Alphamaniacs: Builders of the 26 Wonders of the World – by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

      Alphamaniacs: Builders of the 26 Wonders of the World – by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Candlewick, 9780763690663, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  This is a quirky book about a quirky group of alphabet-obsessed thinkers and doers. Twenty-six short essays by Fleishman introduce us to a cast of colorful weirdos, starting with Daniel Nussbaum, who rewrote literary classics using only letter and number combinations found in a printout of all of the vanity license plates in California. Some of the included obsessions are so bizarre that even after the description, I’m still not sure what an isogram is or how to decode the made-up language called Anguish. Most of these characters were new to me, although I had heard of Marc Okrand, who used his PhD in linguistics to create the Klingon language. Melissa Sweet’s beautiful illustrations are a perfect match to the information. A mixture of watercolor and collage, often done on graph paper or over found objects, they are gorgeous and interesting. I especially loved her tribute to Doris Cross, a pioneering artist/poet who erased and marked up dictionary pages to find new meanings. Sweet’s drawing starts with “Hello” and features a jaunty robin as the “herald” of spring. The book ends with a list of sources and an index.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. As a word junkie myself, I’m relieved to realize that my fixation is well under control, compared to this bunch. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  It’s tricky, because this is one of those stunningly beautiful books that has no practical purpose. Therefore, it almost certainly belongs in most libraries! Perfect for budding cryptologists, Latin/English/art teachers and writers of all stripes. It would be a great book to read aloud in middle or high school, one chapter per week.

Who should buy this book? Middle, high school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? 401? 402?

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: April 25, 2020


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