Cover image for The disappearing alphabet
The disappearing alphabet
Wilbur, Richard, 1921-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Diego : Harcourt Brace, [1998]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm
A collection of twenty-six short poems pondering what the world would be like if any letters of the alphabet should disappear.
Reading Level:
NP Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 5.0 0.5 49390.

Reading Counts RC K-2 4.1 2 Quiz: 24546 Guided reading level: NR.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3545.I32165 D5 1998 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Wilbur turns his sharp eye to the noble alphabet and imagines what life would be like without these twenty-six little--but powerful--letters. Packed with humor and witty subtleties, the verse in this captivating picture book is splendidly matched by Caldecott Medal winner David Diaz's hilariously clever illustrations.

Author Notes

Richard Purdy Wilbur was born in New York City on March 1, 1921. He received a bachelor's degree from Amherst College in 1942. During Word War II, he was a combat soldier in Europe. He received a master's degree from Harvard University in 1947. He taught at Harvard University, Wesleyan University, Smith College, and Amherst College.

His first collection, The Beautiful Changes, was published in 1947. His other collections of poetry included The Mind-Reader and Anterooms. In 1957, he received the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for Things of This World. He received a second Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for New and Collected Poems. He became the second poet laureate of the United States in 1987-88 and received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2006. He also wrote and illustrated several children's books and wrote lyrics for opera and musical theater productions including Leonard Bernstein's Candide. He was a translator of poems and other works from the French, Spanish, and Russian, including the plays of Molière and Jean Racine. He was the co-recipient of the Bollingen Translation Prize in 1963. He died on October 14, 2017 at the age of 96.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 3^-6. The premise of Pulitzer Prize poet Wilbur's rhyming alphabet is simple: suppose the letters began disappearing, one by one. "Some words would soon look ragged and queer / (Like quirrel, himpanzee, and choochoo trai) / While others would entirely fade away . . ." First published in The Atlantic Monthly, these 26 sprightly exercises in wordplay are witty and inventive but generally too sophisticated for the usual alphabet book set. Older kids and adults will enjoy them, however. The same is true of the computer-generated illustrations by Caldecott medalist Diaz: they're visually arresting exercises in design, and their coloration is gorgeous. Unfortunately, they're more decorative than narrative, tending to be too literal renderings of a text that would, in its whimsicality, seem to invite more freewheeling artistic invention than this. --Michael Cart

Publisher's Weekly Review

If the alphabet started to disappear, as the premise of this inventively witty book sets up, then the world as we know it would, too. Wilbur (Opposites), a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, starts at the beginning and imagines what life would be like without each of the 26 letters: "If [B] were absent, say, from BAT and BALL,/ There'd be no big or little leagues AT ALL." In addition to pondering words without particular letters, Wilbur playfully points out the symbols' other important functions (e.g., in music, "If there were no such thing as C,/ Whole symphonies would be off key"; or in reference to the roman numeral M in mathematics, "If M should vanish, we would lose, my dears,/ MINCE PIE, MARSHMALLOWS, and a thousand years"). Diaz (Smoky Night), in a clever quip, employs cut-outs as his medium; the rainbow-hued silhouettes set against a white background serve to either amplify or clarify the text. For the destruction of the letter Q, for example (as a result of which "Millions of U's would then be unemployed"), Diaz pictures a wrecking ball aimed at a giant Q while the ground is littered with discarded Us. And, in W, for a more obscure reference to the watermelon shape in Cassiopeia, Diaz enlightens readers with a picture of the constellation. With plenty of brain-tickling words to grow on and a plethora of visual puns, watch this one vanish from the family bookshelf. All ages. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-5-Each of these delightful poems, one for each letter of the alphabet, speculates on the disasters that would occur should that letter suddenly disappear. Wilbur is known primarily as a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former Poet Laureate of the United States, although some of his poems have been published in books for children, notably Opposites (1991), More Opposites (1991; o.p.), and Runaway Opposites (1995, all Harcourt). The poems presented here were first printed in The Atlantic Monthly magazine. A series of rhyming couplets of varying lengths, they range from the innocently whimsical to the cleverly sophisticated. Diaz uses computer-generated illustrations to add just the right touches to the verses; the images are lush and playful at the same time. This is not an alphabet book for youngsters just learning to read, although children would enjoy hearing it read aloud. More importantly, it invites older children to play with language as it engages their imagination. A winner that belongs in every library.-Linda Greengrass, Bank Street College Library, New York City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.