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Banner: Beyond the Letters: A Retrospective of Canadian Alphabet Books
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E. Cleaver and A. Blades

The talents of Elizabeth Cleaver and Ann Blades are highlighted in this section. Library and Archives Canada holds original illustrations for some of their books, as well as correspondence between the author/illustrators and their publishers. The correspondence sheds light on the creative process and development of Cleaver's ABC (1984) and Blades' By the Sea (1985), and the painstaking effort each took in choosing words for each letter of the alphabet.

Included are letters between Elizabeth Cleaver and editor William Toye at Oxford University Press, proposing certain words and requesting changes to other words and aspects of the illustrations. Sadly, Elizabeth's untimely death in 1985 cut short what was already a critically acclaimed career. An award was created in her honour, the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award, and the first recipient was Ann Blades for her ABC book, By the Sea.

Blades' acceptance speech acknowledges the difficulties involved in creating an alphabet book: "Finding a unifying theme for 26 words that would interest young children and provide for interesting illustrations was far more difficult than I had imagined."1

Featured Books

By the Sea: An Alphabet Book

Blades, Ann. -- By the sea : an alphabet book. -- Toronto : Kids Can Press, ©1985. -- [32] p. -- ISBN 0919964745

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This book's dreamy watercolour paintings depict scenes of children enjoying a day by the sea. The paintings have soft muted backgrounds, punched up with the careful use of livelier colour. Each illustration features one word for each letter of the alphabet. Whether a lone eagle or a single kite soaring across the sky, Ann Blades' illustrations are stunning in their simplicity and they evoke the serenity of the seaside. At the end of the book, the featured words are listed in both upper and lower case.

Mrazik-Cleaver, Elizabeth. -- ABC. -- Toronto : Oxford University Press, ©1984. -- [56] p. -- ISBN 0195404661

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Though this book measures only five by five inches, its vibrant illustrations pack a lot of punch. Elizabeth Cleaver's multi-layered illustrations depict the words listed on the facing page. The illustrations are executed in Cleaver's signature collage and make use of hand-painted and hand-coloured paper, paper cutouts, torn paper, linocut prints and found objects.

1 From Ann Blades' acceptance speech upon winning the first Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award on November 17, 1986.