It’s one thing to learn your ABCs. It’s quite another when Oliver Jeffers is in charge. His new picture book, Once Upon an Alphabet, contains 26 very short stories, beginning with “An Astronaut” and ending with “Zeppelin.” Preschoolers and beginning readers will delight in these vignettes featuring everything from a lumberjack who repeatedly gets struck by lightning to, of all things, a puzzled parsnip.
Jeffers (The Day the Crayons Quit) uses comical illustrations and sophisticated humor throughout, sometimes linking several stories. “An Enigma” asks how many elephants can fit inside an envelope, and readers must go to “N” for the answer. Kids will eat up Jeffers’ wacky wickedness, such as in “Half a House,” in which poor Helen lives in the remains of a house on the edge of a seaside cliff. (The rest collapsed during a hurricane.) One day, alas, Helen rolls out of the wrong side of the bed.
Jeffers knows how to catch the attention of his young audience while challenging their imagination, intellect and vocabulary. This whimsical exploration of letters and language begs to be read over and over again.