Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Operation Alphabet

I think I've mentioned before that Eddie is a boy who likes letters. They were his earliest and best pals. He used to sleep clutching a purple magnetic letter S in his hand and wake howling in the night if it was lost. Walking to the park with him used to be interrupted by his sudden drop, commando style tummy first, flat onto the pavement to 'read' the manhole covers or a crouch down to admire a car numberplate. A well fashioned letter out of playdough or preferably biscuit dough can still cheer him out of gloom when all else has failed.
Suffice to say there was little question whether a book called 'Operation Alphabet' was going to appeal to him or not.

'Operation Alphabet' is written by Al MacCuish, illustrated by Luciano Lozano and designed by Jim Bletsas. I think this is the first time (outside of a pop up book) that I've seen a designer receive equal billing on the cover of a book, but I have to say he earns his place there: This is a gorgeous object; very well designed to make book fetishists salivate (lovely lovely end papers mmmmm, super thick paper aaaaaaa).

It is (confusingly) not an alphabet book. Charlie Foxtrot is suffering from a bad case of the 'alphabet-a-heebiegeebies'. Despite knowing everything there is to know about climbing trees and building dens, about football and space rockets he knows nothing about the alphabet for a forthcoming test (maybe he could do a life skill swap with Eddie). The Secret Ministry of Letters are called to the mission; an elite team under the command of Colonel A, capable of rising to the challenge of revealing the full fun of letters. After an incident packed journey from their secret Whitehall post box home they parachute into Charlie's bedroom to sing, dance, conjour and charm him to full appreciation of their super skill; the power to form words.

"Use letters wisely or use them for fun, one at a time or by the ton.
And every time that you open a book, just think of how many letters it took!"

The story has the shaggy dog quality of a tale you might make up on the hoof to get your children through an improving country walk; lots of twists and turns and a deal of charm. The pictures are delightful; a retro 1950's world of detailed ink, pastel, paint and print recalling Ludwig Bemelmans 'Madeline' or Kathleeen Hale's 'Orlando' perhaps.

Eddie has predictably been thrilled with this book, poring over the pictures of the letters at work to study details of their uniform or see what they are up to in the background of the Ministry. We received some stickers with our copy which I keep uncovering on secret missions of their own in dark corners of the house; (they may just be hiding from our cat of course). Meanwhile I've been worrying about the punctuation marks- who seem to form the blue collar work force under the letters. I hope they're unionised for better conditions and equal status...
We're both hoping for some follow up adventures for this smile- inducing secret spy alphabet crew. I'd like to meet their even more hard working lower case friends too. Here they are at their musical best:

'Operation Alphabet' by Al MacCuish, illus. Luciano Lozano, design Jim Bletsas, pub. Thames and Hudson
isbn 978-0-500-51584-6

Disclosure: We received our copy of 'Operation Alphabet' from the publisher for review. Our opinions are our own.

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