98 of 101 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2008
Let me start by saying that I'm not sure I like this book. No, I like it. But my daughter doesn't. And she's the target age. Dangerous Alphabet is one of those hybrid books which are written for children, but which have a much older, more sardonic sense of humour in mind. Gaiman, a master of macabre, specialises in this. So while my five year old made me stop reading because she was "already getting nightmares and she hadn't even gone to bed yet", my ten year old absolutely loved it and kept trying to read it to his younger sister, despite her attempts to get him to stop and take that "horrible book away."
If you buy it for a child that is of picture book age, you may well have a similar scenario. This is, as the title suggests, an alphabet book. But forget about sweet glittery things. A may be for "always", but the youngsters that enter this sewer of horrors soon discover that "E's for the evil that lures and entices", and "F is for Fear and its many devices". There are muffled screams, pies cooked with human looking bones, chained up children, piracy, skulls, vile deeds, and lots of monsters. In short, as is his wont, Gaiman has tapped into the psyche to produce a terrifying trip through an amusement park horror show.
It's also extremely funny, in a black, gruesome way. Older children will love it. There is a little mix-up on the alphabet which children will feel good pointing out, and even a kind of happy ending as the boat comes through the tunnel to the letter Z, though I struggled to convince my daughter of that. The watercolour and ink illustrations are superb - incredibly detailed, with nightmarishly surreal imagery on every page. You might not want your child to look too closely though, as every element, from the chains on the author, the organs in jars, or the maggoty meat on a plate, comes straight from the deepest, most terrified parts of the human psyche. The humour (such as finding two well dressed lovebirds in a boat next to a monster--crossed tunnel-lines perhaps) requires an older perspective to appreciate.
So, while I enjoyed this book for its originality, its anti-cuteness, the amazing detail and intensity of its horror, and the depth and cleverness of its naughty humour, I'm not sure I'd recommend that you buy it for your five year old daughter or niece. Squeamish parents probably won't appreciate it. But ten year old boys will, definitely.
-- Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2008
Oh this is so good.
Its written the way that nightmares are supposed to be recorded. I mean-its an alphabet book for someone who is well aware of how the alphabet works. Its reminiscent of 'The Gashlycrumb Tinies' but this is creative and new in is own right. And none of the characters die.
You could almost expect to see this organized as poetry -although the illustrations really bring the language to life. very compatible-Gaiman and Grimly.
My favorite page is 'B is for Boat, pushing off in the dark'(the barbed wire and the vulture and the sense that these awful things are preferable to drifting into the darkness).
You kind of get lost in the story...Made aware that the author is no longer Neil Gaiman but a tree monster with sprawling roots and draped in a chains ('I am the author who scratches these rhymes')
This is taunting and relentless-unlike many "scary" books for children these days; this one does not bring comfort in the end...maybe indifference...definetely not comfort.
This is a little grim. But it is so fun.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2009
For my young niece's (she is four now, and proud of it) birthday, I decided that what she truly needed in her life was an Alphabet Book. The child has been pestering her mother to learn how to read for nearly two years now, and so I believed it to be my solemn duty to provide her with a Book from Which To Learn. I turned to author Neil Gaiman for aid in this matter, and upon her birthday delivered to her the Dangerous Alphabet.
I am a novice uncle. I do not know what little children enjoy; were it nephews I would buy them Ninja Turtles, but I am confused and frightened by My Little Pony. Literature is the ground that I retreat to, and I am lucky that my niece is a child of learning who enjoys reading.
She loves The Dangerous Alphabet. It is one of her Favourite Books, which means that soon enough she will not have to know how to read it, because she will have Memorized the thing from the repetition of her parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents reading and re-reading the book to her.
If this is not the kind of book that you want your child to read (I can't imagine why, do you not like children? Do you not believe in Whimsy?) then I would recommend that you get it anyway. You might not want your child reading it, but your child certainly will want to read it.
