Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Children’s Book Review, An Artist’s Alphabet

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

An Artist’s Alphabet is a children’s picture book, written and illustrated by Norman Messenger, and published by Walker Studio (2016.) RRP: $Au29.99.

From the publisher:

A surreal and gorgeous alphabet book from exceptional artist Norman Messenger.

The ingenious Norman Messenger transforms the ordinary letters of the alphabet into extraordinary objects in this visionary collection of flora, fauna and more. A Walker Studio book that all ages will delight in and a beautiful gift for an art-lover.

When you read as many books as I do, you begin to develop an appreciation for books that are not only wonderfully written and illustrated, but also books that are fine physical products. An Artist’s Alphabet is a large format book made of good quality paper that instantly strikes you as being “sumptuous”. When you peek inside of course, that impression is immediately strengthened by the the gorgeous art work.

Messenger invites us to look at the alphabet and the world in general with new eyes. His use of rich colour, line, texture and pattern against a cream background for each spread makes the images stand out - important when you are reading aloud and sharing with a group. But this is not your average alphabet book, with each picture representing an actual object that starts with a certain letter. Instead, I believe Messenger wants us to think why he has chosen to represent letters the way he has. We start with an acrobat on the page for A, predictable, but portrayed in luscious detail. There are two mountains on the M page, that’s straightforward enough, and a viaduct too, to show us that M can also be m in shape when lowercase. But how about the C page? There we see three c-shaped waves in the style of Hokusai’s wood-block print. Is this a play on words? C = sea? No correct answers necessary, just the will to let your imagination wander and to look and think. I love that kids can enjoy the book on many levels - at first, looking at each page and seeing things in the shape of letters, but with subsequent readings, seeing something new.

A great book for libraries everywhere!

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