December 05, 2019

AlphaBit: An ABC Quest in 8-bit

Written by Chronicle Books
Illustrated by Juan Carlos Solon
Chronicle Books
36 pp.
Ages 2-5
August 2019

Most concept books like those that teach the alphabet struggle to find a unique theme on which to hang that instruction.  But AlphaBit is like no other alphabet book, embedding the teaching of the letters and words that start with those letters in some classic video/arcade game scenarios. It's a trip down memory lane for many and, for young children, it will a new and fresh design motif that links with technology without the complications.
From AlphaBit, illus. by Juan Carlos Solon
For each of the twenty-letters, displayed in large yellow font, common words like apple, banana and castle are posted in a text box. Chronicle Books may have created the lists of words for each letter, but it is Toronto's Juan Carlos Solon, video and gaming artist as well as illustrator, who gives the context for the words. The illustrations, reminiscent of old video games, display indoor and outdoor settings to showcase the words and more. Up to six words may be listed but many more words are illustrated for children to discover. For example, for the letter B, the words bird, bed, banana, buttons and barrels are posted but in the illustration, children will also find books, bowl, bookcase, bell, and bear.
From AlphaBit, illus. by Juan Carlos Solon
The pixel art, so much like the old 8-bit devices, is currently very trendy. You can find online pixel art generators and apps that help anyone create pixelated art. But Juan Carlos Solon goes beyond just illustrating "things" and designs complex scenes in which those alphabet objects are inserted, all based on a quest. From the first double-spread for letters A and B which depicts where the protagonist lives, to stepping outside and discovering a treasure map, our hero embarks on a quest to locate a diamond. There are obstacles from robot enemies and rope walkways over swamps, to ghosts and invaders. And as our hero advances, reaching the diamond, the story finishes off with an X-cellent! Yay! Zoiks! Or does it? Is the quest ever really over?
From AlphaBit, illus. by Juan Carlos Solon
Since everything old–or should I say retro?–is new again, young kids will love sitting down with AlphaBit as much as the adults who will be reminded of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders from forty plus years ago. I don't know if young children will be familiar with these classic video games but if the Press Start font and Juan Carlos Solon's graphics don't get them curious about them, then hopefully they'll at least enjoy a quest of alphabet discovery.

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