With “The Invisible Alphabet,” author and illustrator Joshua David Stein and Ron Barrett have created a really unusual and thoughtful picture book that is perfect for engaging children’s creativity and thinking-outside-the box skills. Even the cover, with the word “invisible” barely seen because it’s white-on-white but in shiny print gives a clue to the brilliant art inside. The black ink with white paper and just a hint of orange is the theme throughout the book. That orange provides the only actual color in the illustrations.
The text is simple. It’s an ABC book of invisibility. “A is for Air,” of course, but how does one illustrate something that’s invisible? There’s a line drawing of an open window with curtains blowing in the invisible air. The curtains have an orange stripe, and in the text the featured letter on each page is in orange text.
Perhaps the most clever illustrations center around a bus stop. “D is for Delayed” shows people waiting at the bus stop, looking for it, with orange leaves falling in the air. We don’t usually think of “delayed” as something that’s invisible. The theme continues with “J is for Just missed it,” and we see the same bus stop sign with people pointing and running after the just-passed bus. There is another pairing that is incredibly clever. “U” is an illustration of two people in a boat on a pond. There are ripples showing that something disappeared behind them into the water. The “U” is for unseen. The next letter, “V” is for vanished. Now, there are two sets of ripples on the pond. The boat and the boaters have vanished. Delightful.
All the letters are represented and all the invisible “objects” are clever and thought provoking. I used the book with my fourth graders. I read it to them and then had them make their own invisible alphabet book. Once they understood how much fun it is to think of invisible things, they really enjoyed it. Since we are a virtual classroom, I wrote in the chat, “A is for” and they responded with their invisible “A” words. Especially creative were some responses. For “B” their words included breath, blank, breeze, and blend in. For “E” echo and end, and for “F” finished, fear, far away, and frozen.
Most of my students are native Spanish speakers, but this activity and this fabulous picture book really got them thinking about invisible things and using their imaginations. We all loved it!
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Rise x Penguin Workshop, the publisher, for review purposes.