Sonderbooks

Sonderbooks Book Review of

Once Upon an Alphabet

Short Stories for All the Letters

by Oliver Jeffers


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Once Upon an Alphabet

Short Stories for All the Letters

by Oliver Jeffers

Reviewed 1/5/15.
Philomel Books, 2014.
Starred Review
2014 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Picture Books

Oliver Jeffers’ books are quirky, offbeat, and, to certain people like me, utterly hilarious.

This is not a traditional alphabet book. As it says on the first page:

If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters.

In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made for all the letters.

The stories are all very short – with a title page, a two-page spread, and then a last page, all decorated with Oliver Jeffers’ loopy drawings, done large.

The stories possess that bizarre logic that makes me laugh. Many are tragic. Many seem pointless. And many show characters from a previous story. Taken together, they’ve got Oliver Jeffers’ unique charm.

I’ll include a couple of stories to give you the idea:

H

Half a House

Helen lived in half a house.
The other half had fallen into
the sea during a hurricane
a year and a half ago.

Being lazy, and not owning
a hammer, she hadn’t quite
got around to fixing it yet.
Which was fine . . .

. . . until the horrible day she
rolled out the wrong side of bed.

On this page we see Helen, open-mouthed, falling into the sea.

Another favorite, for which I’m afraid I can’t even begin to describe the drawings:

M

Made of Matter

Mary is made of matter.
So is her mother.
And her mother’s moose.

In fact, matter makes up everything
from magnets and maps to
mountains and mattresses.

Mary discovered all of this
the marvelous day she got sucked
through a microscope and
became the size of a molecule.

It’s a minor miracle that
they all made it back out
of the microscope at their
normal size again.

A few are done in rhyme:

R

Robots Don’t Like Rain Clouds

Robots don’t like rain clouds
So they steal them from the sky.

From everywhere and anywhere
That’s why it’s been so dry.

I’m sure you have been wondering,
What’s with all this dust?

Well, robots don’t like getting wet.
They don’t do well with rust.

I’ve already decided I want to booktalk this book next summer to the younger elementary school grades. I feel confident that just reading a few of the stories, and showing the large, dramatic pictures, will attract many readers, who will enjoy being in on the joke.