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Toronto, Yonge and Bloor, 1990. 32pp, cloth, $14.95
ISBN 1-895204-00-3. Distributed by University of Toronto Press. CIP

Kindergarten to Grade 3/Ages 5 to 8
Reviewed by Frieda Ling,.

Volume 19 Number 3
1991 May

Noises hold a fascination for chil­dren, especially the very young ones. The Noisy Alphabet is an attempt to link this appeal of noise to the alphabet. The publisher asked thirteen artists from various disciplines to illustrate two alphabet letters each, using at least one of a given list of sound-based words. The book indeed offers the reader an earful and eyeful as promised, but, unfortunately, not of the pleasing kind.

First, the sound association, instead of opening up possibilities, greatly limits the choice of words usable. The single-worded text is restricted mostly to sound-words, verbs denoting sound-producing actions, and nouns associated with sound production. Many of these words, e.g., "kaboom," "vroom," "ugh," are poor choices for learning the alphabet.

Second, noises, being audio rather than visual, are difficult to illustrate. The illustrations fall mainly into two categories. One is the juxtaposition of totally unrelated objects on one page, e.g., an elf eating eggs surrounded by an elephant, an exit sign, ear and an envelope. Another is the weaving of unrelated objects into an illogical whole, e.g., a boy laughing at the lick of a lion, while holding a key away from the lion. Neither is satisfactory.

Third, although rich in variety, the style is uniformly uninspired at best and amateurish at worst. One exception is the illustration for "Achoo." The picture, showing a man sneezed out of his pants, is very effective, but the style, reminiscent of a fifties advertisement, is too sophisticated for pre-schoolers. Some artists try too hard to cram too much on a page at the expense of clarity, cleanliness and recognizability, ele­ments important for picture-books. For example, for "boo, burp, babble, boom, beep, bark," we see a bear reading a book next to a boat surrounded by a dog next to a unicycle and a baby blowing a bugle in a pram (all framed off by buttons at the edges!). Such pictures are busy, crammed, incongruous, and confusing for children and adults alike.

This book proves three things: that good ideas do not automatically translate into successful books; that books need authors (which this lacks) to pull ideas into cohesive wholes; and that not all talented artists can be successful picture-book illustrators.

Parents can be grateful that fun "noise" books such as Hutchins' Good Night, Owl! (Macmillan 1972; Collier Macmillan, 1991), Aliki's Cock-a-doodle-doo (Greenwillow Books, 1986), and Spier's Gobble, Growl, Grunt (Doubleday, 1971) are all still in print.

Frieda Ling, Toronto Public Library, Toronto, Ont.
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