Cece Bell enjoys antique albums, saxophone solos, and Constant Comment tea. She also absolutely adores alliteration.

“It’s the best thing in the whole world of -iteration,” says Bell, who joined Kirkus via Zoom for a delightful discussion of Animal Albums From A to Z (Walker US/Candlewick, March 26).

This exquisite picture book from the award-winning author/illustrator of El Deafo imagines 26 vibrant vinyl records produced during the 1940s-1980s heyday of animal artistry. Bell provides colorful cover art and lyrics to a single song from each album, along with biographical back matter on musical marsupials, serenading songbirds, and a prodigious pachyderm named Ella Fontaine.

Whether or not readers have ever encountered a turntable, Bell aims to fan the flames of audiophilia: “It would be lovely to inspire the caretakers of children to go out and get them a record player—to start a record collection together, to have that beautiful analog experience,” she says.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe Animal Albums to a potential reader?

This book is basically, at its core, an alphabet book. Each letter is represented by an album. Each letter stands for the genre of music and the animals that are playing the music. Sometimes the instruments featured on the album will be that letter, but sometimes they won’t, because I wasn’t so strict about [the structure]. One of the songs from each album gets pulled out, and its lyrics are featured on the opposite page.

There’s nothing wrong with reading a picture book aloud from cover to cover—classic move—but I can see many additional modes of interaction here. What are some of the ways you picture people enjoying the book?

You could read the album covers themselves, one by one, if you want. I put a lot of detail into each image. I would love for kids to go through just looking at the pictures, noticing different little things or finding images they want to return to over and over.

If you check out the endpapers, you’ll find a mashup [of memorabilia]. Here’s the nose flute packaging; what artist does this go with? Where can I find this band’s album? How does it all relate? That’s another way of doing it from a picture standpoint.

Or you could read the song lyrics. I tried to make sure that parents or caregivers could have fun performing them. I wanted them to feel musical, to have choruses that get repeated, but I also wanted them to just function as poems that could be read aloud.

Speaking of the actual songs, you can find a QR code on the title page that goes to a website where you can listen to all 26 songs [performed by professional musicians].

What I’m hoping that kids—that anybody—will do is try to come up with new songs to add to the collection. And actually, the way the introduction is worded, I’m hoping to get kids believing that they really could go to an antique store or thrift store and start looking and find these albums.

The songs are great. I especially loved listening to the audio clip of “Hey, Howard” by the hilarious Hip-Hop Hedgehogs. How did you decide to have them produced?

Initially this book was supposed to be a reminder. There’s a subtle part in the introduction where I say something like, You know, my favorites of all these albums are the ones that have the words, because I don’t hear very well. I just put that little snippet in there. I wanted people to remember that you can enjoy music in different ways­. I was mostly thinking visually, but also that tactile experience of putting a record on a player and everything.

Then I realized that if I help make music with musicians, it might help people see that all disabilities are on some kind of a spectrum. If you’re a deaf person, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate music at all.

I play the saxophone. I don’t play very often anymore, but that was a huge part of my high school years. I know how to read music, and it was so much fun working with the musicians to make all the songs come to life. I would send them samples of me singing the song—how I thought it should go—but I’d also say, “You can use this or you can ignore it; you have free rein.” They often did use my little terribly sung version of the song and turn it into something way better.

What’s one of your all-time favorite albums from childhood?

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has lyrics on the back, and that was maybe one of the most important albums to me as a kid because I could follow along. And that meant later I could sing the songs. With other songs, I wasn’t able to. I could hum them or, you know, approximate.

You mentioned the tactile experience of listening to music.

I love that tactile experience of putting a record on a player and everything. The pleasure of putting the record on, putting the needle on, turning it up, turning it down, being in total command. And then—song’s over!—you get up, you flip it. That’s an experience that needs to be in every kid’s life, seriously. It’s just a really fun thing to be doing with your time.

How did you make the images in this book?

It’s evident from the book that nothing is digital. It’s all painted paper and collage. The text is hand painted, and the reason is not just because it looks cool. It’s because, normally, when you have text in the illustration, [it] has to be black [for various reasons]; and so that was my workaround—everything ended up being handmade. The text had to be in color. Almost the entire time I worked, I had a magnifying glass.

My experience of reading Animal Albums was one of pure joy. (For the record, I made up my own tunes to several of the songs and serenaded my dog.) Was making it a joyful experience for you?

This was maybe the first book I’ve ever worked on that brought me happiness every day. I would go to work and be like, yay! Partly it’s because when I finished one [album] and started a new one, it was like a clean slate, a brand-new job. It never got boring the way the books that I do that are more story-based [can]. You have to use the same style throughout, you’ve got to draw that same character over and over, paint them over and over again. With this, it was like, Well, this one’s done. Now I get a new one, yay! It was a very active, physically joyful book to make. It kind of inspired me. Maybe this is a new way of working that I can continue to have a lot of fun with.

Editor at large Megan Labrise is the host of the Fully Booked podcast.