ABC Books

For decades, hundreds of ABC books have been published across North American and around the world many with a unique take on teaching youngsters about the twenty six letters of the English alphabet. This list includes some of the most popular and beloved titles in this category specialty each with a special take on this all too familiar topic.

From art work to bugs, food to pirates, the authors represented in this list will help you to make easy work of teaching the ABCs to your children. By finding a subject that interests your kids you are making learning a lot more fun!

Top 10 Alphabet Books of All-Time

dr. seuss’s abc Dr. Seuss’s ABC: It is very little wonder that one of the first names anyone thinks of when they’re looking for books for kids is Dr. Seuss. It should come as no surprise that the ingenious and prolific author also wrote an alphabet book first published way back in 1963 and that the same book that entertained and taught us our letters is still just as much fun for kids today. In typical Seussian style, this title handles the topic at hand in a unique, lively and unexpected way. Quite a few of the many fantastic illustrated characters from other Seuss stories somehow managed to find their way into this work as well and more than forty five years after it was first published, it remains a favorite for kids of all ages alongside the many other classics penned by one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

ABC Books: Honorable MentionsOther Great Alphabet Books for Kids

animalia Animalia: Australian author Graeme Base is likely best known for this, his second published work that first hit the shelves in 1986. Since that time it has been turned into a coloring book, been published as an anniversary edition and even shown as a television series that airs in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Norway. Base’s uncanny illustrations are the real draw to this story and there is a new one for each of the twenty six letters of the alphabet. Each of these illustrations focuses on a particular animal that represents the letter but there is more to the scenes than that! Kids will have a great time discovering all the hidden treasures in the pages, including an image of the author as a child that is cleverly disguised on each page. In 1987, this title was named an Honor Book in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Awards.
eric carle’s abc Eric Carle’s ABC: From Eric Carle, the man behind the art in the classic children’s tale Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See comes this fantastic and colorful 2007 title published by the Penguin Group. Page after page of simple and bright art work illustrates each of the twenty six letters of the alphabet in a fun and visually entertaining way. It may only have sixteen pages, but each of those pages can be unfolded to reveal full page flaps that contain images of Carle’s beloved animals. The intended age range is the four to eight set, though you should not let that stop you from introducing your children to the alphabet even earlier than that. The simple animal art work will help kids grasp the concept of letters well before then. A, B, C & D transform into Ant, Bear, Camel and Duck and as you read along with your kids you will no doubt see their imagination transform as well!
i stink! I Stink!: Anyone with kids will tell you that for a children’s book to be successful it will usually need to do something fun and usually funny and / or gross. Husband and wife team Kate and Jim McMullen took that task to heart with their alphabet based tale narrated by a big, loud and smelly garbage truck. Most younger children are fascinated by garbage trucks which makes I Stink! a sure winner already if your kids fit that bill. Get ready for some real fun as they read aloud the story of all the letters in garbage form, from apple cores to zucchini! The fact is that the more fun reading is, the more likely kids are going to be to do it and I Stink! is definitely a fun and irreverent way to help them learn the letters that make up our language without even realizing that they are learning at all.
old black fly Old Black Fly: First published in 1995 by Henry Holt & Co., this title by author Jim Aylesworth and illustrator Stephen Gammell takes a delightfully annoying approach of using an old black house fly to help teach the alphabet to the well entertained young readers who will instantly adore page after page of the flying pest. With a trail of would be disasters in his wake, the fly guides the reader on a journey through the alphabet that includes goofy, gap-toothed people that are sure to bring out a few laughs along with the brightly colored illustrations and witty text. The simple story highlights the first letter of a key element on the page, such as “He ate on the crust of the Apple pie. He bothered the Baby and made her cry.” The sing song approach to lyrical verse makes learning the alphabet as fun as learning a new song on the radio.
