Each year there’s a spate of alphabet books that flood the market willy-nilly. And in this day and age when kids become jaded around the age of three, if you’re going to do something abecedarian you’re gonna need a gimmick. Maybe each letter will stand for a different amusing spy. Maybe they’ll dance up a coconut tree to a jazzy jungle beat. Perhaps your alphabet will be constructed out of street signs and city symbols. Whatever it is, it better be great or the general buying public will have none of it. Andrew Zuckerman, by the way, has an alphabet book coming out this year. And I suppose you could say that he even has a gimmick, if by “gimmick” you mean “an awesome series of dead gorgeous photographs of every conceivable animal”. Creature ABC is a kid-friendly version of the adult book Creature produced roughly two years ago. And like the kangaroo jumping away from the letter “K”, this book offers a sharp kick to every grown-up and child lucky enough to get their hands on it. A book to remind you what photography’s really all about.
The striped zebra endpapers offer right from the start the kind of stark black and white feel you’re going to find in this book. Turn the pages and on the left-hand page is a leg. A leg covered in marbled black scales, opening up into a five-toed foot, three nails blunt and evident. On the right-hand page is just an “Aa”. Turn the page again and you find yourself nose-to-nose with a full sized alligator. The word "alligator" is nestled to its right, and one green slitted eye watches you, hungry. This format continues throughout the book. You’ll see a paired big letter and little letter, and a glimpse or full-frontal shot of the creature, then the reveal of the name on the next page. Sometimes the letter will reveal a whole group of critters. “Nn” is for “nocturnal” animals like the “American badger” or the “slow loris”. And “Uu” for “underwater” animals. A Glossary at the end of the book offers small facts about some of the animals pictured.
The book actually contains a kind of narrative within its pages. The transition from “Kk” to “Ll” shows a kangaroo on the left-hand page looking at a lion on the right. And you begin to wonder if certain animals were paired together on purpose. For example, the “Jj” of the jackrabbit shows a strange jumping creature with relatively long legs. To put it right before the kangaroo is to create an interesting compare and contrast. So while the relationship between one animal and another isn’t straightforward, there are little moments like these that keep them interesting.
You are left with a couple questions by the end, of course. For example, “Ff” is for frog, and on the first page you see a red-eyed tree frog. Turn the page, however, and not only is the tree frog making a leap for its life, but there’s a strange albino froggy sitting there as well. What kind of frog is it? A trip to the Glossary at the back will yield few answers. The facts you find there are a bit random. Each one seems to have been chosen in terms of how well it fits on the page, rather than illuminating anything in the photograph. The species of the remarkably handsome rooster is left to you to determine on your own. There are some exceptions. For example, the sweat on the hippo is explained to be a kind of natural “hippo sunscreen”.
In November of 2007 Andrew Zuckerman’s book Creature was released to the adult market. Most of the photographs that you will find in this book appeared previously in the adult work. There are, however, a few exceptions. For Creature ABC Zuckerman added the hippopotamus, the penguins, a porcupine, a vulture, and an oryx. In the case of the vulture and oryx, one has to assume that the guy was scrambling to cover his alphabetic bases in the “V” and “X” departments. Sadly, this previous publication of images will keep this book from being eligible for certain literary awards, but aside from that there’s aren’t any problems with reusing an animal or two here. Of course, once you know that Zuckerman was choosing animals based on the photographs he’d taken before, some of the letters begin to make a little more sense. “Yy” for “Yellow Canary” for example. Or “Dd” for “Dove”.
All things considered Creature ABC is perhaps one of the most beautifully photographed ABC books I’ve ever seen. Its white backgrounds will make you forget every GAP/Macintosh commercial you’ve ever watched, because the animals truly sell themselves. Zuckerman knows who the real stars of the show are here. And when a kid has a chance to examine each fold on an elephant’s head and every quill on a porcupine’s body, that’s an experience they’ll not soon forget. A jaw-dropping affair.
On shelves September 1, 2009.