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Friday, 3 February 2017

Letterland: ABC

Authors: Lyn Wendon, Domenica de Rosa and Lisa Holt
Illustrations: Geri Livingston
( Based on characters originated by Lyn Wendon)
Publisher: Letterland International ltd, Cambridge, 2009: originally published in 1985

I bought this for Alf in his preschool year, before I knew about 'The Jolly Phonics' reading and writing scheme, that seems so widely rolled out in primary schools in the UK (disclaimer: I'm not a primary school teacher, so excuse my naivity here if this is not the case). I wanted to teach Alf 'letters'  (I knew nothing of 'phonics' at this point) so recalled this book from my own preschool childhood.  We read a few pages of this, from time to time, but 
Alf wasn't really taken. Bert positively despised this book. He said it was 'boring' and there was 'no story'. I felt fairly ambivalent, with the exception of a few tweaks to the letter- character names (I swear 'Harry Hat Man' used to be 'Hairy Hat Man') I had remembered the book fairly well, and still found page after page of the book's rhetorical questions a bit frustrating: 'If you want to buy a hat, please ask Harry very quietly. Why? because he hates noise.' (Ah!)And then along came my daughter, Edie (3); she can't put this book down! I suppose this has taught me, children differ in their reading and learning interests and styles hugely, so alternatives to the standard or popular scheme of its day has a place.

Letterland features a letter per double page spread, with three small paragraphs of exposition. This description usually tells the reader about where the letter lives or what he/she does (so Harry Hat Man lives in a house with a hat on rather than a roof on top), any unusual features he/ she has or does when meeting another Letterland character or when 
he/ she 'makes their sound', and finally the text offers explanation about the letter's capital form.

Interestingly, what Edie seems to like about the book the most, is indeed this fairly naff (sorry Letterland!) incredibly contrived ditty on each page, about how the capital letter is the lowercase version 'in disguise' or 'doing a trick'. Harry Hat Man for example, feels happy so 'does a handstand -with his hat on!' ( wince!)  What Edie seems to like, and what, through my very limited exposure to Jolly Phonics, other schemes seem to lack, is letter shape and size information. The big black letters let her trace the shape of the letter with her hand (physical exploration), and she then searches for repetition of the letter both aurally (through naming the objects in the 'I spy' style page eg. 'hedgehog', 'hay' and 'horse' ) and visually, through searching the text for  'h' words. This multi-sensory package really seems to stimulate her interest, and she is now matching the letters across texts by laying out the double spread Letterland alphabet at the back of the book. 

I'm not sure the letter characters are 'loveable' ( re-reading this as an adult) but they certainly are memorable. Edie especially likes the moody 'Quarrelsome Queen' and the idea of her taking 'Uppy Umberella' everywhere she goes. 

The ritualistic, formulaic page layout for every letter, again really works for Edie (3), she loves the repetition: for an adult, being presented with this book over and over again this week, leaves you reading in a fairly trance like state! But like I say, returning to 'Latterland' might well still have a place.

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