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Playful Pigs from A to Z by Anita Lobel

Anita Lobel is a picture book illustrator and author from my childhood. Her illustrations are instantly recognizable to me and immediately evocative of another time and place. Her books were worlds that I got lost in when I was a child. My absolute favorite, Under a Mushroom, published in 1970, is out of print but I still have my copy! Anita Lobel's picture books are often quiet and contemplative, but also almost bursting, at times, with beauty, color and companionship. Her illustrations can be filled to the edge of the page with intricate details and a feeling of contentment. They can also have a singular focus, like a flower, delicately intricate. 

While this post is meant to be a review of Lobel's newest book, Playful Pigs from A to Z, it is also a tribute. Lobel turned 80 last year and has written and illustrated, on her own and with other authors, almost 60 books in the last 50 years, including her memoir, No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War, which was a National Book Award finalist. Born Anita Kempler in Krakow, Poland, Lobel was five years old when WWII began. Lobel, her brother and her nanny were forced to go into hiding for four and a half years before being captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. Rescued by the Swedish Red Cross, Lobel and her brother were reunited with their parents in 1947. They lived in Sweden where Anita, although she knew how to read and write, attended school for the first time at age 13. In 1952, Lobel's parents moved to New York City where Anita graduated from high school went on to earn a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute. It was there that she met her future husband, children's book author and illustrator Arnold Lobel, author of the superlative Frog and Toad books that were also a major part of my childhood. The Lobels wrote and illustrated four picture books together, one of which won the Caldecott Honor Medal.

With Playful Pigs from A to Z Lobel returns to familiar territory - the alphabet. Lobel always brings something wonderful to this concept. If you have never read Alison's Zinnia, it's a must. With what she calls the "girl-verb-flower" pattern inspired by a serendipitous visit to Florida, Lobel takes readers through the alphabet. Alison's Zinnia begins, "Alison acquired an Amaryllis for Beryl. Beryl bought a Begonia for Crystal," and circles back, ending with, "Zena zeroed in on a Zinnia for Alison." 

Playful Pigs from A to Z finds 26 playful pigs who decide it's a fine day to go exploring. Around a bend they find a "field of magical surprises." Lobel uses the name-verb-letter pattern, picking fantastic vocabulary words like "admired," "observed," "serenaded," and "yawned."

Lobel's pigs are dressed in colorful, theatrical costumes and drawn in her signature style. And they are adorable. Also in her signature style, you can find a fruit, vegetable or plant in the corner of each illustration, adding to the alphabetic adventure. If you only buy your child one alphabet book, definitely make it one by Anita Lobel. You will find a book filled with color, characters and creative language that is a guaranteed classic.

Picture books written and illustrated 
by Anita Lobel:

Picture Books Illustrated by Anita Lobel: 
The first two are my favorite fairy tales, probably in part because Lobel brought them to life for me.

Source: Review Copy


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