In Prairie ABCs, a companion volume to West Coast ABCs, Asnong takes the upper case letters of the alphabet eastward and distributes them among the three prairie provinces. Each page, with four exceptions (G/H, J/K, Q/R and U/V), deals with a single letter that is featured only in its upper case form. The target letter is accompanied by a brief text that utilizes the letter as the first letter in at least one word in a sentence that also speaks to the contents of that page’s illustration. For example, the text connected to the letter “L” illustration that presents three head of cattle standing in water reads, “Longhorns wade in the lake”. Readers will also find the name of a prairie community that begins with the page’s focal letter printed on the side of the page. For “L”, that community is the border city of “Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan. In order to read this location text, youngsters will have to rotate the book a quarter turn clockwise.
As a book to teach children the letters of the alphabet, Prairie ABCs is only partly successful, principally because of its focus on featuring upper case letters while also employing lower case letters in the sentences. When the upper and lower cases resemble each other, such as with “O” and “o” or “P” and “p”, that’s not a problem, but, with other letters, like “B” and “b” or “D” and “d”, younger children may be challenged. Though the letter “B” appears three times in “Bison roam between birch trees”, it only appears once in its upper case form. With “D”, however, the upper case does not appear at all in the sentence, “Pretend we hear the dinosaurs roar” and can only be found on the page in the associated community name, “Drumheller, Alberta”.
And then there are the four instances of two consecutive letters of the alphabet sharing the same page. Other than, perhaps, to shorten the book’s length, there seems no reason for the author/illustrator to have combined letters. And in three of these situations, the upper case form of the letter never appears in either the illustrating sentence or the community’s name. While it may be a proofreading or printing error, the book virtually omits the last letter of the alphabet, “Z”. There is a “Z” page, and, while it does have the community of “Zealandia, Saskatchewan” on the edge of the page, no “Z” appears elsewhere. The illustration reveals a scarf-wearing reindeer/caribou dashing across a moon-lit snowy field, but there is no text to assist readers in understanding what the “Z” connection is. While most of the sentences employed to utilize the pages letters are full sentences, albeit without closing punctuation, some, such as “T”’s , “Take our tractor through the fields”, can only be considered to be sentences if read in the imperative, and one, “Q/R”’s “Look quickly, it’s a rainbow!”, is a run-on sentence.
In terms of illustration, Asnong ranges from fanciful to realistic in her portrayal of scenes to represent the letters. With “I”, a trio of anthropomorphic mice play pickup hockey on an outdoor rink, but, “O”’s illustration is a realistically rendered portrayal of a quartet of otters swimming in a river. Some scenes can be linked directly to the community named. “P”’s illustration includes a windmill, and, yes, there actually is a windmill in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Some other scenes, however, such as “K”’s “Kittens jump for our kite’s tail” or “N”’s group of sleeping farm animals, with the text, “Now it’s time for a nap”, are really generic and not specifically linked to the Prairies. Overall, illustration-wise, Asnong presents the rural face of the Prairies. The one consistent aspect to Asnong;’s illustrations is that each of the focal upper case letters appears to have been cut out from patterned paper or cloth.
Dave Jenkinson, ’s editor, lives on the Prairies in Winnipeg, Manitoba.