Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers
This unusual and equally marvelous alphabet book surprises and delights with its 26 short stories, one for each letter of the alphabet. From the very beginning at “A” readers will know they have entered a rather quirky and surreal world. A is for Astronaut, but Edmund is an astronaut whose afraid of heights. Even climbing the ladder to the rocket is a bit much for him. B comes right in afterwards with a tale of a burning bridge where Bob and Bernard cannot get along and so burn the bridge between their houses, but oops, one of them is on the wrong side when he does it. The book continues, one letter after another and one story after another each with funny, intriguing characters and situations that are snapshots of the oddities of this amazing world.
Jeffers has created some of my favorite picture books for children and this new alphabet book completely revolutionizes the sing-song of other alphabet books for children. It’s not exclusively for preschoolers, since elementary-aged children will adore these strange little stories and the quick journeys they take you on. Rather like potato chips, you can’t read just one but find yourself going on and on. Jeffers also ties in previous stories to later ones. You have to be watching, because he does it with subtlety, but it’s a lovely touch. I admit to cheering aloud when the Lumberjack for the Letter L appeared again.
Jeffers’ art has a loose feel that works well here. He also has a quirk to his art that matches the tone of the story very nicely. The line drawings combine with touches of color and watercolor. He also plays at times with the page itself, showing characters turning the page or popping out from behind.
A delight of an alphabet book, Jeffers has revolutionized the genre with his impressive, surprising and funny work. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.
Take Away the A by Michael Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
A delightful new approach to the alphabet book, this picture book goes through the alphabet and offers words where you take away a letter and get a new word. So, for example, for letter A, “beast” becomes “best” when you take the A out. The concept is a simple one, but handled superbly throughout so that it never becomes repetitive or dull. Instead there is a wonderful humor that pervades the entire book. Look forward to the end of the alphabet where the simple premise of the book becomes much trickier to pull off, and of course the Z is not to be missed.
This is the first book by this French author/illustrator team that was not translated from French. This book with its word play was written in English and offers art and text that is entirely original. Still, the book has that certain French flair to it that marks their collaborative work. Escoffier’s word play makes it all look so easy, but young readers will quickly learn that it is not as they try to come up with their own, particularly certain letters.
Di Giacomo’s art is a large part of the European feel of this book. Her illustrations here tell a story on the page, as if the reader has interrupted a scene in motion by opening the book to that page. The animals seem to be relating to one another more than to the reader, just waiting for them to go away so that they can begin speaking again.
Clever and deceptively simple, this is a great alphabet book for youngsters who have been read too many as well as elementary children who enjoy word play. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books
B Is for Box by David A. Carter
With the happy little box on the cover smiling at you, this book is impossible not to want to open and explore. It is made all the more enticing by being a David Carter pop-up book. Happily this alphabet pop-up does not disappoint. Done in a simple style, the pop-up features are mostly about pulling tabs or turning wheels. There is a small finale at the end, but don’t expect large elaborate pop-ups in this little book. Instead they are just right for small hands to explore and not damage. Built of heavy paper stock, this pop-up would make a good one to start small children on the wonders of books that turn into 3D.
Carter’s text is has a lively lilt to it and carries nicely throughout the alphabet. There are no huge surprises here in the text, the delight mainly comes from the pop-ups, the tabs and the levers. Though simple, they have a strong appeal, just as opening the flaps on the pages do too.
Careful toddlers will enjoy this book that will dance them through the ABCs with ease. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Little Simon.
Eerie Dearies: 26 Ways to Miss School by Rebecca Chaperon
Don’t expect your sunshiny ABC book here! Instead you get to enter a creepy world where each letter of the alphabet is paired with a way to miss school. Just to make sure you know what you are getting into, the book begins with A is for Astral Projection paired with a picture of a girl floating off the page. The images are haunted and dark, yet with a quirky sense of humor as well. The book goes on with the alphabet with C is for Contagious, K is for Kidnapping, and M is for Mononucleosis. It all ends with Z is for Zombie Apocalypse.
