Sylvie Daigneault’s The Imaginary Alphabet is a love letter to letters, playfulness, and wild imagination. A picture book featuring one letter per page with a single (and wonderfully silly) alliterative line of text that inspires an equally outlandish illustration, it’s easy to see how this is a book the youngest readers can delight in.
Though picture books rarely contain acknowledgments or prefaces, Daigneault includes a brief note that delves into her inspiration and work process. Less essential for readers is the explanation that the book is another product of pandemic-driven productivity; however, when she calls it a celebration of the “twenty-six glorious letters of the alphabet,” it’s a beautiful hint of the passion readers will encounter throughout the book.
We kick off with “Agile Alligators Attempting an Arabesque” (one could argue they’re pulling it off), with a lovingly detailed illustration of just that. Daigneault’s feverish artistic devotion and incredible skill come through in each of the subsequent images – for example, the “Happy Hippopotamus Hopping down the Hall” plate also features helicopters, hats, a hamster, horns, a helmet, a horse, a (doll)house, hearts, and hornets, squeezing in all the letter h goodness possible and creating a visual treasure hunt.
For adults, the rich style feels nostalgic, while the many surprises Daigneault inserts in each image will surely entertain younger readers, who will have fun searching for what else starts with such-and-such a letter on the page (Daigneault wisely includes a helpful list of everything contained in each artwork at the end of the book).
The wordplay is delightful, but the illustrations themselves are the heart of the book, rendered in traditional, sumptuous detail that brings to mind a dreamier version of Graeme Base’s similarly alliterative 1980s classic Animalia.
Daigneault’s joy in bringing the “glorious letters” to life in The Imaginary Alphabet is palpable, lending energy and a necessary magic to its reading.