E is for Esoteric: 2014 Alphabet Books Get Creative
What is it about the alphabet that gives artists the license to get weird? Historically, the alphabet book is one of the earliest American children’s book forms. You know. “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” That kind of thing. I’m certain someone has already written, or is in the process of writing, the full-blooded history of American abecedarian outings for the young, so I won’t delve into such matters to any great length.
Now every year we get some wacky alphabet titles in the mix. The usual art books. Coffee table picture books, if you will. I’m used to seeing one of them, two max, in a given year. So you’ll forgive me for being so surprised when I saw not one, not two, but a whopping FIVE esoteric picture books come out in 2014 to varying degrees of artsy fartsyness. They’re also rather hugely enjoyable in their own odd little ways.
With that in mind we’ll begin with the most accessible and work our way out from there.
Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
You may have heard me mention this Jeffers title in my recent Newbery/Caldecott prediction list for the fall. The book creates one short story per letter of the alphabet, making it a devilishly clever creation. Definitely falls into the older kid category of picture bookdom, but I’d argue that the stories and art are so much fun that it won’t have a hard time maintaining a child’s attention.
Take Away the A by Michaël Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
And you thought they couldn’t come up with an original concept for a picture book anymore? Ha! Check this puppy out. In it the book goes through the alphabet, taking away a single letter from each word so as to produce a new one. The text reads:
“Without the A
the BEAST is BEST.
Without the B
the BRIDE goes for a RIDE.
Without the C
the CHAIR has HAIR.”
Back me up on this when I say no one’s ever done this before. They haven’t, right? Just brilliant.
Work: An Occupational Alphabet by Kellen Hatanaka
Now we’re getting a little more design-y. The book is ostensibly a listing of different jobs by letter (though, as my husband pointed out, just try and make a living as an “explorer” or “mountaineer” these days). Hatanaka has this smooth digital style that’s easy on the eyes. I did actually attempt this one with my three-year-old, thinking (for some reason) that the lure of the jobs would hold her attention. It didn’t but that could just mean it’s for older children. Certainly there are a lot of visual gags in here that will appeal primarily to them.
Alphabetics: An Aesthetically Awesome Alliterated Alphabet Anthology
by Patrick and Traci Concepcion, ill. Dawid Ryski
And here we go. Your first clue that kids may or may not be the primary audience for this book? Well, it contains a zombie smoking a cigarette (recall the recent cigar brouhaha with The Scarecrow’s Wedding?), a “sultry seafaring sailor” by the name of Stella, and a “hellacious Harley hog”. On the other hand it had an entry on “Gus the gregarious giant with geek-chic glasses” which definitely appeals to the Portlandia in me. This is sort of an Urban Outfitters alphabet book. Looks nice in a small studio apartment. Children need not necessarily apply.
Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs and Medium Verses by Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky
(Not to be confused with the other Chris Raschka alphabet book Talk to Me About the Alphabet)
Apparently these photos are from Radunsky’s personal collection with Raschka providing three line verses per letter. They primarily feature West European, white kids and Kirkus was down on the book because it found it too snarky. Not a problem I particularly had, though again I question whether or not an actual child would want to have anything to do with this book. Rather, I would hand this to teen fans of Edward Gorey that buy old photos in antique stores for fun (which is to say, myself circa age 15).
Any others I may have missed that are in the same vein? Surely there’s another one out there sporting a 2014 publication date. Surely.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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