chicka chicka boom boom Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: One of the most productive and entertaining ways to encourage reading in small children is to read aloud to them and with them. Titles like this one written by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault epitomize this with the rhythmic verse that reads like music. For more than twenty years not only have the words endured but they have thrived due in no small part to the phenomenal illustrative talents of Lois Ehlert who handled all of the art work for this story. In short, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is the delightfully fun story of what would happen when all twenty six letters of the alphabet all try to climb up a coconut tree. As you might imagine there is laughter to be had throughout the 40 pages, especially among the target audience of infants to preschool. A special 20th anniversary edition was released in 2009 to celebrate the popularity of this title.
alphabet city Alphabet City: This uniquely crafted wordless title full of lush illustrations of pastel, watercolor, gouache and charcoal is unlike any other title in this genre. Author Stephen P. Johnson weaves a detailed and intensive tapestry of images that are nearly photorealistic in quality. Each of the twenty six letters are cleverly placed in these beautiful paintings – some hidden in plain sight and others a bit more well disguised. Make no mistake, this is an alphabet book but it could also just as easily be classified as an art book with little resistance. Not only will this illustrated story encourage children to look at the world around them with a bit more scrutiny, it could well encourage their creativity as well and with such beautiful art work at their disposal, no one would blame them! While the intended audience is listed as ages four to eight, readers of all ages will delight in the lush imagery.
the z was zapped The Z Was Zapped: Penned by the bestselling Caldecott Medal winning Chris van Allsburg, author of Jumanji and The Polar Express, you can rest assured that Z will not be just another story about letters. Instead, it is billed as ‘alphabet theatre’ by the author and a more apt name could not be found. This ‘play in twenty six acts’ is full of page after lovely page that describes each of the letters of the alphabet as though an action was happening to them. In most cases, that action is something dark and ominous; C for example, was cut to bits while the title letter Z was zapped. While it is true that a great many black and white stories fall short of truly capturing a youthful audience (with kids preferring the brightly colored alternatives), this one is different. The stark contrasts and interesting phrases are sure to keep kids of all ages entertained and enthralled.
gone wild Gone Wild: While it may be billed as such, this is anything but a typical set of letters. Illustrator extraordinaire David McLimans carefully crafted a black and white world where the letters of the alphabet are also strikingly beautiful renderings of endangered animals. Next to each animal letter is a box that contains a red and white version of the same animal along with basic scientific facts about habitat, class, range and why the animal is considered to be endangered. The bulbous eyes of the Newt for example, poke out from the side of the letter N with the tongue protruding from a position a little lower down the side. Bold and energetic images that are at times playful may at times allow the reader to forget that each of these animals is in danger of extinction, but McLimans includes information at the end of the book for how to help save them from extinction!
e-mergency! E-mergency!: Verbal and visual puns abound in this hilarious book about the misadventures of the letter “E”. It seems she’s fallen and sustained an injury – but the only way she’ll ever get better is to take a rest. That means that no one can use her! The letters get together to discover who can substitute for her. Surely not “Z”, because he’s always sleeping! “P” is forever in the bathroom, and “Y” can’t stop asking questions. The good news is that finally “O” comes in and saves the day – on account of being so well-rounded, of course!
shiver me letter Shiver Me Letter: A Pirate ABC: Everyone knows that a pirate’s favorite letter is R. In this story by author June Sobel though, the animal pirates have come to the conclusion that they need more than just R’s to make them tough. With a crocodile captain at the helm, they set out in search of the other twenty five letters. One by one each letter is discovered from the Anchor right down to the good old X that marks the important spot on a treasure map. Illustrator Henry Cole’s wonderfully vivid art makes this title just as fun to look at as it is to read! The sing song style of this ABC book text is well suited to reading aloud so that younger kids can have the opportunity to audibly sound out words that they may have a problem with and getting them to discuss what they see in the illustrations will prove to be great fun as well.
