ABC Americana from the National Gallery of Art

Cynthia Elyce Rubin, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P $11.95 (30p) ISBN 978-0-15-200660-0
That this alphabet of objects--culled from the Index of American Design, a graphic archive of this country's design and folk art--is a worthy offering is unquestionable. Rubin has assembled 26 meticulously crafted paintings from as many watercolorists; the paintings were commissioned during the Depression as a federal work project and produced in 1935-42. The Index itself is a national treasure, but so, in no small way, is this alphabet, which distills periods of American history into icons of both nostalgic and immediate power: ``F is for Figurehead'' recalls the whaling days of yore; ``G is for Glasses'' shows spectacles hanging from a bar, so that young readers must imagine the shop below, while adults will be reminded of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby ; ``Q is for Quilt'' bursts across the page, a star framed by four American flags; and ``S is for Saddle'' conjures up the Old West, even as it hints that the rough-riding cowboys had a bit of the aesthete in them. What children will notice first is the splendid array of toylike items: a horse, a fierce-faced marionette, a shiny etched trumpet, an Uncle Sam bank, a Civil War drum. This collection is everything Florence Cassen Mayer's Museum ABC books were meant to be but far more accessible, far more capable of surprising readers. Not only a distinguished alphabet book, it is also an exceptional children's book, a piquant blend of fact and fancy that will stir all who come across it. All ages. (April)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1989
Release date: 04/01/1989
Genre: Children's
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