Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, December 10, 2016

New Views Of The ABCs

They have been a part of literature for centuries, a gathering of the twenty-six letters of our alphabet.  These books are not only a means of learning the letters but practicing the sounds of each.  Usually the upper and lower case letters are displayed with items beginning with each letter.  Over the years the titles have become more elaborate using phrases, sentences and poems.  Sometimes a story will unfold as each letter is introduced.  Or the letters may be a means of acquainting readers with a particular subject or theme.

On September 13, 2016 two very different and highly unique alphabet books were released.  An Artist's Alphabet (Candlewick Studio, an imprint of Candlewick Press) written and illustrated by renowned artist Norman Messenger is a stunning depiction of the obvious and extraordinary.  Every letter will have you thinking about what you see and what the artist is trying to portray.

To begin we see two acrobatic persons elegantly costumed; the first is standing, legs apart, on top of a horse's back to create a capital letter A.  The second has shaped her body in a backward bend to form the lower case a.  The letters B and b are fairly straightforward also but the letter c asks us to extend our minds.  It is the dust jacket image.

What does this represent?  Is it meant to define curve, crest, curl or something else entirely?  Even this stretch does not compare to the letter d.  Two cats' bodies make the upper and lower case letters.  Are we to find something relative to d within these visuals?

The multiple letters for e look to be something from monsters of mythology.  Two tools, one large and the other pocket size, signify the letters f.  Do they stand for fix? The forms for the letter h, types of homes, are true wonders.

The artwork for i, k, l and m offers possibilities but the pictures for the letters j and n have me baffled but intrigued.  Is our artist using beauty alone from our world to fashion letters?  Perhaps in these depictions as in the letter o, there is no tie to the specific letter.  The mystery continues for letters q (snakes), r (shapes of trees) and s (two kinds of chains).  T through z will offer readers equally apparent and striking representations.

Oh, how fascinating it would be to engage Norman Messenger in conversation before, during and after his creations were conceived.  Each one invites us to pause and stretch our thinking.  Even those which appear to conjure those things which are familiar, we wonder if we should not continue to ponder more.

All of the illustrations rendered in watercolor and pencil are eloquent with meticulous details as seen on the dust jacket of the extended waves, water dripping and splashing.  The book case takes portions of the visuals for many of the letters designing a frame for the title text and image on the front and a blurb about the book on the back.  The opening and closing endpapers display capital letters of the alphabet in muted varied colors.  These extend to create frames for the text on the verso and title pages.

Half of the letters extend over two pages; the others are pictured on single pages.  Messenger alternates between using people, animals, plants, fantastical creatures, inanimate items and other natural phenomenon.  His designs and layouts include a small square, with lines like school paper, to host the capital and lower case letters.  In additional to the tiny finer points, his use of light and shadow is superb.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is for the letter l.  It is shown on a single page.  From top to bottom a richly embroidered boot sans laces is highlighted on the left.  To the right is a package of laces, wrapped in paper.  The company logo is ABC.

An Artist's Alphabet conceived and illustrated by Norman Messenger is an imaginative, gorgeous gallery of these twenty-six symbols of our language.  It would be a wonderful title to use for lively discussions and creative writing.  I recommend it for professional collections and it is a must-have for alphabet book collectors.  All ages will be able to appreciate the excellence of this title.

To learn more about Norman Messenger please follow the link attached to his name.  At the Candlewick Press website you can view the interior pages for letters k and l.  At the Walker website you can see the book case and the interior illustrations for letters c, d, k, l, n and r.

As a result of a winning Kickstarter project began in 2014 another one-of-a-kind alphabet book is available for readers of all ages.  The minds behind this project Benedikt GroB and Joey Lee worked closely with Price Stern Sloan, an imprint of Penguin Random House to bring us ABC: The Alphabet from the Sky.  It's as if we have all taken wing and are viewing the world from an entirely new perspective.

In the introduction we are welcomed to trek across America.  We are asked to view the landscape with a discerning eye, focusing on a specific point.  We are also reminded there is more to each one of these pictures than a single letter.  We might find other letters or individual items.

For each letter of the alphabet two pages are filled, edge to edge, left to right.  In the upper, left-hand corner of each scene we are asked to locate the letter.  In the lower, right-hand corner we are given the place name, the state in the United States, and the exact coordinates, the longitude and latitude.

A letter may be formed by rows of homes, a winding road, a specialized building, a parking lot, landforms or a body of water.  You may see the same letter in a scene but not the one selected by the creators.  Sometimes the letters pop but other times you really need to look.  It's a geographical search and seek.

The questions and statements posed for each letter vary.  They encourage us to pursue our quest. They ask us to find, spot and uncover hiding places.

There's an O here somewhere.

The illustrations found in this title are derived from satellite images in the public domain from the United States Geological Survey, National Geospatial Program.  These two people, Benedikt GroB and Joey Lee created a program and a database to locate letters within these images.  The A, B, and C seen on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case are not necessarily those found within the interior of the book.  To the left, on the back, twenty-six more letters have been located.  The opening and closing endpapers are large aerial views; one more natural than the other.

If you should have trouble spotting any of the letters within the book, at the conclusion two pages give you a close-up of all twenty-six letters.  Four more pages contain squares of other letters of the alphabet, sixty-one in all, found in satellite pictures.  This adds to the fun and continues to test your skills of observation.

ABC: The Alphabet from the Sky conceived, written and illustrated by Benedikt GroB and Joey Lee is a challenging, engaging volume sure to provide hours of looking at our country with a much wider field of vision.  When we strive to look with a different set of eyes, this can carry over into other aspects of sensory perceptions.  Can you see letters of the alphabet inside your home, school and other facilities or outside in familiar places?

To learn more about Benedikt GroB and Joey Lee please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Five interior views are available at the publisher's website.  Here are three separate links to their Kickstarter campaign here, here and here.  You might enjoy reading this article at Slate.

No comments:

Post a Comment