The Girl's Own Book


BC books, at their simplest, match each letter with a single image. A is an apple; B is a bird. Most books go well beyond that — each letter spawns three words, or a dozen. There may be an image for each word, or a scene that incorporates them all. Verses are invented, perhaps as mnemonics for the toddler, perhaps to amuse the mother or sibling one imagines pointing to the letters, asking what the illustration shows, and hearing the child practice their lessons.

ABCs were often very cheaply printed, and their use by small children ensured the destruction of many of the small pamphlets. The tiny Tragical Death of a Apple-Pye was saved by being bound together with more than a dozen other little books early on.
Even books that were printed by the hundreds or thousands may exist today in only one or two copies. Papa’s Gift owes its survival to never having been used; the two final pages are not cut apart.

The Letter X presents difficulties, first in finding a word that starts with the letter, and then in depicting the unlikely candidate. In The Infant’s Primer, X is represented by Xanthus (the name of several horses in Greek myths).

Another common solution is Xerxes (king of Persia 486–465 BCE), as was done in The New London Alphabet. A number of ingenious work-arounds appear in other volumes, including pages where the artist or poet despaired and simply combined X,Y, and Z.

The large, patriotic, mid-century Mother’s Picture Alphabet addresses the problem directly:
"There are so few words that begin with an X,
To find them would any poor writer perplex;
And so, if you please, as the X for TEN stands,
We'll give you, in rhyme, God's ten solemn commands."


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