Ox, House, Stick book cover image

Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet

  • 795

By: Don Robb / Illustrated by: Anne Smith

A is for Ox?

Can you read these words? You have the ancient Sinaitic people to thank—and your reading teacher. Our modern alphabet got its start about four thousand years ago in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. But the story isn’t that simple. Through commerce and conquest, the alphabet grew and changed over thousands of years. Some letters flipped upsidedown. Some became rounder, while others got pointier. One letter was even kicked out of the alphabet—but then was let back in. Don Robb explains in clear, concise written language with letters that we all recognize (and a few we don’t) how our alphabet came into being. Letter by letter, young readers can trace the origins of the alphabet from its Sinaitic, Phoenician, Greek, and Roman beginnings. Bold, expressive collages illustrate the unique evolution of the alphabet and humankind’s need to communicate news and stories in writing.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Don Robb, author

Don Robb is the author of This Is America and Hail to the Chief: The American Presidency. He lives in Andover, Massachusetts.

Read more about Don Robb.

Anne Smith, illustrator

Anne Smith is a graphic artist and illustrator. This is her first book for children. She lives in England.

Awards & Honors:

  • A Junior Library Guild Selection, Premier Selection
  • Children's Book of the Month Club, Alternate Selection
  • Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Book
  • NCTE Orbis Pictus Award, shortlist
  • The White Ravens (International Youth Library)

Editorial Reviews:

The Horn Book Magazine

Our 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) whose 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 titles), 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 adults) are appended. -J.R.L.


ISBN: 978-1-57091-610-6

ISBN: 978-1-57091-609-0

E-book PDF
ISBN: 978-1-60734-049-2
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 8-11
Page count: 48
8 1/2 x 11

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