Children’s Book Review: “Pre-K Alphafriends Big Book” by Houghton Mifflin (2006)

This book is part of a much larger Pre-K curriculum, so a single piece in a much larger machine which I have yet to see isn’t much to go on. However, my impression from this one book is that Houghton Mifflin moved too quickly in pushing out this Alphafriends Letters and Language Kit, because much of the writing is pure nonsense. The concept of animals shaped as letters is great; the idea of giving each a tiny story is nice; but concepts and ideas are what you bring to the brainstorming table to flesh out, not what you throw into a book on day one!

The text in this Big Book is acceptable at some points, ridiculous at others, and purely groan-worthy at still others, and we can’t excuse the poor writing by claiming that “it’s for children.” Children aren’t naturally idiots, but they can be trained to become such, which appears to be the goal of Houghton Mifflin with this series. Just listen to some of the lunatic names and phrases they threw into this thing, and ask yourself “Who couldn’t come up with something better, given 3 minutes in a quiet room?”:

“Nyle Noodle eats letter N and number nine” – he’s a noodle eating noodles.

“Queenie Queen is quite quick to buy a Q” – is there really only one ‘q’ noun children could recognize?

“Tiggy Tiger touches, tastes, and talks” – almost acceptable, but why “Tiggy” and why two transitive verbs without objects?

“Umbie Umbrella opens up in the rain” – UMBIE!?

“Mr. X-Ray shows the x-ray” – No comment.

“Yetta Yo-Yo draws a yellow Y right here!” – This sentence took the writer less than six seconds to develop.

I have a hard time understanding how this garbage made it through the editing process or how Houghton Mifflin can justify the exorbitant price they’ve placed upon it. It’s books such as this that give kindergarten curriculum a bad name, and this is why I’ve been pursuing the creation of my own. For these things, at least, I’m grateful to Houghton Mifflin: for 1) setting the bar so low and for 2) inspiring me to get back into writing.

Apart from the terrible writing, the illustrations by Darcy Schwarz and Sam Valentino are colorful and creative. Each page offers extra images hidden inside the portraits that also begin with that page’s letter, which allows the teacher to salvage at least some teaching points from an otherwise worthless book.

©2017 E.T.

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