The fact that this book was written by four-time World Champion and professional figure skater Kurt Browning will get people to notice it. Remembered for being the first skater to complete a quadruple jump in competition, Browning was the first figure skater to be named as Canada's outstanding male athlete, was honored by "Sports Illustrated" as one of the 50 greatest sports figures from Canada, and is a member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. But I checked out this book because I have enjoyed the previous alphabet books illustrated by Melanie Rose such as "H is for Homerun: A Baseball Alphabet" and "Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet." Consequently, I know what to expect here and that readers will find much more than a simple alphabet book.
Now, the cover gives away what how this book starts, at which point we have Rose's oil painting of skater in mid-jump and a rhyming explanation:
A is for Axel jump,
It's difficult but fun.
What a big day in a skater's life,
when they land their first one.
An extra half turn
makes the Axel the best,
and it's why this jump,
is harder than the rest.
Then in a column of text on the left Browning explains that the Axel jump is named after the Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen who first did the jump in 1882 (while wearing speed skates according to rumor). Browning explains how the jump is done, why it is difficult, and a bit about the history of the jump in skating competitions. If you are a fan of ice skating or do it yourself, then you will be able to guess what words will go with what letters, like "B is for Boot" and "I is for Ice." Others will be a surprise, like "N is for Needs more practice," and what Browning and Rose come up with for "U' and "V" involve looking at the blade on ice skates. Sometimes a letter stands for more than one thing, as when "P is for a 'perfect' Pairs program" and "P is for the Pairs team."
What I really admire about all of these alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press is that youngsters who are into ice-skating can enjoy the books at two different times in their lives. When they are younger they can look at Rose's paintings of an ice skater jumping and the Olympics, and just read the poetic lines accompanying the pretty pictures. Then as they grow older they can come back and read what browning has to say about Jackson Haines, Sonja Henie and other famous skaters who make up the history of the sport and the importance of rotating for changing a casual skate across the ice into figure skating. Even somebody like me, who has been on a pair of skates once in their life with absolutely no success, but who still watches the figure skating during the Winter Olympics every four years, can enjoy this informative and creative look at the sport, letter by letter. Even if we live south of the border from Browning and Rose.