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by Vladimir Radunsky, Chris Raschka

A New York Review Children’s Collection Original
An ALBUM of old photos?

Here celebrated artists and authors Vladimir Radunsky and Chris Raschka put a delightful new old-fashioned spin on the alphabet book. Radunsky has selected portraits of children from his spectacular collection of antique


A New York Review Children’s Collection Original
An ALBUM of old photos?

Here celebrated artists and authors Vladimir Radunsky and Chris Raschka put a delightful new old-fashioned spin on the alphabet book. Radunsky has selected portraits of children from his spectacular collection of antique black and-white photographs. Raschka has given the children names and written deliciously teasing rhymes about them.

The result is ALPHABETABUM, a book of letters and pictures to which readers will happily return again and again both to look and to learn.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Radunsky and Raschka, the team behind Hip Hop Dog and other titles, collaborate on an unusual volume of vintage studio portraits. Radunsky supplies favorites from his collection of photographs of long-ago children, purchased secondhand in the U.S., Europe, and Russia. Raschka bestows A-to-Z names upon the anonymous children and composes alliterative verse to accompany each sepia picture. A young violinist poses for letter E: “Excellent Edwin Eugene/ Executes each etude with ease,/ If you know what I mean.” A boy grins in his sailor suit: “Salty Shelby Scott/ Sings seasonal songs/ Whether in season or not.” Oddly, some rhymes seem not to fit the sitter: K’s “Keen Kerry Keith” is not “smiling/ Through his teeth,” and Z’s “Jazzy Zelda Zip” does not have “a hand/ Upon her hip.” Children of non-European heritage are absent, a curious omission, given Radunsky’s statement in a concluding essay that the photographs provide “an extraordinary chance to see what our great-great-great-grandparents looked like when they were children.” While the images are poignant and the book design elegant, the flip verse does its subjects a disservice. Ages 4–8. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“With it’s dark red and sepia tones, the punningly titled Alphabetabum evokes a lost world of European composition books, exotic passports, vintage photo albums and old-school primers. It addresses children and nostalgic adult readers alike, with a rhyming verse for each letter accompanied by a 19th- or early-20th-century studio photo or carte de visite…In Alphabetabum, the rhymes infuse the letters with affect, reminding us of that other use we make of the alphabet: bringing order to random accumulations—such as old photos of strangers—that can elicit hard-to-define emotions. (One hopes that someone will claim some of these children as ancestors!)” —The New York Times Book Review

"This ingenious way to help little ones learn their ABCs uses the hook of vintage photos collected over decades from flea markets around the world. Little Lucian Leroy, a tiny fellow in a tall tophat and tails, likes licorice and lollipops. Baby Beulah Bridget balances a big bow on the top of her noggin. Even kids who don’t understand all the words and concepts will enjoy hearing the alliteration spoken aloud and marvel at the get-ups from days of yore." —Working Mother

"Raschka and Radunsky have collaborated to create an ingenious alphabet book with a hook: it’s illustrated with antique photos of children from around the world…The photos, which come from Radunsky’s private collection, are wonderfully evocative, inviting viewers to imagine the real lives of those depicted. The book is, thus, not only an opportunity to learn one’s ABCs but also to indulge in an exercise in imagination. No small feat!” —Booklist 

“[A]n irresistible curiosity. It stands out from the crowd. As soon as you see its sepia cover photograph of a child…. you want to know more….It is charming.” —The Observer, (UK) A Best Picture Book for Children for Christmas, 2014

“The antique photos of children accompanying each letter are a mirror into history and just examining the dress and expressions is fascinating.  Add to that Raschka's quirky verse, and you have a picture book that looks like an object from another time and is appealing to all ages.” —Seira Wilson, Omnivoracious

Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
This has to be one of the most unusual alphabet books and its approach is absolutely delightful. Radnowsky explains that he began collecting old photographs year ago and came up with the idea of using the anonymous black-and-white photos with rhymes created by Raschka to tell a story about each picture. For example, the picture highlighting the letter B shows a little girl dressed in a white jacket and black shirt and sporting a phenomenally large white bow in her hair; the associated rhyme says, “Baby Beulah Bridget/Balances one big bow/But does not fidget.” All of the pictures engage the reader’s interest and the verses developed add an interesting idea to each photograph. A note at the end of the book from Radnowsky entitled “Are these children our great-great-great-grandparents?” provides some history into photography around the turn of the century and the importance of photographs to families. Additional pictures of children and families provide a final, touching view of a long-ago world. This book is a great choice for elementary libraries and could be used by teachers to inspire additional verses for the pictures. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.; Ages 4 to 9.
School Library Journal
Gr 3 Up—In this digital age, actual photographs are quickly becoming the forgotten flotsam of flea markets. So many people and memories have been lost to the ages, and all that remains are countless discarded anonymous photos. It is this common and mysterious source material that Radunsky and Raschka drew upon to create this beautifully produced picture book. Radunsky, like so many vernacular photography collectors today, has spent hours sifting through bins of photos at flea markets and antique shops, saving snapshots, cabinet cards, and cartes de visite from obscurity. He has selected favorite images of children from his personal collection, and Raschka has assigned each child an alliterative name and peculiar personality by penning poetic captions based on what is depicted in the photo. The photos start with Awkward Agnes Alexandra and continue through Jazzy Zelda Zip and feature slight smiles, clasped hands, cryptic countenances, and photographic props that inform the playful rhymes, taking readers on an alphabetical journey that brings new discovery to these lost and forgotten children. The book's design, with large reproductions graced with photography studio stamps from around the world, reinforces and confirms the notion that regardless if readers grew up in Brooklyn, Boston, Budapest, or Berlin, they have all, at one time or another, had to dress up in their Sunday best and pose for photographs. This work speaks directly to descriptive observation and creativity, which can serve as a jumping-off point for programming and educational opportunities for teachers and librarians.—Billy Parrott, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
This collaboration pairs compelling vintage photographs of children, chosen from Radunsky's extensive collection, with Raschka's 26 flippant, three-line verses. The late-19th- and early-20th-century photographs capture images of children dressed in their best costumes and shoes, formally posed in photographers' studios. Radunsky's elegant, child-friendly afterword explains that the expense of photographic images caused families to reserve them only for special occasions. Inviting speculation that these children "could have been our great-great-great-grandparents," he suggests that the photos offer "an extraordinary chance to see what our great-great-great-grandparents looked like when they were children." Raschka's alliterative triplets (arranged alphabetically by the invented names of the pictured children) aim to amuse but clank more than they click. The verses contrive characteristics and emotions for the arbitrarily named children, seeming distinctly out of step with Radunsky's respectful, historically grounded approach. At "G," Raschka writes: "Gifted Glenda Grace / Glows gorgeously with a grin / Half as wide as her face." In the image, a toddler in a fancy dress and big hair bow (both tinted pink) leans against a low table, her hands on an open book. Wide-eyed, she displays a tentative half-smile, more Mona Lisa than Minnie Mouse. The poems not only intentionally sidestep the cultural identities of the depicted children (mostly West European and white), but employ ill-advised terms like "manhandles" and "unmans" in poems about "Merry Margo Maxine" and "Uppity Ursula Uma." An intriguing concept waylaid by snark. (Picture book. 5-7)

Product Details

New York Review Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.60(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Vladimir Radunsky has published more than thirty books for children and received numerous awards, including several New York Times Best Illustrated Book Awards and Bologna’s Critici in Erba. Some of his books have appeared on the New York Times best-seller list.

Chris Raschka has written and/or illustrated more than sixty books for children, including Yo! Yes?Charlie Parker Played Be BopMysterious TheloniousSluggy SlugFive for a Little OneA Poke in the I, and The Hello, Goodbye Window, and has received a Caldecott Honor, two Caldecott Awards, the Ezra Jack Keats Award, and five New York Times Best Illustrated Book Awards.

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