Books On Books Collection – Ellen Heck

A is for Bee (2022)

A is for Bee: An Alphabet Book in Translation (2022)
Ellen Heck
Casebound, decorated doublures, sewn and glued book block. 40 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Amazon, 10 November 2022. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Pushkin Press.

Earlier animal abecedaries’ efforts to nudge us toward more multilingual awareness led with English and either limited themselves to animals whose names in other languages are the same or simply surrounded the English name with the names from other languages. Ellen Heck leads with the usual English formula “A is for …” but has the reader turning somersaults when the named animal is one whose name in English does not begin with the formula’s letter; rather the initial letter belongs to the animal’s name in several other languages.

There are many bilingual abecedaries. Naturally there are fewer multilingual ones and even fewer whose main purpose is to challenge the reader’s English-centric mindset. More than most of those neighbors, Heck’s work is colorful and full of character — and in both the portrayal of the animals the letterforms. The letters in “bee” and the initial and final letters of “monkey” are hairy and furry like their namesakes; “P” and “t” of “parrot” are feathered; and perhaps more subtle, the pose of the bee forms the letter A, the monkey’s tail and the branch being climbed for the letter B; and the parrot blocks out a segment of its ring to form the letter C. The more detailed shots of the artwork do not do justice to the textures it conveys.

The related website and app to which the QR code at the book’s end leads offers recordings of native or fluent speakers pronouncing words. Since such a feature is not assured to outlast updates to devices and their operating systems, users will no doubt look for hacks to capture the files. More lasting will be the author’s comments on the challenges of writing across languages: sorting the singular name in one language that is plural in another, dealing with a species name from one culture that explodes into multiple sub-species in another, juggling transliteration from languages with non-Latin alphabets and more.

The book deserves well the accolades it has received: New York Times‘s 2022 “Children’s Book of the Year” and for Words Without Borders’ “Best Books of 2022“.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Borlenghi, Patricia and Piers Harper. 2016. A To Z: An Animal Alphabet in Five Languages. Manningtree: Pudding Press.

Leeper, Angela. 15 March 2022. Review. Booklist Online. American Library Association. Accessed 9 November 2022.

Vo, Young. 2022. Gibberish. Montclair: Levine Querido. Not an abecedary, but has a similar multicultural purpose.

Wang, Andrea and Hyewon Yum. 2022. Luli and the Language of Tea. New York: Holiday House. Also not an abecedary and more akin to Vo’s book.

Winston, Sam. 2022. One and Everything. London: Walker Studio. Again not an abecedary, but nevertheless a book about alphabets and language by another powerful artist.

Books On Books Collection – Laura Vaccaro Seeger

The Hidden Alphabet (2003)

The Hidden Alphabet (2003)
Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Die-cut dustjacket. Casebound, alphabet-decorated paper over boards, doublures attached as first and last pages. H225 x W210 mm. 54 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Plain Tales Books, 18 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

When removed, The Hidden Alphabet‘s die-cut dustjacket offers a clue to the magic about to happen.

Inside the book, white letters on a glossy black die-cut sheet name the object framed inside the cutout. But lift the black frame, and the object disappears into the uppercase letter appearing on the page underneath: the first letter of the object’s name that just disappeared.

The optical illusion created by the shifting foreground mesmerizes and will prompt a race through this abecedary to see the next bit of magic. But for the teacher or parent reading with the child, Laura Vaccaro Seeger has subtly planted another traditional feature of the alphabet book to be used in a second pass through the book. Learning the difference between lowercase and uppercase characters becomes part of the trick of lifting the flap to move from the small to the big. And for the more serious students of the alphabet and art, the magic calls attention to the metamorphic boundary between text and image

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Anne Bertier“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Lisa Campbell Ernst“. 12 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Suse MacDonald“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection

Nicolas McDowall“. 12 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Bruno Munari“. 19 August 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Dave Pelletier“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Books On Books Collection – Lisa Campbell Ernst

The Turn Around, Upside Down Alphabet Book (2004)

The Turn Around, Upside Down Alphabet Book (2004)
Lisa Campbell Ernst
Casebound, colored doublures, sewn. H241 x W241 mm, 32 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Thrift Books, 5 November 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

From children’s picture book to artist’s book and back, certain techniques and tropes with the alphabet recur. Finding an image in a letter or making an image from a letter may be the oldest, not surprising given the pictorial origins of almost all writing systems. Lisa Campbell Ernst freshened this approach with a structural twist that does not rely on pop-ups, flaps, pull-tabs, a volvelle, accordion tunnel or any of the other moving part standbys of children’s books. Rather the whole book moves — as its title suggests.

Ernst’s inventiveness with foreground, background and negative space holds its own in the illustrious company of illustrators, designers and artists below under Further Reading.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Anne Bertier“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Suse MacDonald“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection

Nicolas McDowall“. 12 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Bruno Munari“. 19 August 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Dave Pelletier“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Laura Vaccaro Seeger“. 12 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Books On Books Collection – Nicolas McDowall

A Bodoni Charade (1995)

A Bodoni Charade (1995)
Nicolas McDowall
Miniature accordion attached to paper over boards. H59 x W67 mm. 32 panels. Edition of 240, of which this is #1. Acquired from Bromers Bookseller, 16 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A Bodoni Charade expresses a rare wit with 26 imaginative and original unions of letters, decorative type, text and images. The accordion joined to the front and back covers discourages stretching it out for reading and encourages turning the pages codex style. Just as well — the jokes should be savored no more than two at a time, and enjoying the execution of letterpress skill demands it. Notice how the letter g’s descenders kiss the bottom edge of the page as if they are about to fall into space. Glance — or look hard — at the icicle, and you will swear that the lowercase i’s dot is actually dripping. And enjoy how the lowercase j demotes the judgmental uppercase letter J by sharing its jester’s cap bobble.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Anne Bertier“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Lisa Campbell Ernst“. 12 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Suse MacDonald“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Bruno Munari“. 19 August 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Dave Pelletier“. 10 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Laura Vaccaro Seeger“. 12 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.