Sunday, 15 March 2015

Once Upon An Alphabet

Once Upon An Alphabet

Oliver Jeffers

With its brighter than bright fluorescent cover it’s hard not to notice Oliver Jeffers’ new book.  With his distinctive typography adorning the cover there’s no way this could be a book by anyone else.  While its portrait oriented shape echoes previous titles such as StuckThe Great Paper Caper and TheIncredible Book Eating Boy, anyone familiar with Jeffers’ past works will know that this is where any similarities will end.  Oliver Jeffers has never been one to sit on his laurels; he is not afraid to play, to experiment and to offer up something new, which is exactly what he has done with Once Upon An Alphabet.  

From the moment you pick up this weightier tome you will know you are in for a treat.  Jeffers’ has once again chosen the path not taken, he has refused to tread old ground, he has expanded his universe of characters and anecdotes and has illustrated a short story for each and every letter of the alphabet.  This is a book packed with tales of jealousy, courage, heartbreak and whimsy: each and every one sure to raise a smile.  Some stories are stand-alone, such as ‘Cup In The Cupboard’ where an optimistic cup determined to have more light than his cupboard home can provide dares to dream and leap into the unknown (where his dreams, and himself are shattered).  Others such as ‘Onward’ featuring the problem solving dream team of an owl and an octopus feature on several pages as a recurring joke; wherever disaster strikes they are sure to follow!  In typical Jeffers’ fashion there are a few familiar faces along the way that are sure to please any fans of his back catalogue.  Not only is the book is packed full of content but it is so rich that there’s sure to be an ideal story for everyone; we’ve yet to encounter any two people with the same favourite letter.

It could be all too easy in an alphabet book to merely use the letter Z as a natural ending without the sense of completion that a picture book can bring; perhaps the book’s most satisfying element is how A for ‘An Astronaut’ and Z for ‘Zeppelin’ bookend the stories with the same character.  Edmund, who is determined from page one to get to space, reappears in his ongoing quest in the last pages.  This rounds the book off nicely and leaves us with the satisfaction that any good ending can bring.

This is a book that has been extremely well thought out, is well paced, playful and full of fun.  Jeffers’ illustrations have a lovely looseness to them which only adds to their humour: his work has never been so charming or so funny.  Mostly created in black and white with a pop of colour, each letter’s imagery sits comfortably next to the other twenty-five so that each page feels like part of a unit and not a cluster of separate ideas that have been forced together.  

There is an idea of Oliver Jeffers and of the work he produces.  It is easy to think you know what a book will be when someone is so prolific, successful and beloved, but we’re here to tell you that you don’t know what this book will be, it is not like all of his others except that it is beautiful, well considered, and that you are in for a treat.  His most versatile, endearing and absurd book to date, Once Upon An Alphabet is a must-have for Jeffers’ fans, alphabet enthusiasts and illustration lovers everywhere.  

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