Saturday, November 21, 2009

Children’s Books: Creature by Andrew Zuckerman and Alphabeasties by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss

Alphabet books would seem to be one of the most popular categories of children’s picture books. There appears to be an endless supply of “A is for this” and “B is for that.” Think of a topic and you can probably find an alphabet book to match it. The books ranges wildly in quality and content but the sheer number of them sometimes can’t help but make you wonder: does the world really even need yet another alphabet book?

In the alphabet book category, a single theme would seem to rise above the others in popularity. And no matter how often you see “A is for Animal” you know that another book or six on the same topic is just down the turnpike. You’d think that, after a while, it would all just make you want to yawn.

All of this makes it even more interesting that two animal-focused alphabet books published this year both rank full marks for being both innovative and terrific.

Creature (Chronicle Books) by Andrew Zuckerman is gorgeously illustrated by Zuckerman’s own wonderful animal photos. The book is also sharply understated. No “A is for Anything,” here. In fact, there are barely any words at all. Large block letters introduce the idea of the shape of letters and the occasional word (“Bear,” “Insect,” Kangaroo”) is inserted in an appropriate place, but Zuckerman’s photos are always the stars. And they’re wonderful photographs, too: isolated animals cleverly arranged against their stark white backgrounds. A glossary explains the identity of each of the players. (“Jackrabbits, also called hares, can run up to 45 miles per hour…”)

If Creature is a terrific book -- and it is -- Alphabeasties (Blue Apple) is even better. No photographs here, the animals are created with the letters that spell their name. Unsurprisingly, the co-authors are both graphic designers, a demographic I suspect will go crazy for this book. With cut-outs and die-cuts and other fun and creative exercises, along with camels made of Cs and dogs made of Ds and so on, Alphabeasties is a treat for almost all the senses. It’s also extremely well done.

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