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The Z Was Zapped: A Play in Twenty-Six Acts

The Z Was Zapped: A Play in Twenty-Six Acts

4.5 7
by Chris Van Allsburg

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A dramatic black- and- white presentation of the alphabet in which the three-time Caldecott medalist depicts a mysterious transformation of each letter.


A dramatic black- and- white presentation of the alphabet in which the three-time Caldecott medalist depicts a mysterious transformation of each letter.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The most succinctly nutty alphabet book in the history of mankind." The New York Times

"Whimsical, sophisticated, this should appeal to a wide audience, from those amused by mayhem in an unusual context to the many fans of this uniquely creative artist." Kirkus Reviews with Pointers

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Van Allsburg's latest is not an alphabet book but an ``alphabet theatre'': as its title page proclaims, it is ``a play in twenty-six acts, performed by the Caslon Players, written and directed by Mr. Chris Van Allsburg.'' In it, each letter of the alphabet is shown on a draped curtained stage, undergoing some sort of (usually ominous) transformation. Turning the page reveals the text that spells out the alphabetical event: the A was in an avalanche; the B was badly bitter; the C was cut to ribbons; and so on. This is an original and unusual undertaking, executed with both visual and verbal adroitness. In technique it most resembles Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick; in both books, black pencil is used with remarkable skill to create the richness of texture and shading usually associated with full color. It is perhaps closest to Harris Burdick in ambition as well, in the sense that an imaginative challenge is presented to the reader (here, to come up with a verbal account of the pictured transformation before turning the page to find it). But the imaginative possibilities of the ``alphabet theatre'' are limited; this alphabet book format is more of an intriguing design element than a way to teach the ABCs. The picture and text that belong to a single letter are not on facing pages. While Van Allsburg's visual ingenuity is in full evidence (among his hauntingly realistic images are the evaporating E and the jittery J), there is both a sinister quality and an stagey dimension to the work. Artistically, a virtuoso performance, but one with an undeniably cold cast. All ages. (October)
School Library Journal
Gr 1 Up Returning to the black-and-white medium of conte pencil, Van Allsburg now presents an alphabetical morality play in 26 acts. Each sculptured letter is the subject in an action-packed tableau enacted on a sedately curtained stage. Here is a preview of coming attractions``A was in an Avalanche, B was Badly Bitten, C was Cut to ribbons.'' Children can try to guess what action has occured, thereby increasing their vocabulary and the fun, or they can turn the page and read the text, or better yetdo both. This clever romp resembles old vaudeville theater, with one curious act following the next. The ``Y'' is even yanked offstage by a crook. However, the art reminds one of a still frame from a black-and-white film. In the frame titled ``S was Simply Soaked'' the water hangs in mid-air above the ``S'' as if the projector were shut off in mid-action. There is also a surrealistic quality inherent in the illlustrations. While the younger crowd may be able to guess some of the verbs that Van Allsburg illustrates, this is more an alphabet book for older children, who will enjoy guessing what heinous act is being foisted upon these noble letters. Karen K. Radtke, Milwaukee Public Library

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 12.00(h) x 0.50(d)
BR (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 7 Years

Meet the Author

Chris Van Allsburg is the winner of two Caldecott Medals, for Jumanji and The Polar Express, as well as the recipient of a Caldecott Honor Book for The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. The author and illustrator of numerous picture books for children, he has also been awarded the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children’s literature. In 1982, Jumanji was nominated for a National Book Award and in 1996, it was made into a popular feature film. Chris Van Allsburg is a former instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Brief Biography

Providence, Rhode Island
Date of Birth:
June 18, 1949
Place of Birth:
Grand Rapids, Michigan
University of Michigan College of Architecture & Design, 1972; Rhode Island School of Design, MFA, 1975

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Z Was Zapped 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Butterfield More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for my four year old nephew. I couldn't believe how much fun we had reading it together. Once he caught on he couldn't wait for me to turn the page and get to the next letter. It made learning the alphabet and sounds a lot of fun. This is a great book for new readers and kids going into kindergarten. I know I will buy more copies of this book in the years to come for kids of family and friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago