Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ABCs: The Disappearing Alphabet

Here is an alphabet book for older children who appreciate word play. Twenty-six poems explore what might happen if letters of the alphabet began to disappear.

In the word DUMB, the letter B is mute,

But elsewhere its importance is acute.

If it were absent, say, from BAT and BALL,

There'd be no big or little leagues AT ALL.

Good fun for older elementary kids. The illustrations are colorful and modern, and were created using Adobe Photoshop.

The Disappearing Alphabet, by Richard Wilbur, illustrated by David Diaz.

This alphabet book reminds me of the novel Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters, by Mark Dunn, a story told through correspondence between members of a society where use of certain letters of the alphabet is forbidden. As more and more letters are banned, the correspondence gets more and more creative. There is an element of humor as the reader watches the language evolve before his/her very eyes, but it's also sobering to think of a society where something so bizarre could happen. It's reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" in that regard. Definitely not a novel for younger than high school aged.

And, as this month draws to an end, I leave you with this image from Rosemary Wells' Mother Goose.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

ABCs: The Alphabet Atlas

Here is an alphabet book that sounds like it will appeal to geography fanatics, but really, it is most appropriate for quilters. In The Alphabet Atlas, 26 countries, from Australia to Zimbabwe, are depicted in quilts, and when possible, those quilts are made from fabrics and textiles native to that country. The colors of the quilts are representative of the individual countries, and each quilt incorporates motifs that reflect the local history and culture. A short, factual sentence about each country accompanies the quilts.

C is for Canada.

I is for India.
The end papers are a photograph of a quilt of the world, the title page is a photograph of a quilt of the universe, and the cover is a photograph of a quilt of a globe.
I quibble with the title The Alphabet Atlas because nowhere in the book does it show where exactly in the world these countries are, but the authors do include a URL where that information can be found.
The quilts, however, are gorgeously rendered and very inspirational to fabric artists.
The Alphabet Atlas, by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Adrienne Yorinks, lettered by Jeanyee Wong. Published 1999 by Winslow Press.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Alphabet Love

This month I've been sharing some selections from my alphabet book collection, but my love of the ABCs extends beyond books. I'm not sure why I love the alphabet so much. Maybe because it's predictable and orderly, and I crave predictability and order? Dunno.

I love to stitch. Pair that with a love of the alphabet, and the result is samplers galore. I can't resist a good-looking alphabet sampler. I don't love every alphabet sampler I see (thank goodness, I'd never be able to keep up with it all!), but some designs just demand that I stitch them.

This first one, if I remember correctly, is called Nature's Alphabet. I bought it as a kit from a stitchery catalog years and years ago. It took me a long time to make. I'd stitch a few letters or motifs, then abandon it for long periods of time. My children were very small when I began the project, which explains why it didn't have my full attention from start to finish. Now that it is complete, it is prominently displayed in our home library. I like the old-world feel to it. Bunny Gingham, by Twisted Threads. It's stitched one over one on 28 count. I like the typewriter-looking font, and the little carrot! This is another small design, stitched one over one. I bought it as a kit from an online supplier. The finished design is less than 2 inches square. I like the teeny bunny in the tall grass.
Kitty Cat Row, by Bent Creek. That sleeping kitty by the Zs won me over! I also like how "purr" is worked into the alphabet.

Quilted Alphabet. The pattern is from a Vanessa Ann Holidays in Cross-Stitch book. I made this for my first born, my son, stitched while I was pregnant. That's what I remember when I see this sampler: being pregnant, my swollen feet propped up on a foot stool, watching ER on Thursday nights while I stitched. It hung in his room for a long time. I took it down when he needed a place to hang his Black Belt Certificate. Achieving Black Belt rank trumped the ABCs!

Quaker Heart Sampler. I got this design for free here. Hearts are another motif I can't seem to resist, so when you combine alphabets with a heart, it's all over for me. This one is missing the letters J and U, which is not a mistake. Our alphabet has an interesting history! You can read more about that here. Valentine Alphabet, by Tom Pudding Designs. Tom Pudding used to have a free cross stitch pattern online every month, but they now seem to be defunct. This was their February design one year. Again, hearts. I had to stitch it!
Burt Lake Sampler, by Sisters and Best Friends. This is the pattern that introduced me to the world of hand-dyed threads. Prior to this, I only did patterns that called for regular DMC. Hand-dyed threads are nuanced and give so much more depth to the design. Unfortunately, they are also more expensive and harder to find than regular DMC, but worth the cost and effort. I stitched this one for my daughter when she was two years old, because she would go in my son's room, face his Quilted Alphabet Sampler, stand at attention, and belt out the ABC song. I swear I remember her saluting it one time, too, but that could be faulty memory. This is a New Year card my husband received from a work colleague in Japan. I don't know if the sender realized just how much this card would be appreciated!
And finally my pewter alphabet mug. I found this in a second-hand shop. When I walked in the door, I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but I just knew there was something there waiting for me. And there was!

