Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word by Paul Fleischman, Illus. by Melissa Sweet

Review by Logaine Navascués

Candlewick Studio, April 2020

160 pages, hardcover, $25.99 CAD, ISBN 978-0-7636-9066-3

Ages 12–16, Grades 7–9

Middle Grade, Biography, Non-Fiction

You and I may barely notice the words flitting around us. But these men and women? Intoxicated by their shapes and sounds! Seeing music and mathematics where we see simply information! Collecting, dissecting, constructing verbal wonders as colossal and rarely glimpsed as the overgrown pyramids of the Mayans! Each of their tales is more astounding than the last. And every one of them true!

Imagine a circus where words are the most exotic animal. A space where writers play with language to perform bizarre tricks and tame it into unusual yet sophisticated forms. Welcome to Alphamaniacs, a collection of mini biographies of 26 outstanding storytellers who found their own, unique ways of writing with wit and creativity.  

Paul Fleischman’s literary extravaganza shares the stories of men and women from the mid-19th century until present times who re-imagined how to use words to tell stories. From David Bryce’s quest to print the smallest books in the world to Daniel Nussbaum’s retellings of literary works exclusively using California license plates, these biographies have the power to engage any reader, and spark their curiosity to know more about each author and their works. The suggested further readings at the end of the book are quite useful, as each biography is only a few pages long. The short bios and Fleischman’s fun, exciting tone, make this a fast and entertaining read.

This interesting selection is cleverly limited to 26 authors, so as to organize it using each letter of the alphabet. However, Fleischman makes reference to other authors as part of each writer’s influences or sociopolitical context. Thus, the book also invites the reader to think about these writers who have dared to bend, break, or imagine new rules for the use of language, as well as those who did not make it onto this list. 

Melissa Sweet’s colourful and multilayered collage illustrations are a reminder of the many forms a written text can take, and highlight each writer’s superpowers. They also make the book more engaging and easy-to-read, a truly valuable trait for the non-fiction book genre.

Form and function come together to make Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word an informative and beautiful work of art that deserves to be present in any school, creative writing group, public library, or personal collection. It is also a must-have for book lovers, young and old, to enjoy on their own or share, to infuse others with their enthusiasm for words.


Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picture books, and eating chocolate while pursuing her MA in Children’s Literature at UBC.


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