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WARNING: The book review you are about to read is about a picture book called The Dangerous Alphabet, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Gris Grimly. Readers familiar with the work of either gentleman will immediately understand how dangerous the alphabet can be in the hands of either. (In the past, I've reviewed Coraline and The Wolves in the Wall as well as Interworld by Neil Gaiman (both for children), as well as Now We Are Sick, a poetry anthology for adults edited by Gaiman.) Grimly is the illustrator of a number of picture books, not all of which are exactly for children. Possibly the best-known book containing his illustrations is the Halloween classic, Boris and Bella, by Carolyn Crimi.

The Dangerous Alphabet contains a warning of its own:
A piratical ghost story in thirteen ingenious by potentially disturbing rhyming couplets, originally conceived as a confection both to amuse and to entertain by Mr. Neil Gaiman, scrivener, and then doodled, elaborated upon, illustrated, and beaten soundly by Mr. Gris Grimly, etcher and illuminator, featuring two brave children, their diminutive but no less courageous gazelle, and a large number of extremely dangerous trolls, monsters, bugbears, creatures, and other such nastinesses, many of which have perfectly disgusting eating habits and ought not, under any circumstances, to be encouraged.

Please Note: 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.

The book begins "A is for Always, that's where we embark." The illustration shows the children setting off in a bathtub and fish-bones sort of boat into what appears to be the sewers of an older city. The next two-page spread looks just like this:

The alphabet continues along in its usual order for quite some time, with somre rather dire prognostications in the text and dire depictions in the illustrations. For instance, there's "G is for Good, as in hero, and morning; H is for 'Help me!' -- a cry, and a warning".
Whereas the I page reads "I am the author who scratches these rhymes", we find later in the book that U is used as shorthand for the second-person pronoun: "U are the reader who shivers with dread; W's warnings went over your head". If you just hollered "hey wait! that's out of order!", then I believe you are the sort of eagle-eyed reader who will understand why using this book to learn the alphabet is a dangerous thing.

I am assured by my friend Jeff (geophyrd) that this book is a huge hit with the younger set, as he and his young son have been enjoying repeated readings of the book on a nightly basis of late. Fans of Gaiman's and/or Grimly's will want to pick this one up for sure. Folks interested in a twisty take on abecediaries are sure to want it as well. And you won't be disappointed.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 8th, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, awesome! I am working with my preschooler at learning her letters, and she often resists. Partly because she HATES it when she feels she's being "taught" something (she's a Montessori kid to the bone - wants to set her own pace and agenda), but also because she doesn't like sappy, simplistic books. But she loves pirates! And she loves when learning is a game. So I think she will love this! I'm going to grab a copy next time we're at the bookstore.

May. 9th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
You are welcome!!
(Deleted comment)
May. 9th, 2008 12:01 am (UTC)
Dude. You should so write "When Alphabets Attack." Seriously.
(Deleted comment)
May. 9th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
It took me a minute to sort that out.
May. 27th, 2008 08:15 am (UTC)
I can't wait for the late-night Comedy Central commercials with letterriffic censor bloops.

Jane Austen Icon Kudos.
May. 27th, 2008 08:18 am (UTC)
Post-Script: I ordered my copy of The Dangerous Alphabet as soon as I got the notification from HarperCollins. It took me a long time to figure out what was so dangerous about it, and I like to go around saying things like "my degree is in English, sirrah" - so I was ironically (but thankfully) humiliated in private.
May. 9th, 2008 03:25 am (UTC)
It should be

As Alphabets Attack
Barriers Bar Bystanders making Beelines
Clearly corralling our characters who
Demand decent distraction, dodging and
Eluding Enemies at expense of escape.

I could go on, but its late and I'm not sure I can come up with the next line and keep it PG-13.
May. 9th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Hah
Wow - talk about alliteration gone wild! (You were probably wise to stop at E.)
(Deleted comment)
May. 9th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
I hope you like it.
Feb. 7th, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
I love Neil Gaiman and have bought all his children's books except this one. When I looked at it, I didn't understand the ending, at all. Given that I regularly read Gaiman to my students, I didn't want them asking me what the heck was going on, when I didn't know myself.

Feb. 7th, 2009 04:41 am (UTC)
My take on the story in the pictures is that the father is reading the newspaper in an armchair at home at the start (on the page facing the start of the story), and the kids journey through all those perilous things that don't actually harm them, to find kindly dad waiting at the end of their journey, reading his paper, only this time, he appears to be paying attention and happy to see them. Just my take, though.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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