July 17, 2008


Dr. Seuss Beginner Concepts Cards: Colors & Shapes. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $10.99.

Dr. Seuss Beginner Alphabet Cards. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $10.99.

Fancy Nancy’s Favorite Fancy Words: From Accessories to Zany. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins. $12.99.

      It is hard to realize that Theodor Seuss Geisel has been gone for 18 years. His books have never disappeared, and they keep showing up in new editions, new forms, and new shapes. One of the happiest is a new card shape – because Dr. Seuss was such a marvelous teacher, even when he did not overtly intend to be. His great rhymes taught kids word sounds; his amusing comments on make-believe creatures’ foibles taught kids tolerance, understanding and the importance of equality; his nonsense words taught kids the delights of language and word play. And now he is teaching the youngest children about colors, shapes and the alphabet, thanks to a couple of wonderful flip-top boxes containing cards that use Seussian illustrations to demonstrate basic concepts of language. Colors & Shapes includes a dozen large cards – about four-by-six inches apiece – with a color on one side of each and a shape on the other. The color blue goes with a blue-shelled turtle from Yertle the Turtle, for example, while the color red goes with a fish from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Shapes such as circle, square and star are also shown with amusing Seuss illustrations. There are a dozen “playing” cards (really “learning” cards), and a set of helpful instructions for parents on how to use them – for example, by engaging several of a child’s senses to help speed learning and retention. Everything is packed in a tough cardboard box with neatly concealed magnetic closure. This will be a real treat for young learners.

      So will the Dr. Seuss Beginner Alphabet Cards, which come in a similar box but more closely approximate the size of a standard deck of cards. There are 26 of them (of course!), again with useful instructions for parents, with each letter associated with something Seussian. “C” is, of course, for cat, as in the Cat in the Hat, but there are plenty of less-obvious Seuss drawings to enliven alphabet learning and practice. The cards can also be used to build small words, helping young children start to understand how letters are combined and what happens to their sounds and meanings when that occurs.

      One thing that happens is that the words get fancy. Or at least they do when Fancy Nancy is involved. Her alphabet book, for ages 4-7, is right in line with her character and is packed with words and comments that reflect her view of life as something to accessorize. B, for example, is for “Boa – a long scarf of feathers. Boas are very glamorous, but they itch!” Some of the word choices here are exceptionally clever, reflecting the way Jane O’Connor handles her books of Nancy’s adventures. For example, I is for “Improvise – to use whatever is handy in order to make something.” What Nancy has made is an “elegant” canopy bed, using a sheet, mop and broom – the whole thing endearingly portrayed by Robin Preiss Glasser in her usual just-right style. Whether on an Excursion in a pink convertible or being Joyous about Christmas in an outfit that includes a wig that looks like a fully decorated Christmas tree, Fancy Nancy is thoroughly overdone in a most endearing way – not a teacher for just anyone, perhaps, but if you have a child who will learn well from this classy lassy, you’ll know it.

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