Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet (Review)
Updated: Nov 21
Author: Don Robb
Illustrator: Anne Smith
Publisher: 2007, Charlsebridge
Interest Level: Ages 8 - 11; Grade Levels 3 - 7
Reading Level: Lexile NC1070L
Retail: $7.95, paperback
Summary: After a brief introduction about human communication and language, the book features spreads for each letter of the English alphabet chronicling its history and how the names and symbols changed from Egyptian through Roman times.
I originally purchased this book at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. I was blown away by the unique concept and the beautiful illustrations. My kids were a bit lukewarm on the subject, so I wouldn't necessarily promote it as a bedtime story. In the home or school classroom, this title can be a launching pad for some very interesting lessons. The publisher has provided this printable activity sheet.
In Ox, House, Stick, the text is broken up in to the main narrative and then into smaller informational text boxes. I would recommend that this book be consumed in small doses or browsed out of page order to keep a child's interest. There is a lot of information to take in. A chart at the end summarizes information for each letter for easy reference or review. Knowing that adults might find this topic interesting as well, the list of recommended additional reading includes books for grownups.
There is some challenging vocabulary (e.g. Sinaitic, Phoenician, Semitic) but no pronunciation guides and limited geographic clues. Therefore, an adult needs to provide at least some guidance. Some passages appear to have been written by committee with the goal of avoiding controversy. For instance, page 12 tells children that "Bethlehem (a city in Pennsylvania) means house of bread." I can only guess that the author or editor wished to avoid stating where the original city of Bethlehem is located for religious or political reasons.
The color palette and collage style of illustrations in this book are very well done. The text and individual letters are part of the artwork, but it doesn't feel babyish. Charlesbridge has published dozens of themed alphabet books that you may have seen (Jerry Pallotta, anyone?), and they have a real knack for producing visually engaging books for children.
If you are looking for ways to teach children about language and communication, Ox, House, Stick goes beyond the usual Alphabet book in a clever way.
This book may be purchased at Bookshop.org