September 14, 2023

The Imaginary Alphabet

Written and illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault
Pajama Press
64 pp.
Ages 5-10
September 2023
Though Sylvie Daigneault describes The Imaginary Alphabet in her preface as a work that started during the pandemic lockdown, she recognizes that it is a book of playfulness and unbounded imagination. It might have been a gift to have this luscious picture book to entertain children during that tenuous time, but its joyful art and interactive nature will be a welcome read anytime.
From The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylvie Daigneault
Based on the 26 letters of the alphabet, Sylvie Daigneault has created a book of hidden pictures within. For each letter, all works of art themselves, there is a fantastical illustration filled with items that begin with that letter, as well as a quirky phrase that alludes to some of those hidden items. For example, A, a botanical piece of acorns, is accompanied with the phrase Agile Alligators Attempting an Arabesque, pointing at the alligators and the arabesque they are performing. But there are more A words to be found, like the accordion, an albatross or two, an anchor, apples, and an axe. There are even more A items and Sylvie Daigneault generously provides lists for each letter at the conclusion of her book.
From The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylvie Daigneault
The text, like the art, is sophisticated, and children may need some adult participation to help them find all the items depicted for that letter. For example, the cover art, taken from the letter F, may have little ones finding the frog, the ferrets, the fan, the fairies, and the fire but I suspect the fascinator, fern and the flounce might be more challenging for them to pick out. For that reason, I think The Imaginary Alphabet shouldn't be limited to five- to ten-year-olds, as indicated, but a gorgeous and captivating book for all ages. (For art lovers, I could see keeping The Imaginary Alphabet on a coffee table for guests to peruse, which they will be drawn to do, when it's spotted.)
From The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylvie Daigneault
The Imaginary Alphabet is extraordinary in its art and its premise. Sylvie Daigneault, originally from Montreal and now of Toronto, has gone beyond the illustrations she created for books like The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough and C is for Canada, and exploded into a new realm of art for children's books. Very reminiscent of Wallace Edwards's fanciful and extravagant art, Sylvie Daigneault goes all out in her pencil illustrations, giving textures and form to the incredible, and making The Imaginary Alphabet a literary feast of everything, from animals and plants to foods and landscapes. It's beyond a concept book and a search-and-find book. It's an art book that will inspire discussions, inquiry, and exploration of Sylvie Daigneault's craft, and make readers smile for lemurs with lollipops, the overdramatic ocelots, and the unicycle-riding unicorn, and that's only L, O, and U.

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