many terms and names are familiar to your students–regardless of their ages. Most people have heard of Elvis. But do you–and your students know Hildegard? Similarly, most of us have heard of karaoke, kettledrums, and the kazoo, but may not be familiar with klezmer bands. Not to worry if some terms are not familiar to you; check out the excellent glossary in the back of the book.
  • Talk about the alphabet book concept. When an author writes an alphabet book on a specific topic, such as music, how is this helpful to us as readers? What other topics would make good subjects for alphabet books? Brainstorm a list of terms (don’t try to do the whole alphabet–just think creatively) you might find in such a book.
  • Notice the distinctive voice captured in this book’s artwork. How would you describe it? Is Innerst’s art a good fit for a book about music? Why?
  • Alphabet books aren’t just for reading–they’re also for writing. (And this is an excellent way for older writers to explore a topic.) Create some alphabet books of your own. If you teach young students, you might do this as a whole class project; choose the topic together and have each writer work on one or two letters. If you’re working with older writers, encourage them to choose their own individual topics and create their own books. That way, each will have its own voice.
  • Talk about the importance of a specialized language in getting inside any topic: music, art, medicine, oceanography, chemistry, anatomy–or you name it. How does this relate to the trait of word choice?
  • Writer Kathleen Krull opens her book with quotations from four famous people. How do you suppose she chose these quotations? Do your writers like this way of beginning a book–or any piece of writing? Encourage them to try opening with a quotation. How does this add to the meaning or voice of a piece?