________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 5. . . .October 2, 2015



Isabelle Arsenault.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House Canada), 2015.
64 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
ISBN 978-0-7636-7852-4.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**** /4






In an endnote, Alpha is described as being an “abcedarian”, i.e. a primer, especially one for teaching the alphabet. However, the purpose of Alpha is not to teach toddlers to recognize and/or recite the upper and lower cases of the letters of the Roman alphabet and then to connect them with common words beginning with those letters. Though a note on the book’s back cover identifies the audience for Alpha to be children “Ages 5-8", the work’s true audience is much older, and even adults will be attracted to this book, especially Arsenault’s illustrations.

     That same endnote also explains that the alphabet that’s being focused on in Alpha is:

The NATO phonetic alphabet, or more accurately, the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet [that] is used by various emergency services, including firefighters, police, the military, and the Red Cross, as a way to communicate clearly and precisely in urgent situations. When sending a message, each letter in the word is spelled out using this alphabet. For example, cat would be “Charlie-Alpha-Tango.”

     Each pair of facing pages deals with just a single letter of the NATO phonetic alphabet, with the text being limited to the word while the other page is completely taken up by Arsenault’s illustration that she has created to represent the target word. And it is Arsenault’s wonderful creativity in illustration that removes this book from the preschool collection and transports it, minimally, into a middle school audience setting. While there are a few direct representations of the words from the NATO phonetic alphabet (UNIFORM accompanied by an illustration of a uniformed airline pilot or LIMA, a lima bean), most connections are much, much more subtle and demand that readers bring either prior knowledge or imagination to make the connection between the word and its accompanying illustration. For instance, a black bowler hat faces CHARLIE, a crouching baseball catcher in a pin-stripe uniform is beside YANKEE, and an open man’s wallet with a picture of a child is linked to PAPA. JULIET is rendered via a old bottle on which can be seen the faint outline of a young girl, and ROMEO, a dagger with the reflection of a young male. NOVEMBER is an acorn, and MIKE is a pair of boxing gloves. The man wearing a pair of “whirly” glasses next to X-RAY took me back to my long ago childhood comic book days and those comics containing advertisements for x-ray glasses, that, if purchased, would supposedly allow me to see what was beneath someone’s clothes.

     No, Alpha is definitely not for the preschool set, but its illustrations could serve as models in middle and senior school art classes. And, of course, there will be those early middle schoolers who will completely ignore the illustrations and just use the NATO phonetic alphabet as their own secret code.

     This fun, but most sophisticated abecedarian deserves a place in school and public libraries. The challenge will be where to shelve it so that it doesn’t get overlooked.

Highly Recommended.

Delta-Alpha-Victor-Echo / Juliet-Echo-November-Kilo-India-November-Sierra-Oscar-November, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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