A is for Ox

Title: A is van Os
English: A is for Ox

Text by Bette Westera
Concept & illustration by Autobahn
Dutch, Hardcover, 80pp, age 3-12
Gottmer, June 2018.


Rights sold: French, Simplified Chinese

World English rights available.

A is for Ox
Where do our letters come from?

Anyone who can read knows the 26 letters of our alphabet. But where do those letters come from? How long do they exist? And who designed them? Autobahn and Bette Westera take you back to the time of our distant ancestors, who made a drawing if they wanted to ‘write’ something. Slowly but surely, their drawings changed into the first letters. If you look closely, you can recognize our current alphabet.
And guess what? A is not for Apple at all, but for Ox! After reading this book you will understand how this came to be. You will also understand why, whenever we send each other emoji’s, we actually do the same as our distant ancestors over 5000 years ago. An educational and special letter book for all ages!


A. Back in time
Our letters - p. 9
From drawings to letters - p. 12
With a caravan through the desert - p. 14
How it went on - p. 20

B. All letters in a row
The alphabet from A to Z - p. 24
These weren't all letters, were they? - p. 62

C. Letters aren't everything, either
What does this say? - p. 70
The Story Continues - p. 74
Get started yourself - p. 76

About the authors - p. 79


  • A is van Os has earned Type Directors Club award for typographic excellence and is traveling in exhibitions to Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, France, USA, Australia etc.
  • The publication is nominated for ADCN Dutch Creativity Award.
  • The publication is also nominated for European Design Award.


  • ‘5 out of 5 stars ’ Volkskrant newspaper
  • ‘A highly original book about the emergence of our alphabet in a tight and inventive design ’ / Trouw newspaper
  • ‘A big ten ’ / The Happy Reader
  • ‘The origin of letters – what a good idea for a children’s book! ’ / NRC newspaper

Volkskrant A is not at all for ‘apple’, but for ‘ox’. Most gymnasians know that. But what about the other eighteen letters that form the basis of our alphabet through Greek and Latin? The D is from ‘door’. The E of ‘Hey, you there!’, The L is a rope to tie the donkey to a post and the M is for ‘water’. Just look, then you’ll see it.

To immediately remove the impression that A is for Ox, from the writer Bette Westera and the graphic agency Autobahn, only exists for prospective scientists: that is not the case. The Autobahn professional lettermakers found an ingenious way to shape the letter evolution from Proto-Sinaitic to Greek and Latin. By dividing each letter into two parts, the one orange and the other colored blue, the development through thousands of years of writing history can easily be traced back.

Once you have seen the little arms of the person who calls ‘Hey you there’, you will always recognize them in the E. And the H is of course a ‘fence’, what could it be otherwise? Westera tells a micro-story of one sentence accompanying each letter. About caravans and deserts, rivers that bring fertile silt, oxen that help to plough the tough clay, pins that help keep a tent upright. Thus each letter represents a case that was of vital importance in ancient times.

There is no big difference, says Westera, between the origin of letters and the pictures people use today to express what they find important during the app. The story of our alphabet has been told and shown more often. But rarely as inspiring as here. Pjotr van Lenteren 24 August 2018, 15:00


Autobahn is a design studio from Utrecht. Owners and designers Maarten Dullemeijer and Rob Stolte have presented commercial and self-initiated projects with exhibitions in China, Spain, Belgium, Peru and the Netherlands. Besides working for clients, the two always develop autonomous projects, such as FreshFonts: fonts made of toothpaste (Heldentica), ketchup (Tomatica) and hair gel (Gelvetica), a typography quiz and a sustainability platform for designers.
Their work has been crowned with six European Design Awards. The initiative for A van Os originated from the ideas of Autobahn: text is image. Text can be both an illustration and an information carrier. The reader can then decide: «Should I read the text or look at the image?» We can not read a text and look at an image at the same time. Autobahn calls this Pleasant Confusion and thus plays in their designs. When the son of Stolte started writing letters at the age of four, the decision was made quickly to make a children’s book. Because everyone who learns to write must know where our letters come from. And that A is not at all from Apple, but for Ox!

