THE MAGIC OF LETTERS. Written by Tony Johnston. Illustrated by Wendell Minor. Neal Porter Books/Holiday House. $18.99.
“We’re learning letters, but what do they do?” was the question author Tony Johnston’s grandson asked on the first day of kindergarten. This germ of an idea became THE MAGIC OF LETTERS, a lovely tribute to the power of language. Escorted by a magician’s white rabbit wearing glasses, children will first look at letters:
“Letters hold magic.
When you know their secrets, they open worlds.
Each letter has a name,
wonderful and strange,” the rabbit says.
He goes on to point out that key to understanding what a word is that almost every child first experiences—when the letters become your very own name. After that it is on to words that are just fun to say, “limber words like acrobat,” “thumpy words like clunk” and “giggling words like flibbertigibbet.”
Minor uses mixed media in the illustrations. The letters and words are cleverly shown in the many ways children will experience them: printed in different fonts and colors, hand printed, or printed on a variety of papers and cut out. Each double-page spread uses a sketchy style to show what is going on with the letters or words on that page. The colors are bright and pop from white backgrounds. The last page shows the close connection between reading, through which you can “discover anything,” and writing, through which you can share what is in your mind and heart. This book is bound to become a family favorite. Preschool and primary teachers will find it useful as well.