For those of you who enjoy such things, and would like a book that you can enjoy along with your child, then I heartily recommend this most Dangerous of Alphabets to you.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2009
I have always enjoyed both the works of Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly. I thought this would be a delightful read for my son, as many books for his age range are so saccharine sweet and it's nice to have a bit of variety sometimes.
When I received the book and did the initial read through, I was worried. There are events in the book such as the usage of the letter "C" for "see" and the letter "U" for "you" that didn't sit well with me. Now I know it is hard to write an alphabet book with the letter U without forcing usage of the word umbrella, but the letter C? Come on! Also the letter W appears to happen before the letter V, something that just irked me. This book is decidedly macabre. Nonetheless, after some careful consideration of my son's book collection which includes scarier offerings such as "Where the Wild Things Are," I decided to plow ahead.
I would not have been surprised if he was scared, however he loved the book. He is at a point in his alphabet books where most of them bore him with their staccato approach, each letter, disconnected from the rest. There is a storyline here, about a pair of children who sneak off from the father with their pet gazelle and a treasure map to search for treasure in the dark underground city full of unscrupulous individuals. In the end, there is a happy ending. (This is a children's book, after all.) I have caught my son telling his own rendition of the tale to his toys. This is something that doesn't usually happen with alphabet books in our house.
We read this book at least five times in a row before we move on to something else, daily. He likes to snuggle up next to either us and have us read the book in that creepy voice normally reserved for campfires. My son's main gripe is that it's too short, as it is a quick read. He delights in the pictures and is constantly finding fun things in them. Such as the author reading the book to a selection of 'captive' children and how the author placed V on W's page and vice-versa. However, seeing as how many of the items in the images are beyond his vocabulary (albatross, Jörmungandr, Portuguese man of war, etc) I can't really ask him to name many things on the pages. There is also some imagery that I'd rather not bring up with a 4-year old yet, like corpses, dead dog, or penguin pelt.
I think everybody may be ready for this type of book at a different stage. It may depend on what your child has already been exposed to. I'd say there's nothing worse in here than you'd find visually in "The Nightmare before Christmas." If your child enjoys being scared or books about monsters, this is a very delightful read. Some parts of it are more disturbing to me than him. An example would be the image of the meat pies, (Sweeney Todd imagery for me, chicken pie imagery for him), but we each take from each picture what we want to believe. So if it's for you (wink wink), then go ahead and buy it. If it's for your child, I'd suggest reading it to them and judging from their reactions their actual readiness for it.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2008
It is hard for me to give anything by Gaiman less than 4 or 5 stars, but this one just doesn't cut it. Maybe if it had been intended for 8 and above rather than the suggested 4 to 8 age range - but as done, it is way too macabre for the audience.
The couplets forming the text of the book are not all as sharp as I would expect from the talented writer - and if you just read them straight through, they don't form the complete picture as a poem that they should. The story is jagged and incomplete.
The drawings by Gris Grimly are superior, but also way off base for younger children. Each page is filled with gruesome details, some are fine and even fun to spy - such as a worm coming out of an apple or bones revealed by an x-ray machine. But others include blood coming from the wrists of a child manacled to a wall, children in stew pots and chained by their necks.
While I think older children - those able to more clearly distinguish fantasy from reality - and adults can enjoy this book, I would not give it to a child under 8 or 9. This alphabet is just a tad too dangerous for the wee ones.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2012
I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. It's a good review, but not perfect.
In order to be helpful, I will outline my opinion of the pros & cons of this book for my audience...which would be the parents of young children.
There are other reasons to like or dislike this book, so it isn't going to be useful for everyone.
I'll begin by saying that my 3-yr-old son (almost 4) really likes this book. He isn't scared of the illustrations, but rather finds them intriguing and engaging. He can discern that there are some unsettling things, but he points them out with fresh wonder and the fascination of seeing something different. He LOVES discovering all the items in the picture which begin with the letter of that page. He takes his time looking over tiny details and has often noticed something that escaped my attention.
