cover image ABSTRACT ALPHABET: A Book of Animals


Chronicle Books, Paul Cox, . . Chronicle, $17.95 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-2940-3

Experienced spellers may well rethink reading in this provocative alphabet, originally published in France as Animaux, which substitutes abstract shapes for familiar letters. At first glance, the book induces curiosity (and possible befuddlement). Rather than the animals promised in the subtitle, each spread seems to offer only a small gray letter in the upper left corner, along with disconnected blobs and flattened geometric forms on a white ground. Gradually, patterns emerge: a blue oval dominates the page marked B, a skinny brown rectangle is first among the shapes on the T page. Six symbols—including two blue ovals and one brown rectangle—appear in orderly fashion below the letter R; by making the appropriate exchanges, readers can spell "rabbit" and glean the symbols for A and I. Impatient codebreakers can use a lift-the-flap key to the 26 symbols, but persistent players will find that the "animal" clue gives direction and that certain signs appear frequently (e.g., the oblong orange A sign occurs in compositions from "cat" to "quail"). Cox (The Adventures of Archibald the Koala) stencils the shapes, and subtly visible brushstrokes soften the opaque forms. The book has numerous applications: amateur semioticians will ponder the heady concept of an alphabet as a symbolic system; modernists will note how the artfully arranged boomerang and leaf shapes recall Paul Klee and Ilya Bolotowsky's canvases. Generalists, on the other hand, can appreciate a challenging and exceptionally cool-looking game. Ages 6-up. (May)