on market street On Market Street: This Caldecott Honor Award alphabet book by Arnold and Anita Lobel relays the story of a spry young boy who carries a bag full of coins to the wonderful shops of Market Street where he proceeds to seek out and buy gifts for a friend, one for each letter of the alphabet. From Apples to Zippers, the lively merchants are all wearing the wares that represent each letter. At the end of the day the boy’s coin bag is empty and his arms are loaded down with gifts from A to Z and each of the other twenty four letters in between!
“a” was once an apple pie “A” Was Once an Apple Pie: A delightfully silly letter story by writer Edward Lear and illustrator Suse Macdonald that is chock full of word play and whimsical rhyming references. The illustrations are quite striking and similar in many ways to the legendary work of Eric Carle (Brown Bear, Brown Bear). They serve as a remarkable complement to the light and childlike verse by Lear. This is a definite must have title for those families with high energy kids who really love to read aloud as the play on words and rhyme make for a lot of fun from A all the way to Z!
i spy: an alphabet in art I Spy: An Alphabet in Art: Author Lucy Micklethwait truly created magic when she coupled the need for an children’s ABC book with her desire to create an art book for small children. In what has to be one of the most high brow books of its genre. Using some of the most recognizable works of art from around the world, the author weaves together a magical tapestry where a different work of art represents each letter of the alphabet. Part of the fun will be when the kids try to figure out what the representative image is, but even older kids will enjoy the beauty and whimsy in each piece of art.
alphabet Alphabet: Though it focuses on the alphabet as the name implies, this is a book that’s really full of several concepts. It includes more than 100 different creatures and plants who demonstrate not just the letters of the alphabet, but important action words, opposites, synonyms – and much more! Readers come across challenges like spotting 4 plants or animals for each letter of the alphabet. In addition to the many concepts, this book also includes a wide range of interactive content, like 23 different textures, flaps, foils, pull tabs, and scratch-and-sniff. There is something here for every kid, and it’s a book that’s sure to continue to engage them for years to come.
if rocks could sing: a discovered alphabet If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet: Get kids ready for an adventure outside as you read this book inside. The rocks featured in this book were each found on the beach near the home of the author. They make up a truly unique alphabet, and will encourage kids to find letters in their own everyday surroundings. Each letter includes its own word. For example, “A” comes with addition – and many rocks in the shape of numbers as well. “B” comes with Bird, and kids can spot a rock that’s shaped like a bird with a rock egg nearby. Parents will also love this visual journey.
superhero abc Superhero ABC: Bob McLeod is the brilliant mind behind this excellent work that includes all twenty six letters and a superhero for each one. From Astro Man to The Zinger, no super power is left untouched here. Danger Man does daring deeds every day while Ms. Incredible has the ability to become invisible in an instant. Respectable illustrations add just the right amount of whimsy and fun while the text will surely provide entertainment and education to a wide range of new readers. This is a can’t miss for young comic fans of any age and its comic book style will surely spawn a few new fans along the way.
abc3d ABC3D: When it comes to educational titles for kids they don’t get much more creative than this; Author Marion Bataille has crafted a one of a kind pop-up book that serves to educate children on the letters of the alphabet in a unique and visually stunning way. Don’t let the term “pop-up” mislead you though, these letters pop-up, they move, they transform in ways that they never have before. One of the most innovative features in this children’s book is how each letter gives way and at times even becomes the next, creating a very fluid text in strong tones of red, black and white.
hooper humperdink…? not him! Hooper Humperdink…? Not Him!: Just because the cover doesn’t say “Dr. Seuss” doesn’t mean that it will take you long to figure out who the genius is behind this title. Theo LeSieg is in fact none other than the famed children’s author. In this story, a young boy is planning a spectacular party and forming a list of all those people that should be on the invitation list – names from A all the way to Z with one specific exception – Hooper Humperdink. To find out why Hooper is at the top of no one’s invite list, you will simply have to read on!
