April 1, 2011

X Marks the Spot

        One of my all-time favorite poems comes from A Moral Alphabet by Hilaire Belloc (1899). (It's illustrated with line drawings, not block prints, alas!)  It is the verse for the letter X:

     No reasonable little Child expects
     A Grown-Up Man to make a rhyme on X.
     These verses teach a clever child to find
     Excuse for doing all that he's inclined.

        Well, Belloc very cleverly weaseled out of having to find a word to represent X, but most compilers of alphabets can't get away with that.  So let's see what my eight alphabet books illustrated with block prints managed to come up with.

        I'm going to start with the cheaters!  In A Farmer's Alphabet, Mary Azarian uses "aX."  Admittedly, in an alphabet intended for use in school rooms to illustrate the sounds of the letters, as this alphabet is, it does make sense to choose a word in which the X actually makes its characteristic sound.  Still, I always feel that's a bit of a cop-out.  (Azarian chooses "xeriscape" in her Gardener's Alphabet, which is much more sporting.)  Betsy Bowen goes with "eXplore" in Antler, Bear, Canoe, while David Frampton cheats in a different way in My Beastie Book of ABC, by simply making up a word for X: "xog."
        In his ABC Book C.B. Falls uses "xiphius," a scientific name for swordfish.  (I don't really like this particular print, though.)  For my botanical alphabet I used scientific names, too -  X is "xanthium strumarium", the scientific name for cocklebur.  I used scientific names for several plants because many of those names are in common use among gardeners, but when I was
putting together my alphabet of animals I didn't want to use scientific names because they simply aren't commonly familiar.  So after a fair bit of research I discovered "xenops", and I was pretty proud of myself, too.  Then I found Christopher Wormell's Alphabet of Animals, and saw that he used "xenops," too.  In fact, he used "xenops" for both his animal alphabet books, the only animal he had to use twice.  There really aren't a lot of X options… but of course that's the fun of X, isn't it!

          To see the list of alphabet books in question, go to my post The ABC's of Block Printing.
       For variety, in this post I'll link the author/artists' web sites:
David Frampton - no web site.  Sorry!
        But here's my post on his work.
Anne Nydam (of course!)

[Pictures:  Xenops, rubber block print by AEGN, from Amazing, Beguiling, Curious, 2010;
     Ax, wood block print by Mary Azarian, from A Farmer's Alphabet, 1981;
     Xeriscape, wood block print with watercolor by Mary Azarian, from A Gardener's Alphabet, 2000;
     Explore, wood block print with watercolor by Betsy Bowen, from Antler, Bear, Canoe, 1991;
     Xiphius, wood block print with multiple blocks by C.B. Falls, from ABC Book, 1923;
     Xanthium strumarium, rubber block print from Botanical Alphabet Poster by AEGN, 2007;
     Xenops, linoleum block print with multiple blocks by Christopher Wormell, from A New Alphabet of Animals, 2002;
     Xog, wood block print with multiple blocks by David Frampton, from My Beastie Book of ABC, 2002.]


Anonymous said...

I love the smooth get-out from David Frampton....the Xog! LOL!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

The funny thing about X words is that they almost all sound like made-up nonsense! I mean "xiphius?" That can't be real. ;)