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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Alpha, by Isabelle Arsenault. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $18.99 all ages







I was, when I was still teaching, a collector of alphabet books. I was often gob-smacked by the variety, and by the creators' imaginations and designs. I continue to be very interested in seeing what is available in themed alphabet books. When I saw that Isabelle Arsenault illustrated her new book using the NATO phonetic alphabet I was more than a little intrigued. I have a vague sense of each of the words used universally by police, the military, firefighters, pilots for clear communication over radio and telephone. It is meant to ensure that there is no miscommunication when sharing vital information.

That being said, who knew that Ms. Arsenault's graphic interpretation of said alphabet would be so entertaining and meaningful to many. It is not a picture book for kids, unless you want them to learn the code used around the world. It will surprise adults with the thoughts it provokes and the connections it makes. It also invites those who share it to interpret the significance of the artist's choices.

Each letter-code is presented on a double page spread. On the left (verso) side, is the letter. On the right side (recto), is the visual representation of that letter. Charlie is faced with a black bowler hat, a bow to Charlie Chaplin. Golf shows a bird's-eye view of the eighteen holes on a golf course. Quebec shows a brightly patterned toque. Tango shows a woman's shoe, perfect for the dance itself.

Beautifully designed and produced, it works on a number of levels. Witty in its thoughtful depiction of a number of the code letters, and even haunting at times, it will generate discussion and admiration for this accomplished artist.

You will not read this book without wanting to go back and read it all over again ... and then again. Rich and absorbing, I have added it to my alphabet shelf.


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