peanut butter and jellyfishes Peanut Butter and Jellyfishes: A more apt subtitle could not be found than “a very silly alphabet book” for that is indeed was author Brian P. Cleary and illustrator Betsy E. Snyder have concocted here. Bright and colorful collages chock full of word games, zany rhyming sentences and hidden letters are to be found on each page with both upper and lower case versions of each letter showcased for the young reader. This title is sure to be wildly entertaining especially when used as part of a reading aloud session with your kids. Encourages creativity and inquisitive minds while teaching the basics of the alphabet to youngsters.
museum abc Museum ABC: In this truly wonderful collection of artistic works from several museums the basic text is similar to what you might expect to find in any other alphabet books, though the art itself sets it far apart from any other title in the genre to be sure. The letter A may stand for Apple, but the example images for the apple in this book range from Lichtenstein’s “Red Apple” to Cezanne’s “Apples”, neither of which you are likely to see in many books for children. In a graceful touch, end notes include additional information on each piece of art illustrated in the text.
alphabet soup Alphabet Soup: When the gregarious Otter finds a soup pot in his new digs, he uses the opportunity to invite twenty six of his best friends to a potluck party at his new home. Armadillo shows up with his asparagus and the party is off to a great start, with each new arrival adding to the pot their own personal touch. The Mole for example, drops in with his mushrooms that seem to be a bit magical. The lush and large images are so beautiful it seems more than just a bit a shame to close the book at the end of reading time.
charley harper abc’s Charley Harper ABC’s: Modern artist Charley Harper has a loyal fan base, largely due to his unique vision of the world around him. The same concepts have been applied to his take on the alphabet in this stunning board book entry into the genre. Full of nature and animals of all types (A is for Ape, B is for Bird, C is for Crab), this one is destined to become a classic and not only for Harper’s fan base but for a brand new generation of readers who are sure to fall in love with the light and wonderful illustrations from A to Z.
the dangerous alphabet The Dangerous Alphabet: When two children from the Victorian age sneak away from their father with only their pet gazelle and a treasure map to guide them, the adventure is sure to be close at hand. Follow along as these two characters follow an alphabetical path through the darkness of the sewer full of every dark and mysterious thing you might imagine (and many that you won’t). Written by Neil Gaiman (the man behind the wildly popular Coraline) and illustrated by Gris Grimly, this is not your standard fare ABC book, but then again who wants a run of the mill book these days?
the alphabet from a to y with bonus letter z! The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z!: What happens when you bring together a world renowned entertainer and bestselling author (Steve Martin) and a phenomenal cartoonist from the New Yorker (Roz Chast)? You get a delightful children’s book that is brilliantly written and executed from A all the way to Z. Written in couplet form, we have the opportunity to meet some pretty weird characters including Horace the hare, whose hairdo hides hunchbacks. Fans of the New Yorker will no doubt recognize Chast’s undeniable influence in the humorous visual backdrops for each couplet. This title is sure to be read time and time again as there is much to discover between the covers!
the turn-around, upside-down alphabet book The Turn-Around, Upside-Down Alphabet Book: If you have kids who seem to always want to view the world from a different perspective, this is the title for you. Unlike so many other concept books in the genre, this literally turns the letters of the alphabet upside down (and sideways, and reversed…). When turned to one side or the other, each letter becomes something entirely unexpected, such as the J that becomes the trunk of an elephant or the W that becomes a stream. The real genius in a title such as this is that it opens up the door for unlimited creativity on the part of your kids who will have hours of fun coming up with their own ideas.
a is for angry A is for Angry: Already known for the beloved characters she created, Sarah Boynton unleashes them on the twenty six unsuspecting letters of the alphabet in this cute title. On page after page we see the lovable and adorable characters weaving in and out of the letters of what will surely become a page turner that is read time and time again by kids in the four to eight age range (and quite possibly even beyond that). Cover to cover enjoyment that will bring laughter and fun to your kids’ reading time, by an author whose amazing library of work speaks for itself.
alphaoops!: the day z went first AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First: If you have a kid who enjoys thinking outside the box then this title is sure to please! Illustrator Bob Kolar joins forces with author Alethea Kontis for a group of twenty six of the most unruly letters any alphabet has ever seen. Picture a classroom of disobedient and belligerent kids (complete with repeated requests for bathroom breaks, second turns and more) and you have a pretty good idea of what you are in store for with this wonderful book. A sure fire hit with anyone whose name has them commonly delegated to the end of any list, this time the end of the alphabet demands first position!
