The Invisible Alphabet by Joshua David Stein, illustrated by Ron Barrett

 The Invisible Alphabet by Joshua David Stein, illustrated by Ron Barrett, Rise x Penguin Workshop (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 9780593222775, 2020 

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

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  This book was so clever and entertaining that I can see it becoming a bedtime favorite, even though it’s an alphabet book! Think hard; can you think of something invisible for every letter of the alphabet? It must have been a blast coming up with the words and thinking about how to turn them into engaging (and funny, sometimes slightly edgy) sketches that expand the concept. Stein (previously a food writer!) starts with a bang — “air” (wind blowing a curtain), opposite “bare” (a naked backside loading toys into a bathtub).  An ongoing theme is folks waiting at a bus stop;  first it’s D for delayed, then J for just missed it, and finally T for too late. E for erased shows the faintest echo of what must have been an awesome pencil drawing of a dragon.

Obviously, when everything’s invisible, the illustrations have to be amazing and Barrett is a master. Here he employs his signature, flowing pen-and-ink illustrations — all black and white with just a contrasting bright orange for details. Every page is perfect and there’s often a lot to look at and induce giggles. I spent a long time engrossed by the supremely messy room in which something, somewhere was “Hidden”, among the debris is a Build-A-Unicorn Puppy craft kit, a busted robot, a toy car that seemed to have run over a pedestrian; I could go on and on. Or the peaceful pond on which floats an unsuspecting kayak with an odd ripple (“Unseen”) followed on the next page by an empty pond, now with two ripples (“Vanished).  Also of note, the characters are diverse in a way that seems organic and expected: a woman in a hijab is shown waiting for a bus, a young child of color holds out his finger for some sympathy for a microscopic booboo.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. A tour de force and hopefully a great start for a new writer/illustrator partnership. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  If you’re tired of same-old, same-old or uninspiring alphabet primers, this one’s for you. Recommended for kids and adults who loved The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak (2014.)

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books or if you have an area for ABC primers of funny books, it could also go there.

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: October 23, 2020

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