Letters are a bit like people; they’re different with each other than they are alone. They act different, sound different, and have different facial expressions. But that’s a secret, because when most people learn to read, they only see the alphabet at work: A being Apple and Z being Zoo. It must get boring. But in my favorite alphabet book, Z Goes Home, Jon Agee gives the alphabet a break – and a life.
When a big red Z slides down from his Zoo sign at the end of the day, he meets bizarre alphabet-shaped adventures on his way home. He gets caught in an E-shaped earthquake and lost in a labyrinth, but also gets to jump hurdles with a track team and sunbathe under a palm tree, narrowly missing the quicksand. When we finally follow him home, we see random letters relaxing in the living room, O on the couch and W on a skateboard somebody left in the middle of the floor. On closer look, we see the letters spell out “Zowie!” as Z gets in a good word. Agee provides a humorous glossary of terms at the back.
The best thing about Z Goes Home is what it leaves to the imagination. Aside from the words that correspond to the letters and Z’s announcement at the end, the book is picture-based and largely plotless. It’s a guessing story. Z has no face, but some scenes make you think he might be frowning or admiring himself in the mirror. And how does he get out of the labyrinth, and what is the Xerox machine doing outside? Did the A-shaped alien beam him into those weird situations? Agee lets you decide. If you’ve ever wondered what words get up to when you’re not paying attention, check it out.