Gone Wild (2016)
Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet (2016)
Casebound, illustrated paper over boards, illustrated doublures, sewn book block. Illustrated, debossed glossy paper dustjacket. H255 x W285 mm. 36 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Gargoyle Books, 25 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
In the history of children’s books, the alphabet looms large, and among alphabet books, animal alphabets make up the largest category. But why animals?
For learning and teaching letters, they are easily recognized and mnemonically effective. Illustrators can wrap them around letters, make them twist themselves into letters or hide them behind letters. Designers can hide them on tabs behind letters, make them pop out, parade them across leporellos (accordion books), let them lurk in tunnel books or put them on a paper disk to appear and disappear in a volvelle’s window. Writers can weave stories with animals and letters, put animals and letters together in puns and surprising scenarios or use alliteration and rhyme with them to reinforce letter recognition and reading. For authors more paleographically and philosophically inclined, the answer to “Why animals?” might be sought in the origins of the alphabet’s first letter as James Rumford does in There’s a Monster in the Alphabet (2002) and Don Robb and Anne Smith do in Ox, House, Stick (2007).
A Methode or Comfortable Beginning for All Vnlearned Whereby They May Be Taught to Read English : In a Very Short Time Vvith Pleasure: So Profitable As Straunge Put in Light by I.h. Chester Heralt (1750)
Image from Folger Shakespeare Library
Whatever the cause, ever since John Hart’s A Methode, or Comfortable Beginning for All Unlearned (1570), which appears to be the first example of teaching the English alphabet with illustrations, we have had an explosion of imagination and wit choosing, finding or making up animals, birds, fish, insects and reptiles with which to decorate the letters, to make from letters (or make letters with), to be disguised with abstractions or to be hidden, revealed or popped out from behind letters. Now, in reverse over four centuries later, the alphabet has been mustered for teaching the endangered state of those creatures.
While E.N. Ellis, Bert Kitchen, the team of Alan Robinson and Suzanne Moore all allot only one letter and the dodo to make the point, Dick King-Smith and Quentin Blake together devote almost all of their Alphabeasts (1990) to examples of extinction, as do Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello in The Extinction Alphabet Book (1993).
Left to right: from E.N. Ellis’s An Alphabet; Bert Kitchen’s Animal Alphabet; Alan Robinson and Suzanne Moore’s A Fowl Alphabet.
Quentin Blake’s page-by-page visual narrative married to Dick King-Smith’s opening verses in Alphabeasts.
With Gone Wild, David McLimans adds a complex and subtle device to the explosion. The book is not so much about learning the alphabet with animals as learning about animals with the alphabet — or rather with “alphabetic art”. Wielding computer, pencil, pen, brush and India ink on bristol board, David McLimans redraws the alphabet’s capital letters to look like animals not yet extinct but on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Even traditional alphabet book design subtly serves as a teaching tool about these animals. Notice how McLimans and John Candell, the book’s designer, turn the traditional presentation of uppercase and lowercase letters into a kind of running head that underscores the common and scientific names of each animal. Even the list of facts on each species — their habitats, geographic ranges, threats to survival and statuses — receives meaningful thematic design touches from the use of two-color printing — blood red and extinction black.
After the brief red-on-black thumbnails and descriptions following Grevy’s Zebra, McLimans provides further reading (online and in print). You have to go beyond a quick dive into the address he provides for the IUCN to find the Red List (see address above). There you will learn how up to the minute this book was in 2016 — and, unfortunately, still is.
“Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.
“Marie Angel“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection. For letters decorated with animals.
“Paul Cox“. 18 October 2021. Books On Books Collection. For an abstract animal alphabet.
“E.N. Ellis“. 30 October 2022. Books On Books Collection. For letters decorated with animals other than the dodo.
“Dick King-Smith and Quentin Blake“. In progress. Books On Books Collection. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.
“Miarko“. In progress. Books On Books Collection. For letters decorated with animals.
“Suzanne Moore“. 14 January 2020. Books On Books Collection. For letters associated with other birds besides the dodo.
“Don Robb and Anne Smith“. 26 March 2023. Books On Books Collection. For the animal-related origin of the alphabet.
“James Rumford“. 21 November 2022. Books On Books Collection. For the animal-related origin of the alphabet.
“Sharon Werner and Sharon Forss“. 30 December 2022. Books On Books Collection. For animals made from letters.
“Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis Fauvel 1879)“. Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed 17 February 2023.
“Grevy’s Zebra Equus grevyi Oustalet 1882“. Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed 17 February 2023.
Cossins, Jennifer. 2017. A-Z of Endangered Animals. Sydney N.S.W: Lothian Children’s Books. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.
Haines, Mike. 2010. Wild Alphabet : An A to Zoo Pop-Up Book. New York NY: Kingfisher Books. For animals popping out from behind letters.
Hunt, Peter, and Butts, Dennis. 1995. Children’s Literature : An Illustrated History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. See, in particular, pp. 6-7.
Kitchen, Bert. 1991. Animal Alphabet. London: Walker Books. For letters decorated with animals other than the dodo.
Mackey, Bonnie and Hedy Schiller Watson. 2017. Alphabet Books : The K-12 Educators’ Power Tool. Santa Barbara California: Libraries Unlimited. For a brief history and extended categorization of alphabet books.
Markle, Sandra; Markle, William; and Dávalos, Felipe. 1998. Gone Forever! : An Alphabet of Extinct Animals. 1st ed. New York N.Y: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.
Mullins, Patricia. 1995/1993. V For Vanishing : An Alphabet of Endangered Animals. Sydney N.S.W: Margaret Hamilton Books. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.
Pallotta, Jerry, and Masiello, Ralph. 1993. The Extinct Alphabet Book. Watertown Mass: Charlesbridge. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.
Wakefield, D. R. 2009. An Alphabet of Extinct Mammals. Goole: Chevington Press. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.
Wakefield D. R. 2010. Alphabet of Endangered Mammals : A Collection of Etchings Depicting Animals Considered Extinct in the Wild 2050. Goole: Chevington Press. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.