Review Blog

Feb 24 2015

Once upon an alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

cover image

HarperCollins, 2014. ISBN 9780007514274
(Age: Pre-school - Yr 6) 'If words make up stories and letters make up words, then stories are made up of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made for all the letters.' And that's just what this fabulous book by Oliver Jeffers is all about. He has taken the concept of a picture book and viewed it through a new lens. Instead of the traditional 26 letters accompanied by pictures of words starting with the letter, there are 26 stories, one for each letter of the alphabet - each short, succinct, imaginative and complete. Here's an example. 'Bernard and Bob lived on either side of a bridge and for years had been battling each other for reasons neither could remember. One day Bob decided to fix things so Bernard couldn't bother him anymore, by burning the bridge between them. But Bob learned an important lesson that day. He needed the bridge to get back.' Characters like Owl and Octopus appear and reappear throughout the stories adding continuity especially as Z returns us to Edward the astronaut's problem of the first page! The cartoon-like illustrations that are Jeffers' trademark are more about illustrating the story than emphasising the sound of the letter, another departure from the more traditional format of an alphabet book and the whole has a wonderful mix of humour and quirkiness that it will appeal to all ages. This is so much more than an alphabet book to entertain littlies, although it does that very well. There is the opportunity to introduce the concept of alliteration - Danger Delilah is a daredevil who laughs in the face of Death and dances at the door of Disaster - and explore how it can be used to add meaning and depth to a story. Students could also be challenged to create similar short stories - telling a tale in two or three sentences that still contain a traditional story structure. (There's a website devoted to this concept - but select what's appropriate for your students; and for those who subscribe to the NSW School Magazine Touchdown, the March 2013 issue contained a how-to.) Every time I dip into this book I find more to delight me - adults and children alike will love this one.
Barbara Braxton

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