There's a Monster in the Alphabet

There's a Monster in the Alphabet

by James Rumford
     
 

According to Herodotus, an Ancient Greek historian, a Phoenician named Cadmus brought the alphabet to Greece. In the ancient myths, Cadmus was a hero who fought a ferocious monster and founded the city of Thebes. Cadmus was so famous that his deeds were told and retold throughout the ancient world.

In this modern retelling, James Rumford uses the alphabet that

Overview


According to Herodotus, an Ancient Greek historian, a Phoenician named Cadmus brought the alphabet to Greece. In the ancient myths, Cadmus was a hero who fought a ferocious monster and founded the city of Thebes. Cadmus was so famous that his deeds were told and retold throughout the ancient world.

In this modern retelling, James Rumford uses the alphabet that Cadmus brought to Greece to recount the hero’s own story. Part truth, part fancy, this different kind of alphabet book takes its reader on a journey to the distant past, when our letters were not just marks to record sounds but were pictures of eyes and hands, doors and fences, giant teeth and . . . monsters.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The concept and design are indeed ingenious…" Kirkus Reviews

“In the illustrations, Rumford has integrated the emerging letters with the characters of his story to stunning effect.” The New York Times Book Review

“Artful design, dramatic execution, and attention to detail mark this complicated but thoroughly enjoyable book.” School Library Journal

“Inspired by ancient Greek vase painting, the striking pictures feature designs in burnt orange and black, with highlights of white, purple, and turquoise.” Booklist, ALA

Publishers Weekly
For older readers, the myth of Cadmus (reputed to have brought the alphabet to Greece) is reimagined in There's a Monster in the Alphabet by James Rumford. The author explains what each letter stood for ("A was once a picture of an ox"; N, the monster's serpentine curves), and weaves the history into a story. Glorious illustrations call to mind the images of a Grecian urn, set against a backdrop of fiery orange, black and purple watercolors.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Recent discoveries in Egypt indicate that the letters of our alphabet might have originally been pictures, possibly put in an order that told a story. Using his imagination, Rumford retells the myth of Cadmus, the Phoenician hero who brought the alphabet to Greece. "A" was a picture of an ox, and Rumford's story starts with Cadmus in Greece, where he is told "If you seek your fortune, follow an ox with moon-shaped marks." The illustration shows a letter "A" placed upside-down on the ox's face to indicate how the picture might have come to be. The mixed-media illustrations, inspired by ancient Greek art, are in tones of rusty orange, black, and purple. The dramatic scenes take up each spread, with a few lines of text telling the story across the bottom, and a few explanatory notes at the top. The story is exciting on its own, but readers will enjoy the added layer of the alphabet's story. Rumford gives no details about how much of the story is his own elaboration, and readers will find their curiosity only tickled by his endnotes, which explain how much is still unknown about our alphabet. A chart compares the English, Phoenician, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic alphabets, and allows readers to decode the phrases Rumford placed into his illustration-in Phoenician. Artful design, dramatic execution, and attention to detail mark this complicated but thoroughly enjoyable book. Like Rumford's Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta 1325-1354 (Houghton, 2001), this is a title for readers intrigued by the ancient past and its connection to our lives today.-Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 thatit 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)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780618221400
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/28/2002
Pages:
40
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x (d)
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

Meet the Author


Master storyteller James Rumford combines his love for art and history in his picture books. Each of his books is vastly different in its content, design, and illustrations but one aspect remains constant throughout his work: his passion about his subjects. Rumford, a resident of Hawaii, has studied more than a dozen languages and worked in the Peace Corps, where he traveled to Africa, Asia, and Afghanistan. He draws from these experiences and the history of his subject when he is working on a book. His book Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing was a 2005 Sibert Honor winner.

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