This book certainly is not for everyone. But for those kids who enjoy a shiver along with their ABCs, this is a perfect picture book. I was one of those strange kids myself and would have adored this picture book as a child. The art is creepy, showing children without heads and clearly hearkening back to Edward Gorey and gothic horror. Yet there is no blood on any of the pages, so it’s not graphic in any way.
This book will work well around Halloween, but thanks to its sense of humor will please haunted children throughout the year. Appropriate for ages 6 and up.
Reviewed from library copy.
123 versus ABC by Mike Boldt
The letters and numbers just can’t agree in this book! Is it a counting book or an alphabet book? You will just have to read on to figure it out. As the pages turn, it just gets more confusing. Sure the first animal to appear is an Alligator, but there is just One. Then there are Two Bears, Three Cars, and on and on it goes. The book is narrated by the number one and the letter A, both of them arguing over what the book is really about. Happily, they are both right in this mash up of an alphabet and counting book that is funny, silly and a romp of a read.
Boldt manages to make a counting and alphabet book that has a real freshness to it. A large part of the success is in the humor, much of which is contributed by the two main characters, A and 1. There little rivalry and clever asides add to the tension of the premise but also resolve in the end to something much more friendly.
Boldt’s art is bright colored and pays homage to vintage picture books. The two main characters have a cartoon-like appeal to them with their broad expressions and Mickey Mouse gloves. Boldt makes good use of white space throughout the book, allowing the mix of alphabet and numbers space to breathe on the page, something that becomes particularly important as the pages get more crowded.
Fresh and funny, this is one clever mash-up of ABCs and 123s that will appeal to every child who likes a lot of laughs. It will work well with preschoolers who will enjoy the jokes as they review the content. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Everything Goes in the Air by Brian Biggs
Brian Biggs has several new books out which is great news for youngsters who love cars, trucks and airplanes. Everything Goes in the Air takes Henry and his family on an airplane ride. Readers get to visit a bustling airport, where they can search for lost babies. From vintage airplanes to modern ones, we learn about the different parts of a place and the various types they come in. Modern airport security is explained, then the book turns to helicopters and hot air balloons. Just before takeoff, children get to see inside the cockpit and marvel at the crowded airspace. Then it’s up, up and away!
Biggs’ crowded pages show the hustle and hurry of an airport. His friendly art and seek-and-find activities will keep children busy exploring the pages. Information is given in small bits, mostly through conversations that are shown in cartoon bubbles. This is a marvelously fun and exciting way to explore airplanes and airports.
A great pick for a plane ride, or to help prepare children for an upcoming flight, this book has such detailed illustrations that it is best shared with just one child at a time. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Everything Goes: 123 Beep Beep Beep!: A Counting Book by Brian Biggs
Everything Goes: Stop! Go!: A Book of Opposites by Brian Biggs
These two board books simplify the busy style of Biggs into books that are more appropriate for toddlers. Here the bright colors and cartoon-style illustrations pop. The counting book goes up to ten, each page offering a different sort of vehicle to count. They range from RVs to busses. The opposites book again uses vehicles to show things like dirty and clean, old and new, ending with stop and go.
Very young children who enjoy cars, trucks and other vehicles will love these board books. Expect the basic text to be accompanied with lots of motor sounds from the audience! Appropriate for ages 1-3.
All items reviewed from copies received from Balzer + Bray.
A Is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan, illustrated by Matthew Myers
The story begins right at the cover with Musk Ox chomping on the apple that would have been what “A” stands for. Instead, he insists that A is really for musk ox. Zebra argues with him, after all there isn’t even a single letter A in musk ox. Musk Ox explains using lots of words that start with “A” that musk oxen are Awesome; they live in the Artic and even Alaska. Turn the page and you will see that B is also for musk ox, rather than baby. Again, Musk Ox has plenty of explanations for exactly why. This silliness continues through the book, forming a pattern until you reach the letter M. And I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I bet you won’t guess what M stands for. This zany book is filled with humor, pure cheer and a jolly spirit.
