Book Review: Once Upon an Alphabet

Saturday 29 November 2014 by

Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories For All The Letters

By Oliver Jeffers

Recently, Tori (aged 5) picked out a book at the library called This Moose Belongs to Me and together we discovered the comic style of Oliver Jeffers and found a new favourite story, so when Fran asked if we would like to review Mr Jeffers’ Waterstones Book Of The Year 2014 nominated Once Upon An Alphabet, I jumped at the chance.

The first thing that appealed about the book was the cover – I know you’re not supposed to judge but it is just so BRIGHT! The bold colour choice, coupled with simple but striking lettering and just a touch of Jeffers’ distinctive illustration makes the book leap out at you and beg to be read.

Once Upon an Alphabet, Oliver Jeffers, Book, Childrens, HarperCollins Children's Books

It is quite big, but that just adds to the appeal and somehow enhances the whole book – I can’t imagine it would feel so luxurious or exciting if it was any smaller, the size is the perfect accompaniment to the contents.

I read it through cover-to-cover whilst Tori was at school and fell in love. The way every letter has its own story but the characters pop up here and there in the text and the illustrations to weave them all together as a whole is genius. Some references are obvious but others are just in the pictures and you feel all smug when you spot them – a nice touch that made me smile.

The stories are quirky and made me chuckle more than once as I read – by the time I went to pick Tori up from school I couldn’t wait to get home and share it with her to see what she thought.

Tori insisted that Arthur (aged 3) read along, so we all settled down together to read. Between them, they decided that instead of reading it in alphabetical order, they wanted to pick letters and read the stories randomly. This worked just as well as reading it straight through and they loved hunting through the book for the title page of each letter together.

Tori thought the stories were funny and was particularly fond of the Owl and Octopus from the ‘O’ story – we had to read that one three times before she was satisfied. It kept Arthur’s attention too, even though some of the stories went a bit above his head, the illustrations were so engaging that he was happy to study those whilst me and Tori concentrated on the words.

Once Upon an Alphabet, Oliver Jeffers, Book, Childrens, HarperCollins Children's Books

In Tori’s words: I liked this book because it used all the letters and made funny stories about them. I liked the elephants in the letter E story and the pictures of the envelopes were my favourite because they looked really real. I liked being able to pick my favourite letters and the pictures are interesting to look at.

Being at the younger end of the intended audience, Tori had lots of questions about some of the words and things in the stories. I loved this element because it meant that we really talked about the stories rather than just read them through. She wanted to know what a typewriter was, and following from that, what a typist was. We talked about zeppelins, inventors and what the word ‘ingenious’ means, to give just a few examples. All of this meant that the book was a bit of a challenge but not so much that it wasn’t inaccessible for her, the pictures made up for the words that she didn’t quite understand yet – a very clever balance to pull off.

Once Upon An Alphabet is the kind of book you can read and re-read and get something different out of it every time or spot something new in the pictures that you didn’t see before – impressive considering that Oliver Jeffers’ illustration style is quite simplistic at first glance. I think Tori will get more and more out of this book as she grows up with it and understands more and more of the subtle levels of humour and links between the stories.

It is a very clever and very fun book that brings pleasure to adults and children alike – big thanks to Fran for our copy, it is a very welcome addition to our bookshelf and we really enjoyed reviewing it together.

You can follow Carole on Twitter: @caroleheidi

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