Daytime Visions: A Tender and Unusual Illustrated Alphabet Celebrating the Whimsy of Words
By Maria Popova
“We live in the word,” Elizabeth Alexander observed in contemplating writing and the self in language, “and the word is one of the ways we have to reach across to each other.” And it is often in learning to live in the word — that is, in those formative years of first understanding how sounds make shapes to make words — that we also begin mastering the art of human connection. That’s what lends imaginative alphabet books their magic and their singular place in the developmental journey, and among the most imaginative is Daytime Visions: An Alphabet (public library) by beloved Argentinian musician, artist, and children’s book author Isol.
Instead of consciously considering the semantic aspect of the images and vignettes she drew for each of the letters, Isol let the shape of the letter lead her brush toward a spontaneous burst of visual meaning — a sort of creative game that produced something utterly magical, more dream than dictionary, populated by kiwis and caterpillars and otherworldly creatures animated by the most inescapable emotional dimensions of human life: loneliness, gladness, petulance, tenderness, joy.
Isol reflects on how this playful exploration of shape and meaning guided her creative process:
I started by writing the letters the way I did in school: first printing them, then in cursive, uppercase, lowercase. After, I created images to put beside them. Finally I found the words to connect them. Words are a wonderful kind of glue.
When I look at these pages now I see that the letters have made friends with their images, as though they’ve known each other forever.
Isol wrote the book in her native Spanish, then translated each of the words into English — “a kind of reinvention” that became its own creative project as the words and images “found new ways to live together.”
Echoing E.B. White’s memorable assertion that children are “the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth,” Isol observes in her Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award acceptance speech:
What reader could be more demanding than a child? Children have a lot of things to discover and I’d better be on their high level in order to satisfy their huge capacity for curiosity. I get my inspiration from what’s wild, from what’s ridiculous, from that independence of culture that children enjoy. They are beyond our conventions, they keep asking themselves all sorts of things.
Daytime Visions follows Isol’s The Menino, one of the best children’s books of 2015, and comes from Brooklyn-based independent picture-book powerhouse Enchanted Lion, who have given us such tender, thoughtful treasures as Cry, Heart, But Never Break, Little Boy Brown, and The Lion and the Bird.
Illustrations © Isol courtesy of Enchanted Lion; photographs by Maria Popova
Published May 25, 2016