A photographer and artist friend of mine recently expressed an interest in crafting her own alphabet book, which got me thinking about the genre and wondering what niches are left to explore for new authors. A simple search on Kickstarter shows many such projects in various stage of completion with themes ranging from Steampunk to Shakespeare to a book using the human body and contortionists to present the letters of the alphabet.
It would seem the genre has come far over the years, evolving from its early incarnation as an instructional primer to books showing images meant to appeal to children, such as Kate Greenaway’s Alphabet (1885). Years later, Dr. Seuss’s ABC (1963) introduced an element of zany fun to the format, and was followed by books which ran the gamut from comical to mischievous to tongue-in-cheek to philanthropic. Two more recent publications have progressed to a whole other level, experimenting with the form in new and innovative ways: Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (2000) and ABC3D by Marion Bataille (2008). Bembo’s Zoo employs the Bembo typeface as a tool in which to play with the form and function of letters, manipulating them to create images of animals, while ABC3D presents the letters of the alphabet as tactile objects — three dimensional letters that transform into one another. The books are clever examples of artistry and graphic design and demonstrate how much there is left to explore within the genre. I’m especially curious to see how the newer alphabet books will incorporate modern technology and the various platforms on which a book can be read these days.
So to my friend, I can’t wait to see what you come up with. As Dr. Seuss wrote, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”