The Imaginary Alphabet
The Imaginary Alphabet
Agile Alligators Attempting an Arabesque
Big Baboon Bathing in Blue Bubbles
Clumsy Camel Cutting a Crunchy Cake
Dizzy Dinosaurs Dancing in the Dark
In her newest book, award-winning Quebec-born author/illustrator Sylvie Daigneault strives for a fresh approach to the well-populated alphabet book genre. She comments in the book’s preface that her goal in The Imaginary Alphabet was to create a unique combination of alliterative prose and visuals that express her love of nature and present each letter of the alphabet with humour and panache. The result is a playful and exuberant picture book that also functions as a treasure hunt as sharp-eyed readers are encouraged to find every alphabet clue hidden within the pages, a total of almost 300 “little gems”.
The Imaginary Alphabet is bookended by colourful endpapers depicting an illustrated alphabet. Each letter of the alphabet is then presented with a double-paged spread: one page contains the illustrated letter and a short line of alliterative text; the facing page contains a full-page drawing which not only illustrates the text but adds further hidden visual clues, all beginning with the same letter. So, while the text for “F” reads “Fancy Ferrets Feeling Famous and Fabulous”, the facing page illustration foregrounds the pair of fabulously attired ferrets standing on a red carpet but much more besides, including a fascinator hat, a frilly frock, several fairies sprinkling fairy dust, a fan, feathers, ferns, fire, flames, flowers, a fountain, and a few frolicking frogs. At the end of the book, Daigneault provides a list of hidden visual clues for each letter so readers can check to see if they have found them all.
Young children will enjoy exploring the vivid and meticulously detailed coloured pencil illustrations for their own sake while older children will enjoy the challenge of trying to identify every hidden alliterative clue while expanding their vocabularies. Be warned: there are some tricky sound/letter combinations that may puzzle beginning readers. For example, while the text for “G” reads “Grumpy Gorillas Guarding the Garden Gate”, the accompanying illustration contains a mixture of hard and soft G words: a giraffe, gerbils, a goat, guinea pigs, gargoyles, and gravel. The illustrated letter “K” is decorated with knots, yet the “K” in “knot” is silent. And not all the words in the alliterative text are familiar or easy to read. “Inspired Iguanas Improvising on Ice” and “Overdramatic Ocelots Orchestrating an Opera” might require adult assistance to read and interpret. Examples such as these could be confounding for those just learning to decode sounds and letters but would provide a worthy challenge for more advanced readers. The Imaginary Alphabet is not a book that talks down to its audience or simplifies the English language and its complicated phonology, but it does provide a solidly entertaining learning experience.
Dr. Vivian Howard is a professor in the School of Information Management at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.