Take Away the A (2014) and Where’s the Baboon? (2015), both by Michael Escoffier and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (Enchanted Lion Books)

What these books are about

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 1.34.00 PMPlaying with the composition of words to create clever puzzles and new words, these picture books show young readers how much fun one can have with just the alphabet and a good imagination. Each page spread is filled with a scene that includes large type words, cartoon animals and gentle monsters, and settings that are familiar and homey.

In Take Away the A, the alphabet receives a kind of reverse treatment as we watch what happens to a word when a letter is removed from it, in a series unfolding from the removal of “a” from “Apple” through the removal of “z” from the alphabet itself. Each illustration and its accompanying text stands alone, featuring a specific letter’s relevance to a word which, when that letter is removed, becomes a completely different word.

Where’s the Baboon? tells a single story, of a group of boisterous animals preparing for a party. Here each page asks a riddle that can be answered by studying the illustration or reading the highlighted new word contained within the key word of the riddle.

While these are great books for beginning readers, they also can play a role in English language learning settings where a bit of levity might need to be injected into our language’s peculiar spelling rules.

Four Activities for ages 5-8, by Francisca Goldsmith

Young readers who enjoy the letter puzzles and active antics the images in these books also are the also kids who are beginning to move from simple counting to manipulating numbers in arithmetic and even simple algebra. They have plenty of physical energy to put to learning as well. These activities encourage children to explore connections between the different systems we use to communicate ideas.

Activity 1: Letter Arithmetic

Explore the arithmetic process involved in changing the puzzle words in these stories


  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Writing surfaces near a place where each page spread can be viewed by all


With each page, kids convert the puzzle words into positive and negative equations.

Examples: Dice – D = Ice

Ice + D = Dice

Expand to words of their suggestion and share the equations they compose by subtracting one or more letters from other common objects, such as “carpet,” “house,” and “heater”.

Extension: Where the group understands multiplication, include that operation as appropriate.

Example: Apple = a + (p x 2) + l + e

Activity 2: Letters on the Move

Each child in the group chooses (or is given) a letter to represent in this active game of spelling new words.


  • 26 large pieces of cardboard, about 8 ½ x 11, each with one letter of the alphabet filling it


Children stand in a row facing in the same direction. Each child displays his or letter by holding it in front of him or her.

The “Speller” (“It”), a role the kids take turns performing, thinks of a word and says it aloud. It must contain no more than one of any of the 26 letters; that is, the word must contain only unique letters.

Those holding letters that form that word move to face opposite the rest of the row and sort themselves into the correct order so that the signs they hold spell the word. The letters left behind can offer help if one of the spelling letters isn’t sure where to stand to form the word.

The child holding the spelling letter that comes earliest in the alphabet, and has not yet had a chance to be the Speller, becomes the next Speller.

Extension: Where space and energy levels allow, words using the same letter twice can be suggested, with the child holding the letter that appears twice in the word moving back and forth to fill each spot in the row where his or her letter belongs.

Activity 3: Letter Scramble

Create as many words as you can from each of the puzzle words in one of these books.


  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Timer


Each child lists as many words as he or she can make from the word you read aloud, before the 90-second timer you set goes off. Not every letter in the given word need be used in the words extracted from it.

Ask a child who has found at least three words to form from the given word to share his or hers aloud while others cross off that word, if they have it, on their own lists. Ask for words others have spelled from the letters not already shared with the group until everyone has crossed off all the words he or she was able to imagine from the letters of the starter word.

Extension: Each child can use the name of his or her birthday month, or half-birthday month if they happen to have been born in May, June, or July, to use as the starter word and develop a list of words he or she finds within that month name.

Activity 4: Where Would You Hide More Animals?

Elaborate on the pattern in Where’s the Baboon? to create a scene where yet another animal name is the answer to a riddle shown in your illustration.


  • Paper
  • Crayons or markers


After reading the book together and discussing the clues the kids used to locate the answer in each scene, both in the illustration and within the key word, invite kids to add their own original illustrated word riddles using the same techniques.

Display the additional word riddles and illustrations along with the book.