Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The letter B sculpted from the rigid angles of a fire escape, an R in a jagged street crack, an E in the side view of a street light-the heart of this stunning, wordless ABC book lies in the artist's photorealistic still lifes. Celebrating the lines, curves and shapes of the letters, Johnson (The Samurai's Daughter) elevates the alphabet into art. In the process, he transforms the mundane by challenging viewers to look at such commonplace urban structures as water towers (pipes attached to it form an F) and park benches (their wrought-iron arms make O's) with new eyes, turning the city itself into an urban sculpture. Only after careful scrutiny will viewers realize that these arresting images aren't photographs but compositions of pastels, watercolors, gouache and charcoal. A visual tour de force, Johnson's ingenious alphabet book transcends the genre by demanding close inspection of not just letters, but the world. All ages. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
The scenes of New York City look like photographs, but they are actually realistic paintings that reveal the alphabet in a most unusual way. For example the letter "G" shows up in the grill work of lamppost and an "H" appears within a scene of two buildings connected by an walkway. It is intriguing and requires a bit of sophistication on the part of the reader.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 1 Up-Beginning with the A formed by a construction site's sawhorse and ending with the Z found in the angle of a fire escape, Johnson draws viewers' eyes to tiny details within everyday objects to find letters. In this wordless tour of sights from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, he invites young and old alike to take a new look at familiar surroundings, discovering the alphabet without ever looking in a book or reading from a sign. Conceived in the tradition of Ann Jonas's work, especially The Thirteenth Clue (Greenwillow, 1992), Johnson's pastel, watercolor, gouache, and charcoal paintings are much more realistic than his illustrations for The Samurai's Daughter (Dial, 1992); in fact, they are almost photographic in appearance. Some of the images are both clever and incredibly clear, e.g., the E found in the sideways view of a traffic light. Others, such as the C in the rose window of a Gothic church, are more obscure. Nevertheless, all of the paintings are beautifully executed and exhibit a true sense of artistic vision. While parents or teachers might assume from the title that this is a traditional alphabet book, they should be encouraged to look at it as an art book. It's sure to inspire older children to venture out on their own walks to discover the alphabet in the familiar objects of their own hometowns.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI
This is hardly an alphabet book for preschoolers; some of the depictions of letters may stump older kids (or even adults!). Nevertheless, the artwork is quite amazing. At first glance, or even second, the art appears to be photographs, such is the beautiful clarity of the pictures. However, the paintings are actually done in pastels, watercolors, gouache, and charcoal on hot pressed watercolor paper. The images themselves, one to a page, with each forming a letter of the alphabet, are urban: "A" is a construction sawhorse; "P", a handrail in the subway; "Z", a building's fire escape. Some of the pictures, especially those that use negative space, are harder to spot. Still, this is sure to intrigue, and art teachers, especially, will enjoy finding ways to use such a unique offering.