The Human Alphabet

Pilobolus, Photographs by John Kane

Roaring Brook Press

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The company's dancers join limbs, twist, and grip to form 26 letters-- an alphabet made of the human body, captured in glorious color photographs. Alongside each letter, they've also composed a picture: Ants for A; Butterfly for B; Circus for C--and so on through Z, a human Zipper. Can you guess what each one shows? Pilobolus brings their creativity and hallmark visual style to a unique picture book.

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Praise for The Human Alphabet

Kirkus Reviews
The acclaimed American dance troupe Pilobolus uses their extraordinary talents of balance, flexibility and strength to convey the alphabet. Like most alphabet books, the letters are depicted in upper case accompanied by a noun that begins with that letter, such as B for butterfly. The main difference here is that every letter and its noun is formed by twisting, contorting humans. The letters themselves are unique, sometimes verging on ingenious. It’s the accompanying photos that are extremely difficult. They range from ponderous to impossible. They are all so abstract that the young reader they are meant to instruct, though perhaps amazed at the dancer’s bendablity, cannot possibly puzzle out what the letter stands for. Thankfully, there is a code breaker included—otherwise the mystery, in some cases, might never be cracked. The letter N for nest, for example, is still baffling even after one looks up the answer. While the talent and ingenuity of Pilobolus can be applauded, their efforts will be lost on the intended audience. (alphabet key) (Picture book. 3+)
Publishers Weekly
The dance troupe Pilobolus favors bold, acrobatic combinations of folding and unfolding bodies--just the right group to literally form the letters of the alphabet. Dressed in jewel-colored leotards and presented against a white backdrop, 14 dancers take turns being the legs of a K, the curving tail of a J or the angles of an N . Each page features the smaller picture of a posed letter, and a larger picture in which the group creates an image whose name begins with that letter--unlabeled, so children can guess what the picture portrays. Some depend on shrunken or manipulated images (the yo-yo for Y depicts a dancer holding a string from which a tiny image of two other dancers curled around each other dangles). The best, though, use simple, unaltered groups of figures: a Dinosaur (two dancers balanced on a third to form the body of a Tyrannosaurus rex, the topmost with hands outstretched claw-wise, a delighted snarl on her face), a Giant (one dancer on another's shoulders, the feet of the lower one sticking out from a huge black coat), and a Mirror, with two dancers opposite each other, viewer and her reflection, with just their index fingers touching. A list of answers appears in the back in case some elude the reader--although few will. The endpapers, which reproduce all the posed letters in one spread, are the most charming of all (especially the tiny baby that acts as the tail of the Q). Ages 3-7.
School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 4–Alphabet books are a dime a dozen, but it's fair to say that this offering by dance company Pilobolus is one of the most striking ones around. As photographed by Kane, the flexible dancers bring posing to a new level. They present the 26 letters and 26 corresponding images, par usual. However, their amazing ability to contort (with the help of some trick photography) induces a startling head rush of impressions. Some of the photos, such as L for Ladder, M for Mirror, and Z for Zipper, are quite clever... The Human Alphabet is an extraordinarily inventive interpretation of what is becoming an overworked genre. Children, with their wonderfully open minds, will accept it for what it is–

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About the Author

Pilobolus, Photographs by John Kane

Pilobolus performs for stage and broadcast audiences around the world, and its works are represented in the repertories of other major dance companies. The company works frequently with children and schools. Its educational outreach program, the Pilobolus Institute, uses choreography as a model for creative thinking, and has produced major projects and residencies for the Lincoln Center Institute, the Julliard School, Yale University, and the Cleveland School for the Arts, among others. Pilobolus is based in Washington, Connecticut.

John Kane was worked with the dancers of Pilobolus for many years. He lives in New Milford, Connecticut.

John Kane


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Available Formats and Book Details

The Human Alphabet
Pilobolus, Photographs by John Kane


Roaring Brook Press
September 2005
ISBN: 9781596430662
ISBN10: 1596430664
Picture Book
8 1/2 x 11 inches, 32 pages, Full-color photographs
Age Range: 2 to 6
Grade Range: p to 1

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Roaring Brook Press

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