After reading this book many times, I find the illustrations give us a rare opportunity to talk about many obscure topics. For example (and there are many), we see the dead dog on the "D" page. We talk about animals dying, and the fact that their bodies can float on water for awhile. We talk about fish and birds and other animals that may eat the body. How animals need to eat to survive, etc. These are interesting facts to my son, who relishes the chance to think about them and discuss them with me. Of course, it's a bit weird, but he doesn't attribute as much "gross-out value" to it as I (adults) do.
Or we have the opportunity to talk about important topics. For example, Not Sneaking Off From Your Parents, or Sticking Up For People and Helping Them. There is a happy ending. When we come to it, we are happy that the boy&girl&gazelle are safe again. Then we talk about remembering the other children and how the boy&girl can now ask the adult to get help. My son hasn't responded in panic, but rather has been given a chance to stretch his ideas of empathy, caution, and responsibility in a safe context.
But obviously, each child is different. So there is no point in my saying "it's too scary", or "it's just fine" for other young children. There is potential for either response, so "caveat emptor". For us, it has been a refreshing break from the tired sterility of most childrens books.
Overall, I like the writing. I have only read Gaiman's "Graveyard Book", but I know of his long writing history and legions of fans. I respect him and thought Gaiman&Grimly a perfect match for this book.
I have no issues with the occasional advanced vocabulary word ("embark", "entice", "elation", "discreet", etc). Once explained, my son usually gets it on some level (either entirely, or in a simple way...eg "elation" is "happiness").
There are 2 main problems I have with the writing.
1. It's an alphabet book. Even though OLDER kids (who aren't learning the alphabet or how to read) get the "joke" of the "mistakes", younger kids don't get it.
Here are some examples:
"C is the way that we find and we look",
[eg. "C" is for "see"]
"U are the reader who shivers with dread",
[eg. "U" is for "you"]
"Y's your last question...",
[eg. "Y" is for "why"]
"L is, like 'eaven, their last destination".
[eg. "L" is for "hell"]
Kids of this age (3,4,5...) are struggling to figure out patterns in our exception-filled language. They are actively grasping at literacy and are in some stage of pre-reading/reading.
For us, our enjoyment of this book comes to a screeching halt when we get to these pages. My son has to question what is going on. I have to explain (lamely) that it's a joke. I try to simply explain, but he pauses, blinks, and stares with incomprehension. Things of a "spelling nature" are suppposed to be concrete, definable, understandable, and these pages are not.
I realize these are intentional "gaffes". Any talented author could have easily changed these lines to something more sound, yet still comparably themed. I feel there is a slight error in audience focus for this book. For older kids (6 or 7 and up...literate), they are not much longer interested in the alphabet, or finding pictures which begin with the letter.
They will enjoy the illustrations, but it won't hold them repeatedly or long-term.
For younger kids who DO enjoy the searching and are new to the alphabet, it is confusing from a language point of view.
2. The switch on "W"/"V" pages is okay from an order point of view. The order of the letters of the alphabet is only a convention, so as long as each one is represented it's fine. The rhyme is completed with the letters in this order, so the writing flows well. It's true that even a young child will get that it's "backwards" and delight in pointing out the "mistake".
My issue with the "switch" is that the ILLUSTRATIONS don't match the letters. So the illustrations are in the "correct" order and the letters are in the "incorrect" order. The "W" page is filled with "V"-word pictures, and the "V" page is filled with "W"-word pictures. For a young child, this has disturbed the continuous pattern of finding items for each letter on each page. Obviously, at this page we remember to change it, but it's confusing to have the letter disassociated with it's page. If the letter is switched, that's great, but its illustration should be too.
