The Invisible Alphabet

Rise x Penguin Workshop. Sept. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593222775.
Gr 2-5–This picture book asks readers to take a deep breath about their preconceived notions about the ABCs. “D is for Delayed. E is for Erased.” What is not seen is at the center of the conceit, so that words live just enough in the abstract to delight more advanced thinkers, but will paralyze young children. Bewildered fish in a bowl of water with miniature shipwrecks stand in for C, for “Clear.” “J is for Just missed it,” as a gent with flowers and a musician chase the bus. “O is for out,” with an empty box of cereal (and we don’t see a person, but a bowl and spoon is at the ready, so why not H for “hungry”? The correlations between event or notion and the word choice are often outright arbitrary, sometimes hinting at a bigger story—“Y is for Yesterday” shows a white boy beaming and covered in bandages, perhaps recalling adventures in skateboarding from the day before. It’s a cynical packaging of a random collection of words that leaves out order, arc, momentum, story, or sense—something “microscopic,” for M, is actually visible in a way that “Just missed it” is not. The mood is portentous and points toward a disaster that never arrives: Gone. Hidden. Lost. Nothing. Popped (a balloon). A happy scene of a smiling Black child who has just blown out her birthday candles (“X is for eXtinguished”) follows a possible drowning, and T is for “too late,” when a child and parent arrive at a bus stop.
VERDICT An additional purchase aimed at the art shelves and not preschoolers. For primary graders, turn it into a lesson on how to create alphabets, or work with younger children one-on-one to connect the letters and words to what is happening on the page.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing