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Albert B. Cub & Zebra | Anne Rockwell

Updated: Feb 20, 2021

Fondly shortened to "A.B. Cub & Zebra" in our home, this simple, yet striking alphabet book was a nightly staple my mother, sister and I pored over. Each page is devoted to one letter of the alphabet, and shows a scene bustling with words that begin with it. This results in an odd assortment of nonsensical situations and activity, which on me, as a child, left a long-standing impression. This book is in a category of its own, and is something unique beyond the usual seek & find.

First things first, we need to talk about the watercolor. It is my favorite element of the book and Rockwell's style, and what continues to draw me in today. She lets the watery pigment dictate texture, and flow with wild abandon creating highs and lows wherever it may. I love the freeform nature of the diluted paint, filling in flat shapes constrained by her delicate, controlled line work. These scenes have no need for a common light source, or consistency in highlights and shadows. The randomness of the color saturation adds to the strangeness in the air on these pages.

As a family, we used this book like a game, discovering more words, objects, actions, emotions tucked away each time. Only recently did I discover that there is a whole storyline about Albert and Zebra threading all of the pictures together. I never once questioned what this bear was doing in all of these locations, and why a zebra is being pulled away by a rope in the middle of traffic on the first page. I had always noticed a lot of crying in the book (A - "anguish" in a girl sobbing, C - "crying," W - "weeping"), but brushed it off thinking the illustrator must just enjoy drawing tears for whatever reason. I still do wonder about that —there being a story certainly does not answer most of the questions in these scenarios. The story now actually spurs more questions to me than answers, which intrigues me even more.

Rockwell includes a glossary of sorts in the back of the book, listing all of the words she's hidden in each page. A lot of these are more abstract, even esoteric, for children (for example, "arithmetic" for A and "optometrist" for O). This creates some humorous engagement for the adults sharing in the book, and some advance vocabulary lessons for the child!

While Anne authored and illustrated this one, she often worked as a team with her husband Harlow, who also wrote and illustrated children's books of his own. Their daughter, Lizzy Rockwell, now a successful and prolific author/illustrator as well, recalls her parents collaborating in the studio next to their dining room in their home in Old Greenwich, CT. She shares: "At the dinner table, our parents were always talking about current and future books, and often our vacations took us to wonderful places like Block Island and Europe for their inspiration or research. Our home was filled with my parents' fine art. Mom created oil paintings, bronze sculptures, etchings and needlepoint tapestries. My father made found object assemblages, abstract oil paintings and woodcuts." Both Harlow and Lizzy's watercolor and line style blend almost seamlessly with Anne's—evidence that this family of creatives are very much cut from the same cloth.

For more of Lizzy's bio and work, check out here site: . Lizzy has collaborated with her mother on several books. Here is a photo of them together at a book signing for Truck Stop:

I will eventually write about each one of the Rockwells and their books, but for now, here are some more of Anne's books she both authored and illustrated:



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