When Mary Poppins sang, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," easily she could have been referring to teaching methods. In the footsteps of that famous nanny's sound advice, a new wave of books pours a tasty amount of sugar into young minds learning the subtle intricacies of the ABCs. Here are two that include sweetly enticing servings of humor, fascinating historical, geographical and historical facts, and eye-catching illustrations.
"L is for Last Frontier -- An Alaska Alphabet"
Written by Carol Crane; Illustrated by Michael Glenn Monroe. Sleeping Bear Press
Taking a geographic approach is "L is for Last Frontier: An Alaska Alphabet," published by Sleeping Bear Press, of Chelsea, Mich. Text by Carol Crane, a national educational consultant from Florida, and artwork by Michael Glenn Monroe, a wildlife artist from Michigan, gives the ABCs a northern twist.
The simple rhyming text and brightly colored illustrations accompanying each letter makes the book fun for young listeners. Additional text offers in-depth information about Alaska for the older set, starting with the letter "A," which is dedicated to Alaska's Native cultures. Some letters touch on more than one subject, such as "C." Although it focuses on cranberries, there also is information on blueberries, crowberries and soapberries.
A history of the state flag's striking eight stars of gold on a field of blue, designed in 1926 by 13-year-old Bernie Benson, can be found under "F," as well as mention of the state's official insect and flower. A brief history of Alaska's capital city, Juneau, can be found on the page dedicated to "J," but so can a paragraph about jade.
Then there's the "V" page, where mention is made of Alaska's long growing season that produces such monsters as 98-pound cabbages and a 303-pound squash.
"L is for Last Frontier" is part of a series that includes alphabets for other states, "A" is for America: An American Alphabet," which has a matching CD, and "M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet."
A teacher's guide can be found on the Web site for Sleeping Bear Press at www.sleepingbearpress.com. Activities, questions and answers and a variety of study aids will expand the learning opportunities, as will questions and answers in the back of the books.
By Ray Troll. WestWinds Press
From the letter-crunching great white shark on the cover to the extinct petalodont on the back of the book, the familiar art of Ketchikan author Ray Troll is sure to put a smile on the face of any young student.
Angel sharks, named for their wing-like fins, nurse sharks that don't really care about your well-being, whale sharks the size of school buses.
Readers can flip through the pages and find a shark for every letter of the alphabet. From A to Z, Troll covers them all.
But the book is much more. In fact, this winning combination of artwork, research and teaching prompted George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File and Coordinator of the Museum Operations at the Florida Museum of Natural History to write, "It's Escher meets Darwin meets Seuss."
For instance, did you know there are more than 400 different kinds of sharks swimming in the waters of today's world? Did you know cookie-cutter sharks will even bite submarines? And did you know that some sharks produce as many as 20,000 teeth during their lifetime?
And be warned: Sharks are covered with denticles, nearly identical to the teeth found in their mouths. Use caution when petting a shark.
Equipped with the same five senses that humans have -- taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell -- they also come with two more, which make it difficult to sneak up on a shark. First, they have sensory lines running down the sides of their bodies that allow them to feel pressure changes in the water. And then there's their ability to sense prey through electricity. Don't let those "freckles" on their noses fool you. Those are electrical receptors wired directly to a shark's brain.
Thanks to Troll's winning delivery, "Sharkabet" will help wire the alphabet directly to small minds in a never-to-be-forgotten way.
McKibben Jackinsky is a free-lance writer who lives in Ninilchik
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