Portuguese speakers don’t say bee, they say abelha, while in Turkish the same insect is an ari, so the title of this unusual picturebook is true. A is for bee – and that’s just the beginning of a curiously mind-tingling journey through 68 world languages in this eyecatching debut.
Inspired by reading in Lithuanian to her son, printmaker Ellen Heck matched each letter of the alphabet with animal names in other languages. From T is for Octopus (or German tintenfisch) to V is for Zebra (or Tamil varikkutirai), expect to be challenged and intrigued as the classic genre is playfully subverted.
Bold scraperboard illustrations evoke memories of traditional woodcuts and provide a strong visual framework for the concept. Each page includes a design reference to the corresponding letter – a device that’s left to readers to discover and enjoy – and saturated single-colour backdrops help individual animals take centre stage.
Full of visual and linguistic drama, A is for BEEwill prompt wonder, curiosity and debate about language, nature and design, and deserves to be widely accessible. Adults and older children will enjoy it every bit as much as younger ones, but it could confuse emerging readers who are just getting used to English phonics, though.
A postscript gives further information about the chosen languages and a QR link is included for those who would like to hear native or fluent speakers pronouncing the words.