Guess what I bought the other day? Another alphabet sampler cross-stitch pattern. Where I will hang it when it's done, I have no idea, but I saw it and felt that familiar swept-away feeling, and now I can't wait to get to stitching!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Acorn Fairy Quilt

Another little break from the ABCs theme of September to show off another finished project! I am so happy I got this done.This is a little quilt I made using The Acorn Fairy stitchette pattern by Wee Wonderfuls. I absolutely adore this design. I love the fairy, I love the woodland setting, I love the autumn theme, I love the sweet little animals, and holy cow do I love that little acorn teapot!

This was too much fun to stitch. Not only do I love the embroidery designs, but I also found the perfect fat quarter bundle of harvest fabrics to make it all into a quilt. I always get psyched when I find a bundle of cute coordinating fat quarters. It makes the fabric shopping go so much quicker. Some of the chain fabric stores are an exercise in patience. I hate how you have to wait in line twice, once to get fabric cut and once to check out. Sometimes it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I always find myself wanting to scream. So when I walk in to the store and see the perfect bundle of cute fabrics already cut and ready to go, I want to do the Snoopy dance right then and there!
When I bought the fabric, I envisioned using the colorful leaf print to build the blocks, but it was too busy, and the embroidery got lost in the profusion of color, so I ended up using the muted ears-of-corn print instead. The green fabric features soft maple leaves. I wish they were oak leaves, but what can you do? At least the color works well. The busy leaf print makes a nice binding, pulling all the colors of the embroidery and the fabric together.
Now I just have to figure out where to hang it so we can all enjoy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

ABCs: Anno's Magical ABC

This is one of the most unusual alphabet books I've ever seen. The contents are very conventional. Each page has a drawing of the letter, an object that begins with that letter, and a drawing of a plant that begins with that letter.

What is so unusual is that the drawings and the lettering are anamorphic, and can only be viewed non-distorted when reflected in a cylindrical mirror.

The book is out of print, but new copies came with two sheets of mirror paper for the reader to roll into a cylinder. I was lucky enough to find a used copy that still had the mirror paper tucked inside the book.

Here is the capital Q page viewed with the naked eye.

Roll the mirror paper into a tube, place the tube over the (non-anamorphic) drawing of the Quince, and see the Q and the Queen magically appear as they should.

One half of the book is capital letters, featuring objects that begin with the letter, the other half is lower case letters, featuring animals that begin with the letter.
Here is k for kangaroo:

The cover is drawn anamorphically as well. Here it is viewed in the mirror paper:

This book was a collaboration between Japanese artist Mitsumasa Anno and his son, Masaichiro Anno. The son did the lettering, while the father created the paintings. Originally published in 1980 in Japan, the book was published in the United States by Philomel Books in 1981.
edited: This book also has instructions for creating your own anamorphic drawings, complete with graphs to help the experimenting artist along.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

ABCs: ABC: A Child's First Alphabet Book

At first glance, this alphabet book appears to be very basic. The paintings are beautiful, with deep colors and a crackle finish reminiscent of frescoes, but alas, A is for Apple, B is for Balloon, C is for Cow... nothing new here, right? Look again.

The careful reader will see that each picture contains elements of the preceding picture, as well as hints of what is to come in the next few pictures. The perspective shifts from page to page. So first you see an apple dominating the scene, with an airplane and an ant, and an artist as viewed from behind. But what is that hovering in the sky? A balloon! And on the next page the balloon dominates the page, with a butterfly and a bumblebee, and we see the artist down below again, but this time from the front, and behind her is a house. The next page we see the house get a bit larger and more detailed, although it is still not the focus because a cow dominates the scene, but if you look at that house, you'll see a dog is about to run inside. Turn the page, and the dog is indeed inside, prominently featured, dancing around, because of course D is for Dog. What comes next? Look at the picture for your clue.

