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I turned to my wife Amory’s collection of alphabet books200 and counting—to see what authors had chosen for their Q words, the 17th letter of our alphabet.

A beautiful book called Bembo’s Zoo by Brazilian-born artist Robert de Vicq de Cumptich cleverly represented Quail with typography; Ken Wilson-Max did a nice job of depicting Quiet in L is for Loving; and, the Seattle Seahawks ABC board book offered a colorful Quarterback

For this blog, I chose a range of books that included words new to me.

A Zeal of Zebras (2010),  written and illustrated by “a collective of four friends [who call themselves Woop Studios] united by a love of graphic design, words, and images,”  used the unfamiliar (to me) phrase A Quiver of Cobras, and provided three compelling facts: 1) King cobras are the only snakes to build nests; 2. As many as 30-40 baby cobras may be born in a nest; 3. baby cobras produce poisons venom upon birth and are capable of killing.

Margaret Musgrove selected the word Quimbande for her large format book Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (1978). Leo and Diane Dillon were the illustrators. The Quimbande is an African tribe. Musgrove notes that Quimbande children can have as many as twenty-five siblings, owing to the propensity for wealthy men to have a multitude of wives.

After completing an MFA in 2015 at the University of Southern Maine, I have a new love for that state which prompts the inclusion of two Maine Alphabet books. Susan Ramsay Hoguet, author and illustrator of Maine ABC (2013), described a Quahog “whose bottom’s like its top.”The ABCs of Maine by Harry W. Smith pictures a Quoddy pilot fishing boat used in the Lubec area, a tiny town under 1500. The town’s formerly robust fishing industry has diminished. Lubec’s claim to geographic fame is that it is the most eastern town in the United States.

I remember a few words from high school Latin, enough to attract me to a small, quirky book called An Abecedarium by Lee Hendrix and Thea Vignau-Wilberg.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines Abecedarium as

The alphabet; esp. (in early use) the Roman alphabet as opposed to the Greek; (in later use) an alphabet belonging to an ancient writing system.

An Abecedarium, published in 1997 by the J. Paul Getty Museum, uses illustrations—illuminations as they’re called—commissioned by Rudolf II in the 16th century. The purpose of the illustrations was to link the alphabet to the word of God, and beyond that to “His representative on earth,” i.e. Rudolf.  The Q stands for the Latin “Quis deus magnus ut Deus?”—”Who is the great God like our God?”However strange that may seem to some of us, the illuminations are detailed and beautiful.

In McGillicutty’s Hat: a spiritual memory book or a prayerful ABC,  the author uses the word quintessential: “The walk was an easy six-block after-school jaunt from the school to Burgess Soda Fountain, a quintessential 50s hangout.” One of the OED’s definitions goes like this

Of utmost importance; necessary, essential, indispensable

Quintessential is not a new word to me or to the author, but it is of utmost importance, necessary, and essential that I include it, and in fact, conclude with it. After all, the author is Amory Peck, my wife.