Alphabet City

Alphabet City
Reading Level: K − 1st Grade
Letters aren't found only in books, they're everywhere around us. Take a tour of Alphabet City, and soon you'll be seeing letters in the unlikeliest places. Uptown or downtown, Johnson's vivid, hyperrealistic paintings find beauty in the smallest details. With flashes of color, these always-surprising images invite us to reexamine and rediscover the city around us. 10/95.
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Publishers Weekly

The letter B sculpted from the rigid angles of a fire escape, an R in a jagged street crack, an E in the side view of a street light-the heart of this stunning, wordless ABC book lies in the artist's photorealistic still lifes. Celebrating the lines, curves and shapes of the letters, Johnson (The Samurai's Daughter) elevates the alphabet into art. In the process, he transforms the mundane by challenging viewers to look at such commonplace urban structures as water towers (pipes attached to it form an F) and park benches (their wrought-iron arms make O's) with new eyes, turning the city itself into an urban sculpture. Only after careful scrutiny will viewers realize that these arresting images aren't photographs but compositions of pastels, watercolors, gouache and charcoal. A visual tour de force, Johnson's ingenious alphabet book transcends the genre by demanding close inspection of not just letters, but the world. All ages. (Oct.)

School Library Journal

Gr 1 Up--Beginning with the A formed by a construction site's sawhorse and ending with the Z found in the angle of a fire escape, Johnson draws viewers' eyes to tiny details within everyday objects to find letters. In this wordless tour of sights from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, he invites young and old alike to take a new look at familiar surroundings, discovering the alphabet without ever looking in a book or reading from a sign. Conceived in the tradition of Ann Jonas's work, especially The Thirteenth Clue (Greenwillow, 1992), Johnson's pastel, watercolor, gouache, and charcoal paintings are much more realistic than his illustrations for The Samurai's Daughter (Dial, 1992); in fact, they are almost photographic in appearance. Some of the images are both clever and incredibly clear, e.g., the E found in the sideways view of a traffic light. Others, such as the C in the rose window of a Gothic church, are more obscure. Nevertheless, all of the paintings are beautifully executed and exhibit a true sense of artistic vision. While parents or teachers might assume from the title that this is a traditional alphabet book, they should be encouraged to look at it as an art book. It's sure to inspire older children to venture out on their own walks to discover the alphabet in the familiar objects of their own hometowns.--Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication date
October 01, 1995
Picture Puffin Books
BISAC categories
JNF013010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Concepts | Alphabet
JNF031000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Lifestyles | City & Town Life
Library of Congress categories
English language
Caldecott Medal
Honor Book 1996 - 1996

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