This book works on so many levels. Young children can easily grasp the simple A is for Apple, B is for Balloon theme, but older children will love the hunt for similarities and differences between the pages, finding the clues for what is to come, and maybe even making up their own story about what is happening behind the scenes.

ABC: A Child's First Alphabet, by Alison Jay. First published in the UK by The Templar Company, 2003. My copy was published in the US by Dutton Children's Books, 2003.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Halloween Fairy

I interrupt the ABC book blog to bring you this newly finished cross stitch project:
The Halloween Fairy, Kit #3 in the Fairy Holiday Collection by Mirabilia. I actually began this project last autumn, but when it became obvious she wouldn't be done in time for Halloween, I put her away to concentrate on other things. Fortunately, I remembered a few weeks ago that she was languishing in my project bag, so out she came for completion, and I placed the last stitch two days ago. As good timing would have it, my go-to framing store is having a 60% off sale this week, so I'll be sure to get her there before Saturday, and she should be back in plenty of time for this year's Halloween.
I sometimes feel apologetic for my love of cross stitch. I know it's not creative as other needlework endeavors can be, but for me, there is something so satisfying in filling all those squares with neat stitches in beautiful colors to complete a design that is pleasing to my eye. I have put off cross stitch for most of the last year to explore crochet, embroidery, quilting, and sewing small toys, and that all gives me much enjoyment, but cross stitch relaxes me and pleases me in a way that no other handwork does. I can melt right into a cross stitch project. Other projects require too much of my concentration to be fully relaxing for me.
I chose this design because my daughter is crazy about fairies. I like the air of mystery this fairy has with her mask, and the whimsical touch of her pumpkin bag. I also like that she is a Halloween design. One of the problems with loving cross stitch is that you quickly run out of room to display your finished projects, so I try to concentrate on seasonal designs and switch them out for the appropriate holiday. We'll have her up for October and November, but after Thanksgiving, she'll be put away, and next October when we get out the autumn decorations, we'll rediscover her and be delighted all over again.

Monday, September 15, 2008

ABCs: A Peaceable Kingdom

In July 1882, the Shaker Manifesto published the "Rhymes of Animals", which, in an acrostic poem fashion, introduces a whole menagerie of animals in a rhythmic, rhyming way. This rhyme became known as "The Shaker Abecedarius," and presumably was used to teach Shaker children the alphabet in a fun, memorable way. You can see a digital library version of "Rhymes of Animals" as published in the Manifesto here. The author of the "Rhymes of Animals" is acknowledged only as a correspondent of the Cincinnati Gazette. Alice and Martin Provensen illustrated The Shaker Abecedarius as A Peaceable Kingdom. The Provensens studied the Shakers while illustrating this book, and they included lovely details of the Shaker lifestyle throughout. Thus we see the Shakers going about their normal daily routines alongside jackals, oppossums, elephants, and badgers. The juxtaposition of animals is entertaining, and seeing them alongside the Shakers, who are not at all alarmed by the lion, the rattlesnake, or the whale, adds a new layer of fun to the text.

The simple drawings and muted colors used by the Provensens support the Shaker aesthetic.
A Peaceable Kingdom: The Shaker Abecedarius, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, published by The Viking Press, 1978.

Friday, September 12, 2008

ABCs: Bembo's Zoo

This alphabet book is a fascinating work of art in which the illustrations of animals are formed from the letters in the animal's name. Take a look at D for Dragon:
See how G forms the head, A forms the snout, and N forms the spines down the back while n forms the spines on the head? Can you find all the letters that spell Dragon in the drawing of the dragon? This alphabet book is fun for all ages. Young children can admire the creative representations of a zoo full of animals, and older children (and adults!) can marvel over the clever letter manipulation and play I-Spy to find all the letters in each drawing.
The letters used in these illustrations are in the Bembo font, hence the title Bembo's Zoo. The back of the book includes a history of the Bembo font. It is named after a Renaissance writer, Pietro Bembo, whose printer used a newly created font to publish his essays. I found more on the history of the Bembo font here.
Bembo's Zoo, illustrated by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, published by Henry Holt and Company, 2000.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ABCs: The ABC Bunny

This alphabet book tells the lively tale of a bunny who is woken with a start when an apple falls into his nest. The bunny dashes "elsewhere in a flash", and his adventures unfold in perfect rhythm and rhyme, keeping readers hopping right along until the end, when they find they, too, have been pulled into the story.

