Animal Flash Cards by Eric Carle is absolutely fabulous. I just love everything about it, I'm unsure where to begin. Simply, it's a set of 26 flash cards, presented in a hinged box, with one card for each letter of the alphabet. One side has a beautifully illustrated animal with the name of that animal printed underneath in lowercase letters. The reverse side of the card is completely painted in matching colours and in plain white has the upper and lower case letters presented in a cut out style. The card is nice and thick and would require some amount of purpose to damage. So long as you're not raising the Tasmanian Devil these cards should last well through a family.
One of my favourite things about this set is unusual choice of animals for some letters; we get a narwhal, a quetzal, a xolo and a very familiar caterpillar to name a few. The only very small gripe I have is the use of a giraffe for the letter "g". I would much rather see a gorilla since when learning phonics, children learn the hard g of gorilla first and the soft g of giraffe later as an exception. Similarly, you would teach the hard c of cat before the soft c of centipede. But that's just a small detail and I am notoriously pedantic so you could probably just ignore that!
The important thing is that Felix loves these cards. We look at them in a leisurely fashion, with no agenda. I'm not trying to teach him to read but we talk about the animals, their noises, where they live etc. and when he shows interest, we talk about the letters. We look at the letter, I help him trace the shape of the letter with his fingers while pronouncing it and we talk about other words that begin with that letter. And by we, I obviously mean me. Basically I prattle on and he lets me know I've prattled on for long enough by taking the card, putting it back in the box and choosing another one for me to prattle on about.
Speaking of the box, that is another great part of this set. The gorgeous, sturdy, hinged, cardboard box to store the cards in. I bought this set with the intention of hanging the cards on the wall. It turns out that they are far too valuable to be relegated to a life of dangling off a wall, collecting dust. These cards are one of those child high value items that, conversely to adult high value items, gets loved to within an inch of its life. Cara has been chased with "X for xolo", "H for horse" has been clip clopped on by the Schleich Clydesdale and "J for Jellyfish" has been rescued from the bath just before the taps got turned on.
And that is truly the sign of a successful children's "book". Without even trying, Felix is learning. "D for Duck" gets the excited, ear piercing reception of "dogdogdogdog". Yes, D is for duck, but it is also for dog, and to accidentally learn that at 21 months, just because you're having fun, is fantastic.