Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word

Candlewick Studio. Apr. 2020. 160p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780763690663.
Gr 7 Up–Fleischman describes the accomplishments of 26 (one for every letter of the alphabet) inventors of systems having to do with language, words, etymology, linguistics, dialects, books, and as the author would put it, verbal wonders. The collective biography includes Daniel Nussbaum, an author who developed a language based on California vanity license plates; Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French journalist who suffered a major stroke and taught himself to write using only an eyelash; Jessie Little Doe Baird, a Native American linguist who worked to revive her Wampanoag language; Marc Okrand, the inventor of Klingon language (of Star Trek fame); Frederic Cassidy, editor in chief of the Dictionary of American Regional English; and Doris Cross, a painter who repurposes dictionaries with pictures linking words on opposite sides of the pages. While they hail from different backgrounds, these writers and word lovers find joy in experimenting with language. There are dreamers like Robert McCormick (who tried to standardize English spelling) and Ludwik Zamenhof (whose quest for a universal language resulted in Esperanto). Sweet’s illustrations gracefully complement the text and demonstrate the prevalence of images in our modern world. Back matter offers websites and books that expand on the very short entries for each subject.
VERDICT In an age driven by images, this book is an anomaly. Its audience is language lovers. Even though Fleischman’s gushing writing style gets in the way of his own love for the subject, the book has unusual appeal and is beautifully produced.

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