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Book Review: M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet by Mike Ulmer, Illustrated by Melanie Rose

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The alphabet book has nearly become a genre of its own within the world of children’s literature. With every child’s bookshelf containing one or two alphabet books that proclaim, “A is for Apple, B is for Banana” or alternately, “A is for Ant, B is for Bear,” it’s easy to see how the elegant and informative alphabet titles from Sleeping Bear Press are redefining the genre.

M is for Maple: A Canadian Alphabet by Mike Ulmer is quickly becoming the quintessential Canadian version of the alphabet book. Illustrated in rich, glowing oils by accomplished artist Melanie Rose, and covering a broad range of topics that are woven deeply throughout the culture of Canada, this beautiful book is both appealing and useful in a wide variety of age groups and settings.

Each letter of the alphabet is introduced through rhyming text that draws out one symbol, historical personage, location, people group, sport, and so on, that helps to capture the spirit of Canada as a whole.

So instead of a simple, “A is for Anne,” readers are treated to:

“A is for Anne – that’s Anne with an E
a red headed orphan who loved Avonlea.

The Cuthberts had thought they were adopting a boy,
But that red headed girl would be their pride and their joy.”

Informative sidebar text that digs into the presented subject matter provides background information, facts, and trivia – leaving readers ‘in the know’ about important Canadian topics. Adding to the educational element, Sleeping Bear Press also has a free downloadable teaching guide available for grades 2 – 6, helping teachers dig deeper into the presented materials with their students. Literature, geography, social studies, research, writing, and history extensions are provided to accompany each letter and topic as it appears in M is for Maple.

Depending upon the age of the audience, this versatile work can be read several ways. Preschoolers will enjoy the rhyming text and vibrant illustrations that appear in either two-page spreads or on single pages – it is even available in a board-book edition for the tiniest Canada lovers. Early elementary students can dig into the informative sidebars as well, and children who are familiar with basic mapping, reading, and writing skills can delve into a fuller unit-based study of Canada with the book and teaching guide serving as a spine.

Far from being limited in interest to children – the handsome hardcover makes an irresistible coffee table book – relatives have nabbed our copy whenever we visit with it on hand. My twenty-something sister exclaimed in delight over, “B is for Banting, B is for Best,” and my seventy-something grandmother has poured over it several times.

It was her eagle eyes that happened to catch two small errors in the factual text that could have easily been caught by a good fact checker. Downtown Winnipeg is well known for having the windiest corner in Canada, but not the coldest and Cape Breton Island is part of Nova Scotia, not New Brunswick. Thanks Grandma. Other than these two counts, the remainder of the information presented seems sound.

In only 26 letters, Ulmer’s introduction to the alphabet and Canada covers a large territory both geographically and in the number of foundational ‘pegs’ for children to hang additional knowledge on as they grow. From coast to coast to coast, from city to field, from past to present, the broad selection of topics join together to form a tapestry familiar to all who know and love Canada. Whether in the library, schoolroom, or home, M is for Maple is sure to hold onto its status as a classic in Canadiana for children for years to come.

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About Jennifer Bogart

  • Just a quick update, the errors mentioned in the review have been corrected in the current edition.