We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, as well as reading challenges that we have pledged to join this year. Our reading theme for March/April: Grey & Golden, Young & Fleeting – Ruminations on Mortality and Transient Lives.
While these books do not technically fit our current theme to a T – I realized there is nothing more fleeting and also more lasting than words; and how are words formed? Through the alphabet, of course. And so with that tangential link, allow me to share with you these brilliant concept books published in 2014.
Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories For All The Letters
Written and illustrated by: Oliver Jeffers
Published by: Philomel Books, 2014
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library.
It seems to me that for every book Oliver Jeffers publishes, he becomes an even stronger writer and illustrator. Admittedly, I open a new book of his with the slight trepidation that it might not live up to my earlier experiences with his other works that just made me fall in love with his brilliance (not to mention his hair, and his dashing good looks).
This book is an ode to letters. Consider this Jeffers’ tribute or love letter or (in his words) menagerie for all the letters. Each letter of the alphabet gets its own vignette, and while each little story may be considered a stand-alone, a sharp reader would be able to see connections, here and there, embedded as visual codes, or ingenious clues strewn by Jeffers for the reader to find and enjoy.
I also liked Jeffers’ little asides – built into the witty exchanges (too little to really be considered a dialogue). Let’s take for instance, Danger Delilah’s story:
It is too little to see in this image, but one can glimpse Death’s response to Delilah’s laughing, and there are cute footnotes interspersed in the right-hand page – just a few caveats and a dare-more-than-a-warning.
For letter E, Jeffers poses an enigma in the form of a query: How many elephants can fit inside an envelope? This was actually answered in letter N’s story:
I originally thought the answer was a big-fat-NONE. Again, I am mistaken. Seems like Jeffers’ mind works in a parallel universe kind of level, as he pointed out:
It really is an answer to another question that he opted to answer. Well, it is his prerogative as author-illustrator, after all.
Another favourite of mine would be his vignette for Q:
See what he does here: very meta, really.
If you manage to find the question, you are to inform this uniformed officer quimmediately. Yes, Jeffers was not above creating his own words for his delectation. And no, he did not do this for the letter X but for the letter W:
You mean to tell me you haven’t heard of a whiraffe? Come on, now.
A learned creature such as yourself should definitely know what a whiraffe is. Indispensable for when you want your luscious cream whipped to whirrafey-perfection. And did I mention what the endpapers are like:
Back endpapers: the entire menagerie from A-Z. Definitely one of Jeffers’ best.
Ah-hA to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Written and illustrated by: Maira Kalman
Published by: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2014
Book borrowed from Jurong West Public Library.
In this surreal, strange, thoroughly-artsy alphabet book, Maira Kalman uses the 31 objects she selected from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum as her backdrop, her frame, for alphabet-themed captions. While on occasion, she tries to remain faithful to the beginning of the word, like C for CRY (see below, definitely one of my favourite spreads):
Kalman also manages to play around with the words of the alphabet as she identifies random letters in her worded descriptions-slash-captions. Case in point would be R and S:
Whoever was it who noted that the word has to begin with that particular letter from the alphabet? Clearly, Maira Kalman makes her own rules. Sometimes she mixes them up for good measure, like U and V:
V can also be for I miss you Very Very Very much, eVidently. Maira Kalman also included a list of all the objects that inspired her to create this unique alphabet book in her Index of Objects (quite interesting, really). And her endpapers are quite brilliant too, I thought.
Back endpapers – with an invitation to write to Miss Florence Plum of Casper Hewitt of the Smithsonian Design Museum about the things you would like to put in your collection if you were starting a museum. What a great mentor-text for creative young thinkers.
Steampunk City: An Alphabetical Journey
Illustrated by: Manuel Sumberac Text by: Benjamin Mott
Published by: POW! 2014
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library.