The black and white drawings have plenty of details to keep young children occupied, and the bunny himself is very expressive. We see him in a full range of emotion: peaceful, frightened, annoyed, curious, and happy.

I was won over to this story with the letters C, D, and E. I love the lively cadence, and if E stands for Elsewhere, you know this is not going to be a run-of-the-mill alphabet book.

The ABC Bunny was written and illustrated by Wanda Gag, copyright 1933. My edition
was published by University of Minnesota Press in 2004, and includes The ABC song, music by Wanda Gag's sister, Flavia Gag.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

From the Kitchen

Last week I mentioned that I was trying new recipes to prepare for hurried breakfasts and sack lunches, and I promised to share if I had any success. I have indeed had success! My kitchen doesn't have much natural light, so I didn't take any photos of the food. You'll just have to take my word that it all looks delicious.

First, I adapted the Quiche Cups recipe from the South Beach Diet cookbook to better suit what I have on hand in the kitchen (read: to use up some of the zucchini my garden is still cranking out).

Quiche Cups (adapted from South Beach)

1 zucchini, shredded
3 large eggs, scrambled
3/4 cups shredded cheese
1/4 cup diced bell peppers (I use a mixture of green, red, and yellow)
1/4 cup diced onions

Preparation: Line a 12-cup muffin pan with foil baking cups. Spray with cooking spray.

Combine the zucchini, eggs, cheese, peppers, and onions. Mix well. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin cups. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes clean.

Cool in pan until the quiche cups are cool enough to handle. Remove quiche cups from the foil, place on a cookie sheet, and put in freezer for a couple hours. Move to a storage container for long-term freezer storage.

Heat one or two quiche cups in microwave for 1 minute for a quick breakfast.

I have a staggering amount of zucchini this year. This was my first year with a big garden, and I wanted to guarantee some success, so I planted three zucchini plants, knowing full well they are prolific producers. I am determined to use it all! I found an interesting recipe for zucchini bread at allrecipes and changed it a little bit. Here is my version:

Orange Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2/3 cup applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 T orange zest
3 C all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

With a wire whisk, stir together flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy. Add sugar, and continue beating until well blended. Stir in apple sauce, oil, vanilla, zucchini, chocolate chips, and orange zest. Add dry ingredients to wet. Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn batter into 2 greased 9x5 loaf pans (or make 2 dozen muffins).

Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 45-50 minutes (20 minutes for muffins) or until done. Cool on wire rack.

My kids argued over whether they wanted muffins or bread, so I made one loaf of bread and one dozen muffins. They've eaten the muffins already. The bread is in the freezer for another day.

And today I stepped outside and picked some apples off my apple tree to try out an Apple Butter recipe from the October 2008 issue of Midwest Living. All day my house has smelled like warm apples and cinnamon. My kids were hanging out near the kitchen, asking "Is it ready yet?" Since this takes 6 hours in the crock pot, it was a long torturous wait to try a spoonful!

Apple Butter

4 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced (12 cups)
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
2 T cider vinegar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

Place apple slices in a 4 qt slow cooker. Stir in water, sugar, vinegar, spices. Cover. Cook on high heat for 5-6 hours. Stir to make a smooth consistency. Cool at least one hour or cover and chill in fridge overnight. Ladle apple butter into half-pint storage or freezer containers, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Store 3 weeks in fridge or one year in freezer. (Original recipe says makes 4 half pints, but I got 6 half pints.)

We all sampled some when it was still warm and swooned all over the kitchen. I am sure it will be just as wonderful cold. I thought I'd give a couple jars away, but my son is insisting we keep it all for ourselves. Maybe I'll send him out to pick more apples so I can make more. Once the peeling and chopping is done, this is nearly effortless to prepare.

Happy cooking!

Friday, September 5, 2008

ABCs: The Alphabet Game

Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators. Her work is so full of color, joy, and detail. You can feel her great respect for children in the sophisticated art she created.

This book was was originally titled The Little Alphabet, published by Little, Brown and Co. in 1980. SeaStar Books published it as The Alphabet Game in 2000. Both titles are appropriate for this book of ABCs. It is indeed a little alphabet, as the illustrations are only 2 inches square, but it's also a game, because each illustration is surrounded by a list of things to look for in the picture. How many can you find? I adore the C illustration. I just love that cape!

The letter X is any ABC book's Achilles Heel. This is a sweet solution to the X dilemma: