I love alphabet books, the traditional sort as well as those listed below, each of which provides a twist on the standard format for the genre. I like to think of these as making the familiar strange, taking something as easy as ABC and looking at it in a new way; that process reminds me that the alphabet is an invention, with a history of its own, and that at one point it was considered a technology. At the very least, this list makes me appreciate how much easier it is to learn the Roman alphabet than it would have been to learn hieroglyphics.
- Alphabet City, by Stephen Johnson; using urban photographs, Johnson finds unexpected letters in the cityscape. It reminds me of the way children see shapes and letters in unpredictable ways before grownups train the creativity out of them.
- The Dangerous Alphabet, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Gris Grimly; set in rhyming couplets, Gaiman’s wonderfully creepy alphabet world follows two children on a treasure hunt.
- Eating the Alphabet, Lois Ehlert; I love Ehlert’s bold, colorful collage style. Here she covers the pages from A-Z with delicious fruits and vegetables that look good enough to eat.
- A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, by Debra Frasier; this text recreates the stimulation of attending the fair with simple shapes and bright colors exploding on each page; find the letters in fair-friendly terms splayed across each spread in images as delightful as a trip to the fair itself.
- The Graphic Alphabet, by David Pelletier; each letter in Pelletier’s text visually represents a corresponding concept; some are strange, some abstract, but all of them display a starkly modern look at the alphabet. Letter “I” is my favorite.
- The Handmade Alphabet, by Laura Rankin; Rankin’s book shows the letters of American Sign Language. Each page shows a hand forming the letter and an image that illustrates something hands can do. Sometimes strange and weirdly disembodied, this book draws new attention to body language.
- I Spy: An Alphabet in Art, by Lucy Micklethwait; densely packed with images, this book lets the readers invent the alphabet. I love the way that each reader can create and invent from the same picture—“j for jewelry” or “n for necklace” to show language’s possibilities.
- LMNO Peas, by Keith Baker; playing on that tongue twister from the traditional alphabet song, Baker’s whimsical book looks at a crowd of peas with all kinds of interesting hobbies and professions.
- Museum ABC, by The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art; following the standard “A is for Apple” format, this book quickly departs from the norm by showing 4 pictures for each letter. Close-ups of famous artworks illustrate that even “A is for apple” is open to interpretation.
- Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet, written by Don Robb and illustrated by Anne Smith; as the title indicates, this book tells the history of the alphabet. I like the attention to the story behind each letter, and it reminds me that even the deceptively-simple letters come from somewhere.
- Superhero ABC, by Bob McLeod; casting each letter as a superhero, McLeod using a comic-style of illustration to turn the alphabet into a silly, sweeping adventure.
- The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg; in “26 acts,” Van Allsburg raises the curtain on each letter and its terrible fate. Each page depicts a letter, and readers must turn the page to discover the corresponding text, making this a page-turning mystery from cover to cover.
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