Having just finished China Mieville’s Railsea, I was in a steampunk kinda mood when I entered the Horn Book office on Friday morning and, as I passed the “Out of the Box” box, saw Nathanael Iwata’s The Steampunk Alphabet (Cameron + Company, June 2013) right at the top of the pile. Perfect.
This book is exactly as it sounds: it is a children’s steampunk alphabet. Beginning with “A” and moving through to “Z,” each letter of the alphabet is equipped with a bold, and colorful illustration of an artifact and an explanation of its use. The alphabet begins quite classically — “A for apple” — but the illustration makes it clear that this is no ordinary apple: it appears to be wooden and is covered with dials and gears, has a keyhole, and is emitting a cloud of smoke. The description informs us that the apple is “an apple-shaped music box made to revere/ The Capital’s founding of two hundred years” and that the item is “rare, as most of them were lost in the colony wars.”
The Steampunk Alphabet continues in this vein, depicting one unique steam-powered item after the next (a magnetic nest, an armored umbrella, a mechanical fish), all presumably from a past the reader must decipher from the textual clues. While the linear story that these items relate back to remains a mystery, the imaginative building of that tale can be fantastically fun.
Though Iwata has succumbed to the use of verse to make it clear that his work is for children, The Steampunk Alphabet is an enjoyable read. In my opinion, this alphabet book is really for the parent who wants a twist on the “A is for apple” setup. The adult reader can create her own imaginative steampunk past while reading aloud perfectly kid-comprehensible “F is for fish, G is for goggles, H is for helmet” sentences.
Overall, an odd, but very cool book.
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