q is for duck Q is for Duck: A cute and humorous title by co-authors Michael Folsom and Mary Elting (his mother, who has authored over sixty children’s books herself) and illustrator Jack Kent. Still a classic over twenty five years after it was first printed, this is not a typical children’s book about the alphabet. “Q is for duck” because (of course), the duck quacks, after all! Page after page of fun riddles and bright illustrations that are sure to mean fun packed reading time! This is definitely a truly interactive reading experience for the target audience of kids from the four to eight age range.
alpha bugs Alpha Bugs: What happens when an illustrator who himself has a penchant for insects puts his pen to paper and creates an ABC book? You get page after fun packed page of insect riddled alphabet, that’s what! A waffle iron, an umbrella, a doughnut and even a hammer are all magically transformed into a new species of alphabet insects. While it is called a popup book, this doesn’t even come close to describing all of the fun your kids will have pulling this tab and that, discovering the alphabet while having a wonderful time doing it! Ages four to eight and beyond.
i spy little letters I Spy Little Letters: Author and illustrator team Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick have already got quite a following from their previous books such as I Spy and I Spy School Days, but this title takes things in a different direction. As you might expect this is another in a successful series of picture books but this time they are tackling the alphabet in a beautiful and entertaining way. “I spy an L wearing lacy white and a metal M that’s screwed on tight.” Each letter is distinctly pattered in its own unique way. The E for example, is a big bright pink eraser.
the alphabet book The Alphabet Book: From the beloved author of such classics as Are You My Mother? and Go, Dog, Go!, P.D. Eastman comes this brilliant alphabet book that has everything from American ants to zebras with zithers. From the Random House Beginner Books series, this title was an instant classic and remains one of the most popular children’s books of its kind around the country today and for good reason. Eastman understands kids and how to write for them in a way that is both fun and exciting. Intended for kids ages four to eight, this book is sure to be read time and time again!
a is for salad A is for Salad: Cartoon animals come to life in this title by author and illustrator Mike Lester. Creative in his use of character and situation, “A is for salad” depicts an alligator eagerly eating a bowl of greens. It isn’t until the end papers of the book that we have a clearly spelled out explanation of each of these seemingly odd combinations. “L is for hair dryer” for example, depicts a lion blowing out his mane. Some parents may not like such inferences as those for X and Y (”X and Y are not important letters, Never use them.”) or the garbage men who are shown carrying the letters off in the back of their truck.
matthew a.b.c. Matthew A.B.C.: Illustrator Peter Catalanotto has created a beautiful and enjoyable ABC book, telling the story of the twenty five Matthews all in Mrs. Tuttle’s class. She smartly identifies each by including the first letter of their last names (thankfully they each have a different initial) and find that each one has a distinct characteristic that helps to distinguish them one from another. There is affectionate A, for example, and the newly arrived 26th Matthew whose clothes are covered entirely in zippers. The sharp eyes will certainly enjoy themselves while discovering all sorts of hidden messages in the illustrations that are absolutely worthy of reading again and again!
alphabeep! Alphabeep!: Subtitled ” A Zipping, Zooming ABC”, this title by author Debora Pearson and illustrator Edward Miller is guaranteed to be a hit for kids who love vehicles of any shape, size and description. From cars and trucks to the wonderful genius of the Zamboni, each letter is treated to a vehicular visual and even links to the author’s web site where kids can find a whole collection of cut outs, stickers, book plates and much more to keep them enthralled and entertained for hours! Bright colors and lots of action are featured on each page. Ages four to eight.
lmno peas LMNO Peas: Many more delightful puns can be found in this adorable book that’s sure to become a classic. The busy little peas featured here range from a fast, zippy Acrobat Pea, to the full-time Zoologist Pea. The focus on this book is primarily the alphabet, but there are also many intriguing lessons about various interests, jobs, and hobbies. Each letter is themed to one of these aspects, and it gives kids a great understanding of the wide range of careers and hobbies a person can choose to get involved in. This is the type of book that engages kids so fully in the story that they won’t even know they’re learning.
