Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

W Is for Wapiti! An Alphabet Songbook

by Christiane Duchesne and Paul Kunigis; Geneviève Côté, illus.

Distinguished Montreal writer, illustrator, and translator Christiane Duchesne collaborates with Juno Award–winning musician Paul Kunigis on this delightful alphabet book with a companion CD of songs performed by Karen Young, Glen Bowser, and a skilled group of instrumentalists. 

Originally conceived as song lyrics, the text is fresh, lively, and free of the stilted patterning that can make alphabet books predictable. Just as the CD presents the letters using a range of musical genres (including rock, pop, world, and folk), the accompanying lyrics vary in length and tone – some have a strong rhythmic beat while others are gentle. Most are written in a child’s voice, noting “my nose is numb” and “I just love to dream,” or asking, “Daddy, oh Daddy / Will you sing me a song?”

Many of the entries encourage speculation and imaginative identification with animals, including the rather unusual, but very Canadian, wapiti and marmot. Others present concepts such as addition, colour-blending, units, and comparative sizes. Young listeners can delight in less familiar words like “oval” and “carapace,” or clever combinations of grouped letters, as in “PQR” for “Papa’s Quiet Rascals” (four sleeping kittens). Sometimes the letter is repeated in a tongue-twister (as when a friendly ghost delivers fruit-filled flans) or puns (such as the names of Mister Ka the Koala’s four children: Armani Ka, Tapio Ka, Mo Ka and Pol Ka).

The presentatoin of letters is never confusing, and the variation in format and tone – as well as the interaction between pictures and words – encourages exploration and discussion. Geneviève Côté’s watercolour illustrations reflect the moods of the text, from hilarious to dreamy. With its imaginative combination of pictures, lyrics, and music, W Is for Wapiti is an appealing alphabet book that is hard to beat.