Alphabet books have a long history and are often the first books to be given to young children by parents or teachers. The very earliest alphabet books were unillustrated and simply showed letters. As time went on they incorporated illustrations to make learning more interesting and to aid the memory of young readers.
To the modern reader, these illustrations perhaps seem to have been allocated rather randomly and unhelpfully. The inn shown here is not the most obvious illustration for the letter ‘I’, for example. Two very similar pictures of a horse represent ‘H’ for ‘horse’ in one of the alphabets, but stand for ‘N’ for ‘nag’ a few pages later. The reader needs to be able to distinguish between ivy, a vine and a pea plant, in order to learn ‘I’, ‘V’ and ‘P’. However, an alphabet book alone will not teach a child to read, and the books were probably intended to be read with a parent or other adult.
- Article by:
- M O Grenby
- Childhood and children's literature, Reading and print culture
Professor M O Grenby charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.