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Alphabet books that hold children's interest from A to Z

How do children learn the alphabet in the 1980s? Often through glitzy, $10,000-a-minute cartoon spots, produced with symphonic accompaniment and clever animation, all brought to you by the letters ``T'' and ``V.'' Then what role do ABC books play in the early educational process? Only books can teach children to love reading books.

Three recent alphabet books provide a wonderful introduction to the world of reading and promise to hold a child's interest from A all the way to Z. What's more, they succeed in surpassing video through creative presentation, rich detail, vivid color, and strong illustration.

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Alphabatics, by Suse MacDonald (Bradbury Press, $15.95, ages 2-5), presents an acrobatic approach to the alphabet. Each letter is introduced in a bold, bright color at the top of the page. Then, in four ``frames,'' the letter topples, turns, twists, and transforms itself into a full-page illustration of an object which begins with the letter: the ``T'' grows branches and becomes a tree; the ``M'' expands into a mustache; the ``O'' doubles to make eyes for an owl. Children will enjoy following the metamorphoses and finding the original shape in the final illustration. Author and illustrator Suse MacDonald has incorporated a creative idea into a useful teaching tool to fascinate and motivate children. She also has been careful to provide pre-schoolers with familiar vocabulary and simple illustrations. An exciting adventure through the alphabet for any age.

Another alphabet book which appeals to a child's playfulness and sense of humor is Have you ever seen ...? an ABC Book, by Beau Gordon (Dodd, Mead, $9.95, ages 2-5). Children are asked to play with an alphabet full of unusual images: an alligator with antlers, a banana with buttons, a spaghetti sandwich, a zipper on a zebra. These objects of the imagination are illustrated in brilliant - sometimes clashing - color and bold shapes. The graphics, color scheme, and vocabulary choices provide a contemporary flavor. This is definitely an alphabet book of the 1980s.

The teddy bears are back! This time they're teaching the alphabet in Teddy Bears ABC, by Susanna Gretz (Four Winds, $12.95, ages 2-7). The five adventurous teddy bears will hold children's interest as they trip through the alphabet. Since the teddy bears are always active, they depict action words. As the pages turn, five little mischief-makers run in the rain, tickle in a tent, and zip off to the zoo. The vocabulary in this book is more challenging than in traditional ABC books because it illustrates movement and action rather than static objects. It was originally published in England, and a couple of the expressions have a distinctly British flavor. Nevertheless, the wonderful drawings of the teddy bears at work and play depict every activity in such detail that pre-schoolers quickly learn the new phrases.

While children are learning to recognize the shapes and sounds of the alphabet, they are also learning to count. To appeal to the very young, the text of a counting book must be brief, the colors vibrant, the concepts simple, and the subject matter familiar. In two new counting books, animals are used to introduce number concepts.

Some of the first animals young children recognize are barnyard animals. Sara Lynn's 123 (Little, Brown, $5.95, ages 1-5) is a traditional beginning counting book with all the favorites: roosters, rabbits, horses, hens, geese, sheep, cows, and chicks. In standard format, the animals are illustrated in primary colors on one side of the page, and the numbers are displayed in big, bold characters on the opposite page. To encourage comparison of amounts and sizes, the animals are also grouped in columns, as well as scattered in a barnyard scene.

``123'' is one of a new series of early educational concept books. Also available are ``Colors,'' ``Shapes,'' ``ABC,'' and ``Opposites.''

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