I discovered this book displayed at the Jurong West Public Library and was dismayed that I did not find it sooner when we had a Steampunk reading theme a year ago. Regardless, I thought that the concept was brilliant, and how can I resist any art done by Manuel Sumberac, creator of such exquisite beauties as Steampunk Poe and Steampunk Frankenstein.
Each letter of the alphabet provides authentic (A for authentic) snippets of what it means to be part of the steampunk subculture. From aerodrome to zeppelin, the steampunk enthusiast would have a lot to marvel at in this geeky-techie-steam-driven-alphabet-creations.
Rather than read an inordinately long primer to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of steampunk, grab a copy of this book and know what a cyclotron means, as illustrated by the inimitable Manuel Sumberac. There are none of those questionable words as well with the difficult letters such as Q or X (see below):
Clearly, Steampunk City’s got that covered. A collector’s item for certain.
Alphabetabum: An Album Of Rare Photographs And Medium Verses
Verses from A to Z: Chris Raschka Collection of Rare Photos and Essay: Vladimir Radunsky
Published by: The New York Review Children’s Collection, 2014
Book borrowed from Jurong West Public Library.
Now this book, I believe, is not receiving as much love as it should be getting. This is the alphabet book that I believe best resembles Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies –
mixed with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children with Radunsky’s penchant for vintage, borderline-eerie photographs:
Coupled with Chris Raschka’s gift for alliteration, the reader is gifted with something as beautiful as this:
While these kids’ lives do not end in tragic deaths similar to Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies (check out Basil below)…
the reader is aware that these are children that could easily have been anyone’s great great great grandparents – and that their lives, while frozen in time in these pages, are long gone.
I wanted to share this one, as I thought it was quite eerie. I was also struck by how Chris Raschka seemed to capture the essence of each child captured in the photo. See Dapper Duncan Dwayne – he does appear quite dapper, doesn’t he?
or the Fabulous Freddie Fritz:
In the Afterword, Radunsky shared how these photographs ended up in his hands:
I started collecting old photographs many years ago. I found them in flea markets, antique shops, sometimes just on the tables of street vendors. I found them in the United States, England, Italy, France, Spain, Potugal, Russia…
Every time I saw these small stacks, bound together with a plain rubber band or just scattered around in messy piles on the tables, I entered into this fantastic cardboard black and white and silver world, where I found myself surrounded by beautifully dressed ladies and gentlemen, their children and pets.
And just like the first two books, the endpapers of this book are something to marvel at too:
I am fascinated by Radunsky’s peculiar mind and Raschka’s genius in capturing the spirit of the children’s photographs through his medium verses. I personally do not know whether I could bring such vintage photographs home with me, inviting their ancient stories glimpsed through their photographs, into my home. Yet, Radunsky has gone several steps further – he gave them new life through Alphabetabum. Find it and be as amazed as I had been. I am actually wondering why this escaped the radar of most bibliophiles. This one’s a keeper.
Once Upon an Alphabet: Waterstones Book of the Year Nominee (2014); SLJ Best Books 2014, Picture Books; Amazon.com Best Books of the Year 2014, Ages 3–5; PW’s Best Books of 2014, Picture Books; New York Public Library, 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2014, Picture Books; ALA Notable Books for Children 2015, All Ages
Love the Jeffers, gave the Kalman to my daughter for Christmas, both terrific! Thanks for the others. That Alphabetabum looks wonderful, Myra-like big fun for my older students! Terrific reviews, great to see all the pages…
Cool collection. I love that ABC books are not jut for teaching kids their alphabet anymore! Alphabetabum looks interesting.
The only one of these I don’t own (I collect alphabet books) is the Kalman title. I greatly admire her work, so I’ll have to add this to my next order. I really enjoyed your post.
Oh dear. I want to climb into this post and snoop around in all of these titles. I just shared a number of Alphabet books with my students yesterday and remembered how much I love them.
These sound marvelous! I had fun Wednesday talking to you AND NO SCHOOL!!! BEST DAY EVER!!!!!!! XD
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