Friday, March 7
An A to Z Treasure Hunt
written and illustrated by Alice Melvin
Tate Publishing UK 2007
The English alphabet is only 26 letters. There's only so much you can do with an alphabet book. Not that people haven't found ways to make an alphabet book informative (Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehrlet), thematic (C is for Caboose, about trains, and A is for Astronaut, about space, both by Chronicle Books), and they can certainly be entertainingly clever (Sendak's Alligators All Around). The world of alphabet books even includes non-alphabet books like Seuss's On Beyond Zebra and Tony DiTerlizzi's G is For One Gzonk. So with so many good (and bad) alphabet books it does take something to stand out from the pack.
Let me hold off one second more before talking about the book at hand. I have to say that I have twice tried to pick up the Steve Martin-Roz Chast The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! -- twice, I tell you! -- and I have yet to finish it. Somewhere along the way I find myself wondering if there's a scientific name for belly button lint, what our pets think when they see us changing our clothes, that sort of thing. I can't tell if it's intended for kids or adults, I can't get into it, I can't help wondering if it's one of those extended New Yorker gags that sounds funny as a concept but could never be executed.
So today I stumble onto this slim little paperback and wonder if the hunt of the title makes it one of those I-Spot sort of books. Before I can open it I can tell the paper is nicer that I expected, with French flaps decorated with little men using semaphore to initiate (in the front) and conclude (in the back) the hunt.
Wait a minute, who published this? Tate? Like the museum in England? Sure enough. What's a museum doing printing an alphabet book?
I'll tell you what they're doing, they're making an interactive craft book out of the alphabet. F is for flag, and sure enough there are three strands zipping across the page but only two have little triangle flags running along them. The third strand is blank and on the bottom of the page the reader is suggested to find some scrap fabric and make little flags to glue into the book! L is for leaf, which asks you to collect an autumn leaf (don't harm a living tree) and add it to the page. Buttons are collected to decorate the tops of cupcakes. Your portrait (photo or drawn) is requested to fill in another illustration. A goose's egg requires glitter and glue. A snake would like some sequins for it's scales. The King requires a playing card to complete the royalty. Every page is a small craft project that reinforces the alphabet illustration, but it also allows each book to become an artifact unique the owner. It's fun, simple, almost Montessori in its approach. Color me impressed.
It's certainly the kind of thing a museum would publish because, on one hand, it's totally impractical. Once you start adding things to this book it will become lumpy, will shed bits of glitter and whatnot, and the binding is really too tightly glued to allow for opening flat without falling apart. In fact, this may be another of those books that ultimately works better for adults because I was instantly thinking about how, instead of using real buttons and playing cards, I could use magazine photos and color photocopies of real objects to make collages out of each page. Maybe this is a good project for an artistic teen to take on over the summer as a holiday gift for a younger relative. Even if you don't ultimately agree that it's a great book you have to admit there has to be something to an alphabet book that sets the mind in motion like this.
I don't know where you're going to find this... Powell's maybe? I doubt the library is going to want to circulte such a participatory book. Perhaps the children's section of a museum store. It's worth a gander.