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Children`s Books
by Don Aker

A bear browsing on berries, deer standing amid daisies and dandelions, kayakers glimpsing Kokanee salmon-such are the images vividly captured in A Mountain Alphabet, Tundra's follow-up publication to its 1992 A Prairie Alphabet. Like its predecessor, A Mountain Alphabet pays pictorial tribute to a region, in this case the mountain ranges of western North America. Each page is a visual treasury of items whose names begin with a particular letter. Andrew Kiss's magnificent illustrations, combined with Margriet Ruurs's alliterative text, offer young readers an opportunity to "experience the thrill of the mountains [the authors] live among and love."

Parents expecting an "A is for Apple" primer should be forewarned: A Mountain Alphabet requires more effort than simple alphabet identification; it demands a willingness to learn about life at high altitudes. Intent on demonstrating the variety in mountain life, Kiss has packed each painting with alpine activities, flora, and fauna for readers to identify, a process few adults-let alone children-will accomplish on first or even third examination. (Fortunately, Ruurs supplies at the end of the book a list of the items illustrated on each page, informing less observant readers-like myself-of those they may have missed.) Also included in each painting is a hidden letter, often a stylized branch or a shadow across a snowfield, emphasizing the depth of the illustrations and the skill of their creator. While this Where's-Waldo? approach often frustrated me, it thoroughly entertained one young reader, who would not close the book until she had located all twenty-six letters.

Although the editors claim that "each painting captures a special mountain mood," it is unfortunate that the authors chose as the backdrop for "V" a helicopter winching rescue personnel toward an injured hiker. While the other scenes are predominantly tranquil in tone, this one in which a "victim ventured too far on the vertical slope" is jarringly discordant and might prove unsettling to young readers-and to parents forced to explain the fate of the hapless victim. In keeping with the authors' desire to have readers experience the thrill of mountains, "V" might have been better served by vivid views of verdant valleys.

While I doubt that blue Porsches are indigenous to provincial park parking lots, and I question whether Jason should wear jewellery while jogging, A Mountain Alphabet is a challenging book that offers spectacular images of one of North America's most beautiful regions. 

Don Aker lives in Middleton, N.S.


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