Monday, September 14, 2009

Folk Art for Kids

"City Alphabet"
By Joanne Schwartz and Matt Beam
ISBN No. 978-0-88899-928-3

How’s this for a never-ending English lesson? The premise of this unusual book is that language is alive and well, and all around us: sentences spray painted on walls, letters inlaid in a cement sidewalk, words pieced together with vinyl decals on a storefront window. If we just look around enough, the book suggests, we’ll see walls, sidewalks and windows talking to us; we just have to be open to what they’re saying. Each letter of the alphabet gets two pages in the book. On the left hand side we see the letter itself and on the right an image of the word containing the letter captured in the concrete jungle (each photo is captioned about where the letter or word was found). It’s a disarmingly lovely valentine to the idea of “found art.” But the beauty of the book isn’t its startlingly simple yet effective concept. It’s that it invites children to consider the world around them as a sort of story constantly being written, edited and then re-written. As for HOW the words got onto a wall, sidewalk or window, well, that’s never explained and becomes part of the bigger wonder about the English language in general (I don’t know why but I’m picturing the creatures from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” doing the engraving and taping and pasting; you know, typical Vancouverites putting their flyers up on lamp posts at 3AM on weekends). “Alphabet City” looks at urban geography as the most exciting library ever – one in which even adults can have fun spotting the words and then wondering about the story behind them.