Ox, House, Stick: History of Our Alphabet
Product Code: 16090
Binding Information: Hardback
Ages: 8 - 11
Grade Highest: 6th
Grade Lowest: 3rd
Availability: Out of stock Backorder policy.
Bold collage illustrations and clear prose trace the origins of our familiar letters. From the proto-Sinaitic peoples, through the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, this book follows the development of the Roman alphabet.
Includes sidebar information on punctuation, writing materials, the technology of printing, and more.
A Gift from Ancient Times
For more information about the alphabet, visit these websites:
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Kirkus Reviews - June 15, 2007What could be simpler than ABC? Lots: A surprisingly complicated subject receives a treatment equally playful and explanatory, allowing readers to appreciate the journey our English alphabet has traveled from its inception in Egypt some 4,000 years ago. From A to Z, each letter is traced from the Sinai to Phoenicia, Greece and Rome, morphing from near pictograms to the abstract symbols we know today. The design incorporates representational illustrations, icons and sidebars to break this labyrinthine process down, allowing readers to see how a picture of an ox (aleph) was variously turned, flattened and extended to become an "A." Robb's narrative properly allows room for scholarly disagreement about letter development - does "D" come from a picture of a Phoenician door? Or is it a fish head? - without becoming too bogged down in detail; it also includes plenty of sidebars of relevant information to leaven what could be a very dry discussion with useful, fun facts. A brief discussion of other writing systems, a time line and additional resources for both kids and adults round out this pleasingly informative offering.
School Library Journal, starred review - August 1, 2007"Ox," "house," and "stick" stood for A, B, and C in the first alphabet. In this nicely illustrated overview, Robb traces the history of each letter from its origin to its modern appearance in the Roman alphabet. He explains the birth of writing in pictogram form and the eventual transition to written symbols that stand for sounds. With complementary explanation, each letter is displayed in its Sinaitic, Phoenician, early Greek, classical Greek, and Roman incarnations. The author details the relationships among different letters and summarizes such topics as alphabetical order, pronunciation differences around the world, the Greek boustrophedon style, Roman spacing conventions, the beginnings of punctuation, writing surfaces, font styles, and the invention of the printing press. A closing chart summarizes the presumed source of each letter with its date of first use and probable meaning. Robb is careful to note that linguistic research is still being conducted and that the information presented contains "both things that are fairly certain and things that are still under investigation." Smith's whimsical paintings are a fitting companion to Robb's lighthearted text. This quality work fills a significant gap in children's information literature. It should find a home in all collections.
Booklist - August 1, 2007Robb's picture-book survey offers a fascinating look at the Roman alphabet, from its ancient origins to today. The approach is concise but comprehensive. Opening pages explore how and why written language developed in the first place: "Spoken language doesn't let you keep a record of what was said, and it doesn't let you talk to people who are far away." Robb also covers how early civilizations moved from picture symbols to the concept of letters and the history of specific letters, with text insets addressing related topics, such as the first writing materials. The open layouts feature appealing stylized graphics that ably reinforce the text, including a map that demonstrates the spread of written language around the Mediterranean. Best suited for kids who have a handle on language concepts such as consonants and vowels, this will find a home in both social studies and language-arts units. The appended resources include both children and adults. Pair this with Tiphanie Samoyault's Alphabetical Order (1998),
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books - September 1, 2007What a tormented alphabet we have: letters have, over their lifetime, been stretched, truncated, inverted, pilfered, abandoned, and readpoted; Sinaitic people, Phoenicians, early and classical Greeks, and Romans all claim paternity; it can't even identify a birth date, having origins from 1500 B.C. to seventeenth century C.E. It does make fascinating reading, though, as Robb's brief introduction on pictograms, phonetic symbols, and ancient Mediterranean culture segues into focused encounters with individual and groups of related letters that no form our Roman alphabet. Each double-page spread presents the object the letter is thought to originally represent, the way the shape of hte letter morphed over hte centuries, and the way its pronunciation was adpated by various cultures. There's a wealth of detail here, and readers will be forgiven if their memories can't quite sort the finer points of aleph and zed by book's end. Robb keeps tight control on the floodgates of data, though, by interjecting generous sidebars on bigger picture issues such as the pesky relationship between vowels and consonants that share the same letter, various options for ordering words on a page (boustrophedon -- backward and forward "as the ox plows" -- looks like a class project waiting to happen), and the fact there's no compelling reason why the ABCs ended up n the order they did. Smith's cheerful gouache paintings include some perfunctory scenes and artifacts from the ancient world, but they perform their most valuable service in clearly demonstrating the mutations of the letters themselves. A closing chart summaries some of the data included in the text, and a list of resources including children's books and websites make this as useful for report writers as it will be entertaining for recreational readeres who revel in Did you know?s.
The Horn Book - November 1, 2007Our alphabet has evolved over four thousand years, with one culture after another borrowing and reshaping symbols to their needs. Robb traces the transformations of each letter through their Sinaitic, Phoenician, early and classical Greek, and Roman forms, grouping those (like C and G) who histories were intertwined and tucking in lots of other fascinating lore. The Romans used V instead of U because it's easier to carve in stone (our usage of both letters dates only to the 1700s); they invented serifs for neatness in the same medium. The Phoenician forerunner of H was a consonant, but the Greeks used it, later, as a vowel. The Romans referred to letters as elements (elementa), possibly from the "L-M-N sequence." Pleasantly open spreads accommodate basic information in a Roman face, ancillary information in sans serif, plus an abundance of illustrative details-letters in their various forms, objects that inspired them (see title), artifacts, and details of ancient settings. An excellent first resource, skillfully organized to introduce the subject and inspire interest. A summary chart of letter origins and a list of resources (websites plus books for children and for adults) are appended.
Library Media Connection - November 1, 2007The modern day alphabet has had quite a long journey over the last 4,000 years. But during that time, it has changed as different groups such as the Sinaitic, Greek, and Romans used it, but eventually it transformed into the ABCs we are familiar with today. The book starts off with a simple breakdown of the history of the alphabet and then each letter is covered--where it started from and how it morphed into its current form. Besides the text, each letter also shows the visual form that each group used when writing. The book ends with a chart of the entire alphabet, books for students, and Web sites for further information. The illustrations that accompany each entry are well done and help to accentuate the test. Recommended
School Library Journal Curriculum Connections - April 1, 2008Our everyday ABCs are presented in a whole new light as the author examines the genesis of the written word and traces the history of each letter. An eye-catching layout features softly-colored pages, lots of white space, and quirky, informative drawings.
Rainbo Electronic Reviews - September 1, 2007Stand-up comic Steven Wright tells one of my favorite jokes: "Why is the alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song?" This book talks about the origins of alphabets<&mdash>the Romans, the Greeks, and more. It's a fascinating topic presented in a very palatable way for 4-6th grade children.
Kutztown University Spring Book Review - April 15, 2008This book contains information about the alphabet that English-speaking people use. It covers details about forms of communication, explanations as to why and how different alphabets were created, a look at each letter's creation and development over time, and most everything imaginable that is connected to the creation of the English alphabet. The colorful Anne Smith collage illustrations that are included in this book depict what Don Robb's text describes. This book ends with a summarized chart of each letter's probable source, approximate first use, and possible meanings. It also ends with additional resources for children and adults.
Bureau County Republican - April 10, 2008The book Ox, House, Stick offers much more than a list of letters and shapes. A wealth of intriguing facts and anecdotes are presented in brief, accessible paragraphs. In addition to the alphabet itself, the text includes tidbits about tools and writing materials, writing from clay tablets to the printing press, and even the Olympics. The well balanced page layout is equally inviting to browsers and to those who read straight through from A to Z. Along with clear drawings of the various changes that letters underwent, generous illustrations of exotic scenes and ancient artifacts enliven the pages. The alphabet's letters (which the author, in a delightful pun, calls the "cast of characters") have never been more fun!
The Bloomsbury Review - January 15, 2009Children who have established the habit of reading may find additional reasons to enjoy the language with this exploration of the origins of the alphabet. In an A-Z format, the alphabet is introduced as a gateway to history. Each entry is tied to an ancient culture and the written character from which the modern equivilent evolved. "A" came from aleph, the ancient Semitic word for ox, for example. The entries are written as short narratives, providing storylike chapters as they explain origins and introduce the concepts behind written languages. Associated material includes explanations of pronunciation, personal communication, type styles, and cultural exchange, providing a well-rounded perspective to the material.
The National Center for the Study of Children's Literature - January 26, 2009This intriguing and lively history of language and alphabets starts with Sumerian pictograms and takes the reader on a journey with "Caravans, commerce, and conquest," to explain the spread of what turned into the Roman system of writing. Facts include that the Semitic name for "Ox," "aleph," became "A," that we really have no way of knowing how these sounds were pronounced, and that the Greeks were the first to use "letter names that had no other meaning." The order of letters in the alphabet hasn't changed much "since Phoenician times," but vowels in some languages are consonants in others. English has 26 letters but over 40 sounds--no wonder second-lanuage learners struggle with English! The very will laid-out pages include lots of illustrations and inset information in pleasing colors, printing technology from Gutenburg to contemporary automated presses is discussed, and additional resources are listed at the book's end. In addition to an alphabet history, there's a lot of geography here too, making this an instructive as well as enjoyable read.