24 April 2009

Alphabet Ahoy!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz wasn't the only book that L. Frank Baum published in 1900. In addition to A New Wonderland, a collection of stories now better known as The Magical Monarch of Mo, he published two alphabet books on the themes of the army and the navy. (Which should have given pause to critics who described Baum as a pacifist with a lifelong resentment of his brief time in military school.)

The Army Alphabet and The Navy Alphabet had four-color pictures by Harry Kennedy. Charles Costello hand-lettered Baum's verses, using two colors and a q that looks like a g. These books are closer in shape and style to Baum's first best-seller with W. W. Denslow, Father Goose, than to the novels that we remember him for.

The color art made Baum's alphabet books prohibitively expensive to reprint until recently, when Applewood Books reissued the naval volume. That firm hasn't tried the army volume, but here's a look at the Oz Enthusiast's copy, scans at nocloo.com, and scans at the University of Florida's library.

I spoke at the Charlestown Navy Yard on Sunday night, and took the opportunity to buy my first copy of The Navy Alphabet. Here's Baum's topical verse for the letter P:

The naughty PIRATE, fierce and bold,
Oft sailed the seas in times of old
To seize our ships, and climb aboard
With marlin-spike and knife and sword.
And then he whacked, and cut and hacked
Until the helpless ship was sacked.
But now no Pirates over-run
Our seas, we've conquered every one.
Finally, the X question, the bane of all alphabet books. What can start with X? In The Navy Alphabet X is for xebec. In the army book, it's xalatin.

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