Written by Erin Cabatingan
Illustrated by Matthew Myers
It’s clear from the title that A is for Musk Ox is not a typical alphabet book. Generally an alphabet book’s purpose is to teach children the alphabet while familiarizing them with the sounds the letters make and some common words that represent each letter. There are, however, alphabet books for children who already know their letters and will find great amusement in playing with the sounds and mixing up the order of things. This is just such a book. And though a similar concept was used in another title published earlier in 2012 (see this Publisher’s Weekly article), A is for Musk Ox is unlike any other alphabet book.
This is Erin Cabatingan’s first book and I hope she continues to create. She’s clever, has a great sense of humor and there’s an easy and relaxed style about her writing.
Matthew Myers’s sumptuously rich oil paintings are spirited and immensely appealing; his charismatic animals are full of expression. His first book, Tyrannosaurus Dad—featuring a forty foot tall, necktie-wearing, dinosaur dad—was well received. This is his second book and I look forward to seeing more from him as well.
Musk ox has chewed a hole right through the cover of the book so that he can be seen through the apple, which should be representing the first letter of the alphabet. So before readers even open the book it’s clear that musk ox wants to be the star of the show. And he is.
Musk ox’s friend Zebra is rightfully upset and accuses him of ruining the book, but musk ox claims to have saved it instead. He points out how boring and cliché it is to start an alphabet book with an apple.
And he’s right, but musk ox does not start with A. Awesome does though, and musk oxen are awesome! (After reading this book, I completely agree.)
C is for musk ox because they are cool. “Also, we live in Canada, too.”
G is for musk ox because they eat grass, F is for their fur. There are a few exceptions in which a letter does not stand for musk ox, i.e., “J is for Joseph” because the musk ox’s name is Joseph. And because he feels guilty about how the book started, he allows M to stand for Apple. It was a McIntosh, after all.
Every word that was planned to represent a letter of the alphabet is quickly replaced by something related to musk oxen.
Though each word is now covered with a label identifying musk ox’s preferred term, part of the original word is still visible. The illustrations also include an image of what the letter originally stood for, allowing young readers to figure out the partially hidden word.
This type of narrative is an excellent way to engage and challenge children; it gives them an opportunity to guess the word that originally represented each letter. If their guess is incorrect it offers a chance for adults to guide children on how to pick up on clues. If children guess the word correctly it enables them to be in on the joke.
A is for Musk Ox is not only a worthy addition to the vast canon of alphabet books but also a standout picture book that will endure the test of multiple readings.