This is not an alphabet book for those first learning their letters. Instead, children who know how the alphabet works and who are veterans of ABC books will enjoy it most. They will get the jokes that are being poked at more normal alphabet books as well as the more pointed humor of the storyline. Cabatingan’s writing, done entirely in dialogue, is a pleasure to read aloud. It has a natural flow and a great sense of timing.
Myers’ illustrations are simple and quite silly when called for. The personalities of the two characters come across in their body language.
A hilarious alphabet book that is guaranteed to get kids giggling. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
If you are looking for an alphabet book with more than a bit of nonsense, this is the one for you! I happen to be a huge fan of alphabet books that play around, add humor and have plenty of twists. If you are looking for a straight-forward ABC book, the title alone should be enough to have you looking elsewhere. For those of you as silly as I am, continue on! Zebra is in charge of the ABCs happening in the right order on stage. Unfortunately, Moose doesn’t want to wait his turn. He enters on D, knocking Duck away, messes up Elephant’s entrance too, gets his head in the way for Hat, pops out of the pocket for Kangaroo, and continues to be silly for Lollipop too. But the insult truly comes when they decide to go with M is for… Mouse. Now Moose is upset and rampages through P and Q, drawing scribbles on R and S. Zebra tries to stop him, but ends up messing things up himself until the happy ending at Z.
Bingham’s writing is filled with asides from the different animals. The book is extremely funny, the pacing is brilliant, and the twists are unexpected. There is a great tension built up as the letter M approaches, and then with the twist, it is pure genius.
Zelinsky’s illustrations add to the mad gaiety of the book. Moose is obnoxious but also charming, his emotions clear on his face. The reaction of Moose as M passes him by is delightful, the rampage of destruction is great fun, and his scribbling is clever.
It is clear that this is a book that was pure fun to create, since that is apparent on every page. Impossible to read without laughing and grinning, this is an alphabet book that is sure to delight. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Caveman, A.B.C. Story by Janee Trasler
Take a prehistoric trip through the alphabet in this funny picture book! This book tells the story of a caveman’s adventures solely through pictures and a few alphabetical words. It starts with an acorn that both the caveman and a squirrel are after. They are scared by a bear into a cave where a dinosaur was living. A bit later, the caveman makes friends with an odd little creature who had been trapped in some ice. Unfortunately, the big green dinosaur appears again and chases them around, forcing them to leap onto vines and swing away. But the book can’t end before one final uproarious slapstick moment which leads all the way too the Zzzz at the end.
This story is told only in 26 words, so that means that the illustrations are what really make this book work so well. Filled with a zany cartoon style, the pictures are action-filled and great fun. The huge green dinosaur may pursue the caveman in the book, but readers will notice the rounded teeth and the big smile long before the caveman does.
A fast-paced and funny alphabet book that will do well with young dinosaur fans. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed on Jen Robinson’s Book Page.
A Zeal of Zebras: An Alphabet of Collective Nouns by Woop Studios
Follow the alphabet on a journey through the beautiful and evocative collective nouns in our language. You will get to see a galaxy of starfish, an aurora of polar bears, and even an ostentation of peacocks. Each animal then has a paragraph or two of information on them, small details that show the unique qualities of that creature. This is all paired with vibrant illustrations that have the feel of vintage posters and are graphic and wild. This is one alphabet book that is more about the wordplay and the art than the ABCs.
While the paragraphs are well-written and concise, it is really the art that makes this book special. The printed and distressed quality of the images and the way that the posters are replayed on the pages with words make the entire work visually intriguing.
As I finished reading this with both of my sons looking over my shoulder and commenting on the incredible collective nouns, we all agreed that whoever named collective nouns was an artist. The same can be said for this entire book. It was done by real artists. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
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