________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005


A Pioneer ABC.

Mary Alice Downie. Illustrated by Mark Jane Gerber.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2005.
32 pp., cloth, $22.99.
ISBN 0-88776-688-9.

Subject Headings:
English language-Alphabet-Juvenile literature.
Frontier and pioneer life-Canada-Pictorial works-Juvenile literature.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*** /4

Reviewed from uncorrected proofs.

There is a remarkable abundance and variety of alphabet picture books on the market these days. Graeme Base's Animalia, The Prairie Alphabet and, more recently ABC Letters in the Library, come to mind as examples of outstanding alphabet books distinguished by a skillful marriage of text and illustrations. As a teaching tool, the alphabet book is tops as it engages children in reading skills and a pursuit of general knowledge simultaneously. The best are as instructional as they are entertaining, with beginning consonants, word recognition, identification of objects usual and unusual, and a unifying theme, all built into these seemingly simple books.

     Mary Alice Downie's contribution to this genre, A Pioneer ABC, is an alphabet book set in Ontario in the early days of the United Empire Loyalists. Each letter of the alphabet represents a facet of pioneer life as it is experienced by Zebediah, a young boy who is making his twin sisters an ABC book:

A is for Abigail and Anna, my two sisters.

Even though they are awful, I'm making them an an alphabet book.

internal art

     His second letter, "B," stands for bandelore (an early version of a yo-yo). A Pioneer ABC moves along through "H" for the hornbook which taught spelling, through "P" for pigeons (the extinct Carrier variety) that darken the sky, "S" for soap making, spinning and stumping,"X" for the cat Xerxes, and ends with "Z" for big brother Zebediah and his little brother Zacharias.

     Artist Mary Jane Gerber has created scenes of pioneer life done in soft sepia-like tones for each letter. The top borders around her full page illustrations are filled with items beginning with the appropriate letter. Children will enjoy seeing how many of these they can identify. Such an activity will be especially rewarding since the author has provided a two page glossary at the end of the book describing these items and their significance to the pioneer family.

     Mary Alice Downie has written or co-authored many books for children, several of which have historical themes or settings. Her collaboration with Mary Jane Gerber, a gifted artist who illustrated the best selling 1998 picture book Thanks for Thanksgiving, is the perfect choice for A Pioneer ABC. The author begins her charming little alphabetical excursion into pioneer history with a short note on the United Empire Loyalists. This succinct introduction provides an adult reader with exactly the right amount of information needed to enhance a young listener's enjoyment and understanding of A Pioneer ABC.

     Librarians and teachers should not overlook the value of this picture book as a resource for upper grade elementary students studying the United Empire Loyalists as part of their studies curriculum.


A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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