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From abecedaria to ABC. The history of the illustrated alphabet

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In Chris Van Allsburg’s ABC -book The Z Was Zapped each letter of the alphabet is undergoing a strange transformation. One by one, the letters are cut to slices, bitten, drowned or zapped by a lightning. Although didactic by definition, this postmodern ABC -book draws attention to ideas about knowledge and language, and furthermore, to the verbal character’s different levels of meaning. Discussing examples from both the early 19th century as well as contemporary ABC -books, I suggest that the concept of alphabet books has changed from a model, in which language is a way to convey knowledge and standards, to a more performative and deconstructive model, in which language is considered an arbitrary system in constructing reality. The development manifests a lack of faith in a traditional, didactic presentation of the world, and expresses thus, both motif-wise, aesthetically and ideologically, a change in the perception of children’s literature.

Elina Druker is lecturer at the Department of Literature at Stockholm University and currently working on a post-doctorate project on Swedish picturebook modernism. She is a co-editor for the coming Swedish Children’s Literature History and a jury member in The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Her research interests include picturebook theory, history of book illustration and intermedia studies.

This talk is part of the Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Cambridge series.

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