Book Review: The Hidden Alphabet

Review cross-posted on our sister site, Caterpickles.

Cover of "The Hidden Alphabet (Ala Notabl...The Hidden Alphabet
By Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Roaring Brook Press, 2003
Age Range: 4-8

Laura Seeger’s The Hidden Alphabet is a work of art posing as an alphabet book. Black lift-up flaps frame stunningly simple images of birds, mice, eggs, even quotation marks–setting these rather humble, everyday objects up as works of art in their own right. Lift the flaps and the objects reveal themselves to be a notch in a K, the hole in an R, or the curve of an S.

The book’s only text is the name of the objects in the black frame. The result is a blend of short, unimposing text and familiar images that encourages my daughter to try sounding out the words on her own.

If you ask my daughter, she’ll tell you she doesn’t like this book because there is too much black on the cover. And in fact, she will never pick this book up off the shelf for herself (I have about 6 months of anecdotal data to prove this). At the same time, when we read this book this week, she was fully engaged, lifting the flaps, sounding out words, and critiquing the artist’s rendition of the various letters.

Even if this book left my daughter completely cold, I would still pull it out to read with her on occasion because the illustrations are that good. At one point, my daughter turned the page and said, “Wow.”

I say “wow” on nearly every page. This book is a visual feast. So why didn’t I give it a 5? The cover. We have an early edition of the book that uses a solid black sheet with boxes stamped out of it through which the letters of the title appear. Although my adult self understands completely and fully endorses the genius of this book’s cover, the nearly unrelenting black keeps my daughter from ever picking up this book on her own.

And that’s a problem.

Based on the Amazon listing, it looks like they’ve changed the cover for the more recent editions. Perhaps my daughter isn’t the only child who doesn’t want to read a book draped in all that black.

And now it’s your turn. What are you reading this week?

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About Shala Howell

Writer of things ranging from optical network switching white papers to genetic testing patient education materials to historical fiction set in an 1880s asylum. When I’m not scratching my head over pesky characters who refuse to do things how I want them done or dreaming of my next book (which will of course be much easier to write than the current one), my writerly self can be found blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, or musing about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.wordpress.com.
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