Condense your city into 26 letters.

Try it, anyhow.

Children's author Kathy-jo Wargin gave that assignment to 29 kids who signed up for "D is for Duluth," a summer program at the Duluth Public Library. With the exception of five letters, the children produced an almost-whole alphabet.

Wargin, the author of "V is for Viking: A Minnesota Alphabet" and three other Great Lakes states' ABC books, visited the library July 20 to teach youngsters how to create one of the alphabets that have made her so successful.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"V is for Viking: A Minnesota Alphabet" by Kathy-jo Wargin, published by Sleeping Bear Press
"V is for Viking: A Minnesota Alphabet" by Kathy-jo Wargin, published by Sleeping Bear Press

In the library's aptly named Green Room, with its grass-green walls and floor, elementary school students perched on lime-green chairs and worked to complete a Duluth alphabet.

Wargin's technique is to take one letter and then assign one quality or item to it — a person, place or thing.

For Duluth, some letters are gimmes — such as A for Aerial Lift Bridge — and others overflow with options — L could be Lake Superior, Lester River, Lakewalk or Leif Erikson Park.

"Z is always the toughest letter in an alphabet book," Wargin tells her audience.

Kathy-jo Wargin helps children create alphabet books using local landmarks on July 20, 2004, at the Duluth Public Library. (Bob King / News Tribune)
Kathy-jo Wargin helps children create alphabet books using local landmarks on July 20, 2004, at the Duluth Public Library. (Bob King / News Tribune)

The Tower native sets her young charges to brainstorming. Names of Duluth landmarks such as Glensheen Mansion, Park Point and Wade Stadium zing across the room.

"Some letters will have six uses," Wargin said.

Others, such as Q or X, have few. As she did in "V is for Viking," Wargin employs a trick to make the difficult letters fit. In "V is for Viking," "X marks the town of Walnut Grove," where author Laura Ingalls Wilder lived on the banks of Plum Creek.

At the library, Wargin writes "X marks the spot where the agates are" into the alphabet she and the audience are crafting.

Children work on their alphabet books during a class with author Kathy-jo Wargin at the Duluth Public Library on July 20, 2004. (Bob King / News Tribune)
Children work on their alphabet books during a class with author Kathy-jo Wargin at the Duluth Public Library on July 20, 2004. (Bob King / News Tribune)

Sydnee Vandell, 9, who will be a fourth-grader at Winterquist Elementary School in Esko, said W was the hardest letter for her. She eventually settled on "W is for walleye," the same identifier Wargin chose for the letter in "V is for Viking."

"K is for Kenwood," a Duluth neighborhood, was what Ellie Rabold, 9, came up with for the alphabet's 11th letter. Rabold, who will be a fourth-grader at St. James School, offered the suggestion after Wargin asked her audience to name Duluth's neighborhoods.

A master list begins to take shape on an easel at the front of the room. Wargin, wielding a sky blue marker, announces it's time to get dirty. She holds up some rough drafts of her books, her self-described "sloppy copy," scrawled on yellow legal paper.

A boy named Zack has set aside his empty juice box to focus on creating an alphabet book during a class with Kathy-jo Wargin at the Duluth Public Library on July 20, 2004. (Bob King / News Tribune)
A boy named Zack has set aside his empty juice box to focus on creating an alphabet book during a class with Kathy-jo Wargin at the Duluth Public Library on July 20, 2004. (Bob King / News Tribune)

"The sloppier the better," Wargin said, encouraging the children to jot down whatever comes to mind.

While her four state alphabet books use statewide themes and symbols, Wargin's newly minted writers have to sharpen their ideas for the city of Duluth.

For instance, F is for Fitger's, the former brewery complex on Lake Superior's shore, and B is for Bulldogs, the University of Minnesota Duluth mascot.

As the list grows longer, Wargin explains that there is no rush to finish their alphabet books.

"It can take me months, and we're trying to do a lot here in two hours," Wargin assures her young audience as they frantically fill their lists. She praises them for formulating a nearly complete group alphabet, even though the meddlesome Q remains unattached.

One girl suggests "Q is for quack-quack" with regard to the ducks that inhabit the city's many lakes and streams.

A child draws what appears to be an apple to include in an alphabet book during a class at the Duluth Public Library on July 20, 2004. Author Kathy-jo Wargin was teaching them how to find local landmarks for their books. (Bob King / News Tribune)
A child draws what appears to be an apple to include in an alphabet book during a class at the Duluth Public Library on July 20, 2004. Author Kathy-jo Wargin was teaching them how to find local landmarks for their books. (Bob King / News Tribune)

"Most of these students came up with very specific ideas," Wargin said later, adding that she was impressed by the children's quick, young minds.

At the start of her presentation, Wargin told them that all books "begin as a story in someone's heart."

Her heartfelt stories have earned critical acclaim, including a Northeastern Minnesota Book Award and a nomination for a Minnesota Book Award for "V is for Viking."

Wargin, 39, lives in Petoskey, Mich., with her husband, Ed, a photographer, and her 9-year-old son Jake. She and her husband have collaborated on two books for grown-ups: "The Great Lakes Cottage Book: The Photography of Ed Wargin & Essays of Kathy-jo Wargin" and "Michigan: The Spirit of the Land."

Jake serves as one of his mother's editors, sort of a first line of defense.

"It's pretty cool," he said, adding that he doesn't have a favorite family book.

Jake doesn't spot flaws so much as make sure that his mother's writing makes sense to her target audience.

"You keep me in line," she said, looking at her tow-headed son.

Duluth-area children work on creating alphabet books using local landmarks under the direction of Kathy-jo Wargin on July 20, 2004. (Bob King / News Tribune)
Duluth-area children work on creating alphabet books using local landmarks under the direction of Kathy-jo Wargin on July 20, 2004. (Bob King / News Tribune)

Wargin said Jake is also a key part in making her career enjoyable.

"The best part is when I see a child get excited about reading or about his or her heritage," she said of her career.

As the library session wrapped up, Wargin coaxes each child to contribute an item for a particular letter.

There were some unintended results.

"I just lost my tooth!" shouted a girl wearing a pink bandanna in her hair when it came to her turn. She studied it and announced, "It's a molar."

Could M be for molar?

Not today.

As for the contentious Z, it was solved early on with Sydnee Vandell's suggestion of "Z is for Lake Superior Zoo."