I'm not convinced that this wasn't an error.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2008
This is a dangerous journey through a dangerous series of letters in more or less the established order - wonderfully creepy illustrations. I don't have kids myself, but I doubt it should be used to actually teach little ones the alphabet - unless you are the Addams family.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2012
I think a lot of the criticisms this book receives are by people that have mistakenly bought it to fulfil and object it isn't aimed at doing. This certainly isn't a picture book you'd use to teach children the alphabet, it's more for those who actually already know the alphabet as it relies on that knowledge to pull off its humour and display its cleverness. Unfortunately there is a still a rather large mindset of people who think all picture books have to be the same sort of thing and cater for a specific age or readership level of children. Many libraries and bookstores automatically put any picture book, wether it's geared for older children or even adults, into the little kids section simply because it resembles in appearance what they associate as a something for young children. Like when the Simpsons appeared on TV screen in the 90s, many people claimed cartoons are just for little kids, so thereby The Simpsons was inappropriate and should be pulled from the air. It's only as the popularity and usage of Internet sites such as Amazon have grown that the picture book market has been able to break away from being fenced into one demographic, by readers being able to suggest other picture books that aren't aimed at beginner readers, to other people looking at buying them. This has also encouraged authors to write them as well.
The Dangerous Alphabet has nothing the normal age demographic small child couldn't see. Certainly doesn't need to be banned or kept away from small children. It's just that the normal picture book demographic child wouldn't get most of both the text and the pictures. The illustrations are also very detailed, many parts of the images very small so the book isn't going to work as something you read holding up during story time to a group of kids sitting on the floor, or even if you're reading it to three or more of your own kids as they've got to be able to get close up and take their time examining Gris Gimly's creations. The text as well requires thinking for most letters, such as C is the way that we find and we look. So the reader or one being read to needs to be familiar with how the third letter in the alphabet is pronounced as well as familiar with the word see. If kids have relatives text messaging them they may get this sort of thing quicker than previous generations though. L is like 'eaven thier last destination, is another where the letter l only appears in the word like which is similar to words like the or a, in that it's not instantly registered as a word to look for with the beginning letter. Also a knowledge of the fictional concept of Hell so they get the rhyme and of the concept that in some cultures they believe this is a place you go if you die probably isn't going to be known by the usual picture book demographic. Plus knowing that words are sometimes written without all their letters with 'eaven.
It's a clever poem, which is pretty much what the text is. The illustrations are probably the reason you'll get it though.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2011
I've read several reviews here that indicate that this book is a little too scary for its target audience. I have found the opposite is true in my household. I purchased this book for my daughter on her first ever trip to the bookstore (9 days old) and we have been enjoying it together for over three years now.
Gris Grimly's illustrations are a beautiful sight. Each picture is layered so that you find something new each time you read the book. Sure it's a little grim, but if you are familiar with the illustrator you would expect nothing less from him. And Neil Gaiman, like he does with his fiction (for younger and adult audiences) has fun playing with his subject - in this case the rather mundane topic of the alphabet. I think both author and illustrator had fun with this book and it shines through. I especially enjoyed the warning about the alphabet itself and the introduction paragraphs for Gaiman and Grimly
I suppose it all comes down to what your children are drawn to. Mine likes the dark and the wicked as much as she likes to play dress-up and talk about princesses and ponies. If you personally like Gaiman and Grimly and want to introduce your children to their work, I don't think you can go wrong with this one.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2008
This picture book, written by Neil Gaiman of Sandman fame and illustrated by Gris Grimly, is very different from the other picture books in that it's terribly short and there's not as much words. It's basically a flowing poem that's derived from the english alphabet, and to give Neil credit, it's a reasonably good poem too; it's very flowing and very whimsical and very funny in a dark way. I found myself amused at the beautiful images Gris came up with to accompany the words. But to be honest, picture book or not, there's not much story here and you will find yourself wanting more. It's obviously due to the concept of using the alphabet to tell the story getting above the story itself.
Gris Grimly did a wonderful job with it though, so if you want to get this book, get it for his art.
I think Neil never intended this to be a children's book but you may get this for your child if he or she's at least watched cartoons where similar themes have been shown, because although the story's quite light and funny for young adults and teenagers, it may scare 5-10 years olds.