the graphic alphabet The Graphic Alphabet: Expect the unexpected and you are at least off to a promising start for this inventive title by author David Pelletier. Each letter of the alphabet is ingeniously incorporated into a dynamic illustration in this children’s book that is well on its way toward becoming a classic in the genre. The blue ball depicted on the page “B is for Bounce” arcs to create the loops of the letter. Two frightening fingers cross to form the X on that page. Probably a better suited title for older children who have already displayed (or shown a propensity toward) an artistic bent.
eating the alphabet Eating the Alphabet: As the title implies, this is a collection of letter by letter depictions of food – specifically fruits and vegetables – by Lois Ehlert. A delightful feast begins with “Apples to Zucchini, come take a look. Start eating your way through this alphabet book.” In addition to a mouth watering collection of food, the author has included a glossary at the end that includes pronunciation, origin, history and even botanical information that only serves to further enhance the rich watercolor collages. A great way to convince kids to read their ABC book and try new vegetables at the same time!
the handmade alphabet The Handmade Alphabet: The detail in the images shown in this title are phenomenal. The American Sign Language (ASL) manual alphabet is lovingly and beautifully portrayed by hands belonging to people of a variety of ages, sexes and colors. Beside the handmade letter is an image that depicts that letter as well, such as the colored pencil drawn thimbles that accompany the letter T. Laura Rankin deserves her position as a prominent name in this genre based solely on her work with this title that serves as a wonderful introductory work to both the alphabet and the world of American sign language.
so many bunnies board book So Many Bunnies Board Book: This Old Mother (Rabbit in this case) has twenty six kids and knows exactly how to handle them unlike the more famous Old Mother Hubbard. Rabbit feeds her brood broth and carrots before finding interesting and at times entertaining places to put them each to bed. Along the way we meet each of the children, learn their names and find out where they sleep. Abel for example, sleeps on the table. Blair slept in a chair. The rhymes are fun if a bit monotonous but we do have to remember that the title is written for kids between four and eight years of age whose vocabulary is quite limited.
the book of shadowboxes The Book of Shadowboxes: Author Laura L. Seeley brings about the use of the shadowbox to frame out and display each letter of the alphabet one after the other. In each depiction, the letter is displayed in the top left corner of the box while the other boxes are each filled with things that all begin with the chosen letter (people, things, even creatures). Rhymed verse is framed in rectangles along with the rest of the art work and a ghostlike character begs the reader to find an extra item on each of the twenty six pages. A comprehensive list of all items depicted in the book is found at the end.
miss spider’s abc book Miss Spider’s ABC Book: Miss Spider is quite the popular friend as this alphabet book clearly shows. In it, the arachnid is the guest of honor for party whose preparations are taking place all around. Caterpillars circle while bumblebees blow balloons all before David Kirk’s lovely Miss Spider makes her grand appearance in a beautiful flower garden. Oil paintings depict lush scenery that doesn’t take away from the importance of the letters and what they represent. Noticeably missing from this entry are Kirk’s usual fun rhymes but this is still a sure fire winner among the four to eight year old set.
alphabet mystery Alphabet Mystery: Written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by her husband Bruce, this title tells the gripping story of Charley’s alphabet (from Alphabet Adventure) who this time must set out to locate the missing X who was not present at bed time roll call. They climb aboard a magic pencil and go searching. X is eventually found in a castle held captive by the letter M after running away because he felt neglected (Charley never used him). In a cute ending, Charley spells out “I Love You Mom” on her birthday cake and then completes the decorating with four lovingly placed Xs.

43 Greatest ABC Books of All-Time

3 Responses to “ABC Books”

  1. What a wonderful list…and very helpful. Thank you very much. One correction, however: For the book Alphabet Mystery by Audrey Wood, the illustrations were created by her son, Bruce Wood, not her husband (who is the illustrator Don Wood).

  2. Samanthi says:

    It is very helpful. Today I’m going to an international book fair to buy the first book and story books for my little one. Thank you for the guide.

  3. Mark says:

    Nice list!
    My favourites are Sendak’s Alligators All Around, Anno’s Alphabet and some of Edward Gorey’s alphabets.

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