Many Languages, Many Alphabets


When we think of alphabets, we tend to think of the ABC’s-but there are many different alphabets used around the world. There are dozens of alphabets today based on each letter representing a single sound that are the building blocks of the written language. The following alphabet books literally expand the world of writing symbols and are especially important for children who are learning two languages to speak and write in. But no matter what your child’s first language may be, these books will intrigue your family and add a multicultural dimension to your home or school library. And if you want wooden alphabet blocks in a variety of languages, check out A World of Alphabet Blocks.


arabicMy First Arabic Alphabet Book by Siddiqa Juma
This beautiful little Arabic alphabet book is everything a successful picture book for young children should be: clear, inviting pictures, large print that encourages little fingers to trace, and sturdy board book construction. Because Arabic writing is read right-to-left, the book is bound intentionally to accommodate babies learning to turn pages authentically for the Arabic language.


russianAzbooka – Russian ABCs – in Russian language by E. Ponomareva
Russian children and their friends and classmates will appreciate the chance to see the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet displayed on each page. Russian words that begin each letter sound grace each page. Kids appreciate the bold primary colors and familiar images alongside a different set of symbols.


just-in-caseJust In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales
Grandma Beetle is having a birthday party. What should Senor Calvera bring? With help from a ghostly guide, Senor Calvera chooses from an array of items, trying to decide what Grandma Beetle would love the most. This amusing and original alphabet tale celebrates The Day of the Dead, with Senor Calvera one of the skeleton party guests. There is whimsy and enchantment galore along with pictures that invite repeated readings.


hebrewAlef-Bet: A Hebrew Alphabet Bookby Michelle Edwards
The oil-pastel illustrations are the highlight of this Hebrew alphabet book. Readers see the letters of the alphabet, words beginning with each, and their English translations, all in the context of the activities of a creative, busy, and loving family. Bathtub splashing, pillow flights, and different seasonal activities encourage young readers to make connections between their daily experiences and the family in the picture book.


Not all written languages are based on an alphabet system; some are based on symbols representing words as the building blocks. Picture books that feature logographic scripts like Chinese or Korean delight dual language learners celebrating their home language, as well as native English speakers who are fascinated by the brush strokes that represent whole words. The following books are just a beginning taste-we’re sure you’ll be hungry for more!


at-the-beachAt the Beach by Huy Voun Lee
As Xiao Ming walks along the beach with his mother, she teaches him several Chinese characters and explains how they show what they represent. Readers learn along with Xiao Ming in this first of a series of books that teach different Chinese symbols and explain their derivation. Equally fine are Lee’s other books In the Park and In the Snow. (Note: Mandarin pronunciations guides are also provided. Cantonese speakers will recognize the characters, but pronounce each differently than the text guides.)


waiting-for-mamaWaiting for Mama by Tae-Joon Lee, illustrated by Dong-Sung Kim
This simple story is such a universal tale-a little boy is waiting for his mother. He tries to wait patiently, but keeps asking for her as the sun begins to go down and she still has not arrived. This picture book is special for its setting in Korea at a train station and was originally published in a newspaper in 1938. The pastel and ink illustrations go beautifully with the sweet story; I especially love the last page of the mother and child walking hand-in-hand through a snow-covered village. The Korean text is also translated into English, making the book accessible to a wide audience.


yoonMy Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Yoon is the narrator of this story of a young Koran immigrant. Yoon’s name means Shining Wisdom, and when she writes it in Korean, it looks happy, “like dancing figures.” Her father teachers her to write Yoon in English, and she is not pleased with the way the writing looks on the page, even though her father stresses it still means “shining wisdom.” Though there is little Korean writing in the text, the book does a good job of exploring Yoon’s mixed emotions about the differences emotionally in writing in two different languages.


magic-pocketThe Magic Pocket. by Michio Mado, illustrated by Mitsumasa Anno. Translated by the Empress Michiko of Japan. English and Japanese.
This lovely book filled with bright pictures, is sparely presented, yet compelling. Simple images convey childhood experiences such as breaking a cookie in your pocket, walking under an umbrella, or listening to the sounds of musical instruments. Both the original Japanese and the English translations are included.



3 Responses to Many Languages, Many Alphabets

  1. simonsterg says:

    That’s an Anno book I hadn’t come across – must check it out!

  2. simonsterg says:

    Oh, and I love Yuyi Morales books too – I know her “Just a Minute”, which features Señor Calavera like “Just in Case”.

  3. […] the Beach by Huy Voun Lee (For our review of this book, see Many Languages, Many Alphabets […]

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