Reviews for Alphabet City


Horn Book Guide Reviews 1996
This compilation of handsome, realistic paintings is a tantalizing exercise in visual perception. By examining objects from varied perspectives, Johnson creates an unusual alphabetic sequence drawn from observations of a city landscape. The twenty-six studies command attention and encourage readers to conduct similar explorations of their own. While some are easy to decipher and others are more challenging, all are imaginative, stimulating, and striking. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 1995 October
~ In his first solo outing (he previously illustrated, among other titles, Robert San Souci's The Snow Wife, 1993), Johnson paints a series of images of objects and places in New York City that look like letters of the alphabet, from A to Z. Two ideas inform the book: The first is the style in which the paintings are done, an accomplished photo-realism; the second is a way of looking at the world through the lens of the alphabet, seeing letters as a man-made geometry. The artist effectively demonstrates just how far his vision can stretch in the fire escapes, water towers, streetlights, and traffic lights that form his alphabet. The layers of intended artifice are challenging--if not daunting. Johnson wants to show young readers the world around them, as it is, but instead of snapping photographs, he elevates the artifice first by painting pictures, then by making the pictures as close to photography as possible. It may be the ultimate feat or failure: Finding the man-made alphabet in the man-made urban landscape and rendering it in man-made representations, Johnson dazzles readers and prepares them for more eye-openers should he ever take a walk in the woods. (Picture book. 4-10) Copyright 1999 Kirkus Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1995 September #4
The letter B sculpted from the rigid angles of a fire escape, an R in a jagged street crack, an E in the side view of a street light-the heart of this stunning, wordless ABC book lies in the artist's photorealistic still lifes. Celebrating the lines, curves and shapes of the letters, Johnson (The Samurai's Daughter) elevates the alphabet into art. In the process, he transforms the mundane by challenging viewers to look at such commonplace urban structures as water towers (pipes attached to it form an F) and park benches (their wrought-iron arms make O's) with new eyes, turning the city itself into an urban sculpture. Only after careful scrutiny will viewers realize that these arresting images aren't photographs but compositions of pastels, watercolors, gouache and charcoal. A visual tour de force, Johnson's ingenious alphabet book transcends the genre by demanding close inspection of not just letters, but the world. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 1995 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1999 November #3
This wordless ABC, a Caldecott Honor book illustrated with photo-realistic still lifes, "transcends the genre by demanding close inspection of not just letters, but the world," said PW in a starred review. All ages. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 1996 January
Gr 1 Up Beginning with the A formed by a construction site's sawhorse and ending with the Z found in the angle of a fire escape, Johnson draws viewers' eyes to tiny details within everyday objects to find letters. In this wordless tour of sights from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, he invites young and old alike to take a new look at familiar surroundings, discovering the alphabet without ever looking in a book or reading from a sign. Conceived in the tradition of Ann Jonas's work, especially The Thirteenth Clue (Greenwillow, 1992), Johnson's pastel, watercolor, gouache, and charcoal paintings are much more realistic than his illustrations for The Samurai's Daughter (Dial, 1992); in fact, they are almost photographic in appearance. Some of the images are both clever and incredibly clear, e.g., the E found in the sideways view of a traffic light. Others, such as the C in the rose window of a Gothic church, are more obscure. Nevertheless, all of the paintings are beautifully executed and exhibit a true sense of artistic vision. While parents or teachers might assume from the title that this is a traditional alphabet book, they should be encouraged to look at it as an art book. It's sure to inspire older children to venture out on their own walks to discover the alphabet in the familiar objects of their own hometowns. Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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