Bette Westera writes poems, songs, stories and informative books for children. Doodgewoon (Gottmer, 2014) was awarded the Woutertje Pieterse Prize, the Golden Granger and the Golden Poetry Medal. Other well-known books by Bette are All hands on deck, Hero on socks, Poor Empire (a reading and listening fairy tale) and Was the earth once flat? Together with guitarist Diederik van Essel, Bette gives musical performances with her books.
"Write only about things you understand," Bette says on her website. "Even for a completely self-made story about pirates or cowboys, you need to know something about pirates or cowboys." When Autobahn asked her to write the text for a book about the origins of our alphabet, she put that self-written rule to its heels. I have never done it, so I think I can do it, she decided, entirely in the spirit of Pippi Longstocking. And she started writing about something she knew very little about. Not immediately with success, but fortunately Egyptologist Ben Haring from Leiden University was helping her. She is now a lot wiser!

書名:A is van Os
英文:A is for Ox

作者:Bette Westera





為了將字母的歷史更廣泛地傳達,荷蘭的設計工作室Autobahn聯合金石筆獎得主Bette Westera引領你回到我們遙遠的祖先時代,那時當老祖先要“寫”東西的時候,他們通常用一些圖畫來表達。漸漸地,他們的圖畫變成了最先的字母。原來,A並不來自Apple, 而是Ox!讀了這本書之後你將明白這其中的道理,原因是什麼。任何時候當我們發emoji表情給對方,實際上我們跟5000多年前的祖先正在做一樣的事情。


Bette Westera 為兒童寫詩、歌曲、故事和內容豐富的書籍。 
她的作品Doodgewoon (Gottmer, 2014) 被授予 Woutertje Pieterse 獎、金格蘭傑獎和金詩歌獎章。 Bette 的其他著名書籍有All hands on deck, Hero on Socks, Poor Empire(一個閱讀和聆聽的童話)和Was the earth once flat?。 Bette和她的吉他手Diederik van Essel合作演出了她的作品。 

“只寫你理解的東西,”貝特在她的網站上說。 “即便是一部完全自製的關於海盜或者牛仔的小說,你也應該知道一點關於海盜或者牛仔的事情。” 
當 Autobahn 讓她為一本關於我們字母起源的書寫文字時,她把自己定下的規則拋在腦後。 "我從來沒有做過,所以我想我可以做到," 她決定,完全本著 Pippi Longstocking 的精神。 她開始寫她所不知道的事情。 雖然沒有立刻獲得成功,但是很慶幸,萊頓埃及古物學家 BenHalin為她提供了幫助。 她變得更聰明了! 

Autobahn 是來自烏得勒支的設計工作室。 
該工作室的創始人兼設計師Maarten Dullemeijer 和 Rob Stolte在中國,西班牙,比利時,秘魯以及荷蘭展出了自己的作品。 除了為客戶服務外,兩人還經常開發自主專案,例如 FreshFonts:由牙膏 (Heldentica)、番茄醬 (Tomatica) 和髮膠 (Gelvetica) 製成的字體,這是一個面向設計師的排版測驗和可持續性平臺。 他們的作品獲得了六項歐洲設計大獎。 
A is van Os 的創意源於 Autobahn 的理念:文本即圖像。 文字既可以是插圖,也可以是資訊載體。 然後讀者可以決定:「我應該閱讀文字還是查看圖像? 」事實是我們不能同時閱讀文本和查看圖像。 
Autobahn 稱之為令人愉快的混亂,因此它在他們的設計中發揮了一定的作用。 當Stolte四歲的兒子開始學習寫字時,他很快就決定要做一本兒童讀物。 因為每個學寫字的人都必須瞭解我們的字母來自哪裡。 字母A根本不是來自Apple,而是Ox!