Saturday, November 19, 2022

Still Life with Robin: Art, Animals, Alphabets, And Another Thing....

 by Peggy Robin

I'm delighted by the news that there will soon be animal banners showing endangered species hanging on lamp posts on Connecticut Avenue north and south of the Zoo's entrance. (See Message   "New street art project will bring endangered animals to northwest DC.") What an artistic, informative, and colorful project! Thanks to Cleveland Park Main Street, Woodley Park Main Street and Capitol Hill Arts Workshop for bringing the animals to us.

That message referred to another animal art project that I like even better. It's the Animal Alphabet, already on display on appropriately lettered street signposts around the Capitol Hill Neighborhood. More about that project and the featured animals at

For some reason I've always loved picture books that pick one thing for each letter of the alphabet. When my children (now full grown) were toddlers, one of their favorite books was an animal alphabet book -- one of my favorites as well! -- and one of their favorite videos was The Animal Alphabet song. Give it a listen:  

The animal alphabet project in Capitol Hill brings back those fond memories -- along with this one little nagging irritant that I would like to take this opportunity to address. Two of the letters in the animal alphabet song are mistakes: the U and the X. In the song, U is for Unicorn. That's not even a real animal! It just doesn't belong! And for the X, it's X is for oX. That's even worse. At least the fake animal actually starts with the letter in question. Ox, as even a 3-year-old child will tell you, starts with an O. The X-animal needs to start with X. There's no need to confuse young children, when there are, in fact, perfectly serviceable animals that start with U and with X.

Here's what I would pick instead: 

U is for Umbrellabird, a large, tropical bird found in the rainforests of Central and South America. It has a distinctive, curved crest on the top of its head, shaped a bit like an umbrella, hence the name. More info and video at  More facts and figures:

 Xerus in South Africa
Image from ActiveWild
X is for Xerus, also called the African striped ground squirrel.  It's a cute little rodent commonly found in woodlands, deserts, or grasslands throughout Africa. See for photos, facts and figures. To hear how it's pronounced in English, go to:

[Note to readers: If you think it's odd that I've been nursing this trivial complaint against The Animal Alphabet Song for all these many years, yes, you're right. I have no defense. Just glad to get it off my chest!]

I haven't gone (yet) to check out the animals chosen for the Animal Alphabet on the street signs of Capitol Hill, but if anyone ever wishes to consult me about the best animals to use in an Animal Alphabet anywhere else, here's my complete list of best choices per letter:

A  Alligator, Aardvark, Ant
B  Bear, Beaver, Bat
C  Cat, Cheetah
D  Deer, Dog, Donkey
E  Elephant, Eagle
F  Fish, Fox
G  Giraffe, Goat, Gazelle
H  Horse, Hippopotamus
I  Iguana, Impala
J  Jaguar
K Kangaroo, Koala
L  Lion, Llama
M  Monkey, Moose, Mouse
N  Newt, Narwhal
O  Ostrich
P  Pig, Parrot, Penguin
Q  Quail, Quetzal
R  Rhinoceros, Rabbit, Rat
S  Seal, Sheep, Salamander
T  Tiger, Turkey
U  Umbrellabird (see note, above, about this animal)
V  Vulture
W  Whale
X  Xerus (see note, above, about this animal)
Y  Yak
Z  Zebra
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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