My favorite reading challenge is Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Visit her blog to discover more wonderful nonfiction titles.
Maira Kalman’s Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag is my new book obsession. I read several good reviews of it last year but I resisted buying it because (1) it’s an alphabet book and I hate alphabet books; and (2) it’s a collection of portraits of random objects Kalman liked from the Cooper Hewitt Museum and how interesting could that possibly be?
Very interesting, it turns out.
This is an alphabet book I can get behind because it’s weird. O, for instance, comes after Z because there was an Oops! as in “Oops! We left out O. Oh well. We all make mistakes.”
The objects themselves are sometimes strange, sometimes beautiful, sometimes unexpected (a toilet) (and represented by photographs and brief descriptions in an index) and used unpredictably with letters. The image associated with K, for example, is a shirt with the words “Keep your shirt on and Please Be Kind. And walk the dog.” Kalman uses the alphabet book format to present these unusual and unique objects from the museum’s collection but also to share useful life advice that I can also get behind: I’m all for being kind and walking the dog!
I also like toast, especially with lots of butter, and toast turns up several times.
Not all of the letters share advice or information. H is represented by a painting of a rhinoceros statue with the words, “This is not a Hippo. This is a rhinoceros.”
I haven’t read this one yet to my son. I have a feeling that the quirk factor is going to be too high for him, though I’m guessing he will get a kick out of the toilet.
There is a bit of back matter: portraits of Nellie and Sally Hewitt and a few lines about their decision to start a museum of interesting objects. Kalman also notes that “Everything around you is designed” and asks readers, “If you were starting a museum, what would you put in your collection?” She then suggests that readers send their ideas to Florence Plum at the Cooper-Hewitt. I love this idea for a class project: each person selects an object to put into a museum and creates something to share their object and explain their choice.
This book passed my nonfiction picture book test with flying colors. My test is pretty simple: did it make me want to learn more? If so, it’s a good nonfiction picture book. And this book sent me straight to the web to learn more about Kalman, this book, and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.
It’s hard to take photos of books when cats are stepping on them.