Antonia Pesenti and Hilary Bell

Five years in the making, the book Alphabetical Sydney, published in 2013, was a passion project of architect and illustrator Antonia Pesenti and playwright Hilary Bell.

The pair first met more than 20 years ago, and their friendship flourished despite living in separate cities – Paris and New York.

Their creative collaboration formed in 2008 after they had both returned to Sydney with their families in tow. Pesenti and Bell began to rediscover their home city through the curious eyes of their young children. Pesenti had been working on an idea for a picture book about Sydney, using the alphabet as its frame and structure. The concept struck a chord with Bell who responded, illustration by illustration, with rhyming couplets.

The alphabet provided a structure that allowed them to roam freely around the city, highlighting its features both mundane and wondrous, to evoke a Sydney that was personal, somewhat nostalgic, and a far cry from the tourist-guide version. 

Two women, one with arms folded.

Antonia and Hilary, Alphabetical Sydney. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums