THERE’S A MONSTER IN THE ALPHABET

When Cadmus came to Greece from Phoenicia and founded Thebes, he brought with him the Phoenician alphabet. Or so the legends say. Rumford (Traveling Man, 2001, etc.) here recounts the myth of Cadmus, using it as a vehicle to explain how the letters in the alphabet achieved their order. The illustrations are rendered primarily in black and terra cotta, taking inspiration in figural style as well as color scheme from the vase paintings of ancient Greece. The double-page spreads depict in succession the inclusion of various letters of the alphabet as the story progresses. The letters in question appear in their familiar Roman avatars in the upper corners, along with an explanation of their pictorial origins—“K showed the fingers and palm of a hand”—while appearing again, superimposed over the relevant parts of the picture. The text records in contrasting type their points of inclusion in the story—“He cupped the palm of his hand and drank.” The concept and design are indeed ingenious, but ultimately flawed. As demonstrated by a concluding chart of the transformation of the alphabet from Egyptian pictograms through Phoenician and Greek letters to the Roman characters, there is frequently little resemblance between the modern character and the object it originally represented. While K may conceivably stretch to become the palm of a hand, the artist is hard-pressed to convince a reader that an S represents teeth. Moreover, there is no small amount of disingenuousness in the presentation of the story. At the beginning, the reader is told that the “ancient ones put the letters together in a special order to tell a story about their hero . . . ” An author’s note at the end, however, reveals that it is primarily his own supposition, fueled by “a lot of imagination—and help from thick, scholarly books,” that the myth of Cadmus was intended by the Greeks to provide an order for their alphabet. To thus state as fact what one later reveals as a personal hypothesis makes for a straightforward text, but does not ultimately treat honestly with one’s readership. (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-22140-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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ABIYOYO RETURNS

The seemingly ageless Seeger brings back his renowned giant for another go in a tuneful tale that, like the art, is a bit sketchy, but chockful of worthy messages. Faced with yearly floods and droughts since they’ve cut down all their trees, the townsfolk decide to build a dam—but the project is stymied by a boulder that is too huge to move. Call on Abiyoyo, suggests the granddaughter of the man with the magic wand, then just “Zoop Zoop” him away again. But the rock that Abiyoyo obligingly flings aside smashes the wand. How to avoid Abiyoyo’s destruction now? Sing the monster to sleep, then make it a peaceful, tree-planting member of the community, of course. Seeger sums it up in a postscript: “every community must learn to manage its giants.” Hays, who illustrated the original (1986), creates colorful, if unfinished-looking, scenes featuring a notably multicultural human cast and a towering Cubist fantasy of a giant. The song, based on a Xhosa lullaby, still has that hard-to-resist sing-along potential, and the themes of waging peace, collective action, and the benefits of sound ecological practices are presented in ways that children will both appreciate and enjoy. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-83271-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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THE GIRL WHO LOVED WILD HORSES

            There are many parallel legends – the seal women, for example, with their strange sad longings – but none is more direct than this American Indian story of a girl who is carried away in a horses’ stampede…to ride thenceforth by the side of a beautiful stallion who leads the wild horses.  The girl had always loved horses, and seemed to understand them “in a special way”; a year after her disappearance her people find her riding beside the stallion, calf in tow, and take her home despite his strong resistance.  But she is unhappy and returns to the stallion; after that, a beautiful mare is seen riding always beside him.  Goble tells the story soberly, allowing it to settle, to find its own level.  The illustrations are in the familiar striking Goble style, but softened out here and there with masses of flowers and foliage – suitable perhaps for the switch in subject matter from war to love, but we miss the spanking clean design of Custer’s Last Battle and The Fetterman Fight.          6-7

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1978

ISBN: 0689845049

Page Count: -

Publisher: Bradbury

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1978

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