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Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters Hardcover – October 14, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—Jeffers's empathic nature, evident from his sympathetic renderings of Drew Daywalt's beleaguered crayons in The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel, 2013), here extends to the hardworking letters. This eccentric and entertaining anthology is introduced by an eloquent syllogism about the relationship of letters, words, and stories. While each four-page tale showcases a (seemingly) hand-drawn capital and lowercase letter, and many of the words—and unnamed objects—begin with the corresponding letter, this is not your mother's abecedarium. It is a framework for Jeffers's intriguing worldview, combining ludicrous juxtapositions and situations and a great capacity for gentleness. Some passages are scientific: "Mary is made of matter….she got sucked through a microscope and became the size of a molecule." The facing page shows Mary floating under the lens. The blackboard-style background is filled with "molecular" diagrams (mattresses, a moose, mums). Other sections are a mite macabre: "Jack Stack the Lumberjack has been struck by lightning one hundred and eleven times…." The lightning illuminates a skeleton, but after the page turn, the man appears in his jammies, normal, except that he can provide his own electricity. There is humor in the alliteration and mixed-media scenes: a puzzled parsnip, Victor the vanquished "plotting his vengeance," and an enigma featuring elephants and envelopes. The author respects his readers' intelligence, inserting expansive vocabulary, cameos from characters in previous books, people and plot threads that cross stories, and quiet details to discover in subsequent readings. An altogether stimulating, surprising, and satisfying reading experience.—Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library
Praise for ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET:
An Amazon Best Book of 2014!
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year!
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year!
* "The silly, spare, slightly surreal text occasionally rhymes and endlessly surprises. An utterly delightful alphabet book."–Kirkus Review, starred review
* "With wry humor, equally droll ink illustrations, and a solid dose of alliteration, Jeffers creates delightful mini-narratives for each letter of the alphabet."–Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "An altogether stimulating, surprising, and satisfying reading experience."–School Library Journal, starred review
* "Whimsical, funny, occasionally tragic, and highly entertaining, this collection of (sometimes) interlocking tales is brilliantly inventive."–Horn Book, starred review
"Jeffers knows how to catch the attention of his young audience while challenging their imagination, intellect and vocabulary. This whimsical exploration of letters and language begs to be read over and over again."–BookPage
"Handsome, humorous and clad in bright tomato-red, [this] is the sort of book you may want to rush into the arms of imaginative, good-natured children between 4 and 10 years old. [T]his is no traditional abecedarian exercise.The stories are wonderfully varied, sometimes philosophical and often end surprisingly; the drawings are just as quirky and unpredictable."–The Wall Street Journal
"[W]itty from A to Z . . . no one would blame you for having a copy even if there are no kids in the house. Think of it as Edward Gorey for the preschool set — and their hip parents."–The Washington Post
Top customer reviews
It has wonderful "Oliver Jeffers" type illustrations, and, if your kids read any of his other stuff, the penguin and the boy from "Lost and Found" make an appearance, as does the bear from "The Great Paper Caper." I love that this book doesn't dumb things down.Yes, the book uses the word "molecule". There is no reason why you can't expose a preschooler to the word "molecule". The stories are strange, but good. There are a lot of metaphors that can be explained literally or in their metaphorical sense, if you have time to sit with your child and enjoy explaining things to them. Every page has a lot going on, and you can spend forever with your child looking for things that start with that letter, or talking about the pictures, or finishing the letters' story.
You might think each letter gets a full story- they don't. Some are just one page blurbs, and I didn't really care for that, which is why I gave it four stars instead of five. Also, it's petty, but the dust jacket for this book was so insanely bright that I had to take it off. So beware. This book is strangely aged. You are not buying an "A is for Apple" board book. However, my nieces and nephews range from 2 to 11, and they all loved this book for different reasons. My two year old niece liked looking for the letters and the different pictures that start with those letters. My 8 year old nephew liked that Vincent has an attitude problem and sits in the closet. My 11 year old niece liked the cucumber that falls into the sea, and the owl and the whale that are detectives.
I absolutely do not understand why people are calling this book "dark" or "morbid". No child on earth is going to be traumatized because a cup fell from a cupboard, because a lumberjack gets electrocuted and uses his new powers to run his night light, or because a lazy girl refuses to finish her house and rolls into the ocean. If your children watch Disney movies they've seen and experienced far more than these supposed traumas. And do not try and pretend your 3 year old hasn't seen Bambi, Up, or Finding Nemo. I did ask my nieces and nephews what they thought, or if they felt scared or sad or uncertain, and my 6 year old niece said, "well that girl shoulda been smart and finished her house like her mom prob'ly said to." And that was good enough for me. If you're really concerned, check it out at the library first, or read it WITH your child. Ask them how they feel. Be amazed that kids aren't fragile flowers waiting to fall apart.
Also, people who comment "I really loved "The Day the Crayons Quit" and I don't understand why this wasn't written like that!" make me think they're not actually reading these books. I'd like to remind people that "The Day the Crayons Quit" was not written by Oliver Jeffers- he was the illustrator. Drew Daywalt wrote that book, and it's not going to be the same as this one.
He found it actually sad that the cup kept on breaking apart, being glued and looking ugly. I personally enjoyed it but my son and his mom did not find it funny at all. De gustibus.