Saturday, July 05, 2008

Children’s Books: The Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman

If you think this is an actual alphabet book, even a quirky one, think again. It does use the letters of the alphabet, but only as an excuse for the 13 rhyming couplets that form a story. The letters aren’t even all in order and sometimes they’re rather strange. For example: “’L is, like ‘eaven, their last destination.” Indeed, there’s a warning at the start of the book: “The alphabet, as given in this publication, is not to be relied upon and has a dangerous flaw that an eagle-eyed reader may be able to discern.” And children are eagle-eyed with pictures. Just ask any child who has run an eye over Graeme Base’s Animalia or the Where’s Wally? books.

It’s a story, using the alphabet to hang on. Most of it is a “piratical ghost story,” starting with “A is for Always, that’s where we embark” in which two Victorian era children start on their adventure on a fish-shaped boat, accompanied by their pet gazelle. Gris Grimly’s deliciously scary illustrations really tell as much of the story as the words. Perhaps more. There are monsters, pirates, treasure, constant movement.

Like everything else that Neil Gaiman is involved with, The Dangerous Alphabet (HarperCollins) is great fun. It’s well worth reading with your child.

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