Review – Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

9780007514274I am a huge Oliver Jeffers fan but have to admit his last few picture books haven’t hit the mark. That of course excludes the absolutely brilliant The Day The Crayons Quit he did with Drew Daywalt last year which was simply outstanding. Oliver Jeffers illustrations have always been outstanding but it was his stories that seemed to have drifted. Partnering with another writer seemed like a great idea but Jeffers has absolutely knocked it out of the park with his new book, Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories For All The Letters.

As the subtitle suggests this is an alphabet book with a difference. Jeffers gives four pages to every letter of the alphabet including a short story about each one. The stories are fabulous and deliciously absurd. Some are interconnected and others stand alone. There are funny stories, sad stories and typically Jeffers-esque morality tales. There are heroes, there is wisdom and best of all illustrations that burst, bubble and run wild over all the pages.

This is vintage Oliver Jeffers and I cannot wait to  share this over and over with my kids as there is so much to explore and enjoy in this marvellous picture book.

Buy the book here…

Cue Full-Blown Adult Tanty

One of my deepest, darkest secret shames has to be that I am completely, utterly, and embarrassingly bad at Scrabble. So bad, in fact, that it actually makes me angry.

Sure, Scrabble’s a board game and is (apparently) fun. But the latent, almost physical frustration I feel at not being able to mentally manoeuvre single blocks of letters into witty, wise, or obscure words that are proved right by the dictionary (much to my opponents’ surly indignation) gives me the absolutely willies.

I’m not sure why I’m so rubbish at Scrabble. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that I was born without that spatial thingy that would give me the ability to first visualise and assemble word possibilities from the letters before me in my little, upstanding tray, and second, to see a spot where those word and letter possibilities can fit in with those already laid down on the board. I also doubt either is helped by the brain-freezing, weight-of-expectation anxiety that even thinking about playing brings upon me.

The frustration at not having/being able to do whatever this game requires of me is compounded by the fact that being a writer and editor and all means that everyone a) expects me to be completely kick-ass at it and b) wants to beat me.

I’d say it’s a pretty hollow victory for them when my opponents realise their apparent Goliath of an opponent is a whimpering ninny. Case in point: my friend Tahnee put down ‘bristle’ on her very first go last time we played. She earned herself something like a triple word score for her savvy placement plus 100 bonus points for using up all her letters. Suffice to say, I never even came close to competing.

For most people, though, they’ll never get a chance to find out, because after too many games of voluminous embarrassment and frustration that I know is irrational and juvenile but that sees me get so frickin’ angry that I want to fling the board and letters across the room and throw myself on the floor in a full-blown adult tanty, I now refuse to play. At all. Ever. So please stop asking me.

The latest incarnation is apparently Words With Friends, a seemingly innocuous-sounding, potentially copyright-infringement-avoiding name for what is, for all intents and purposes, a version of Scrabble. Please see above paragraph re: I refuse to play. At all. Ever. Please stop asking me.

Also while I’m getting my grump on, please stop sending me the Crikey article that heralds the news that the official Collins Scrabble dictionary has added almost 3000—yes, folks, 3000—new words to its almost a quarter of a million existing permissible words. This means 3000 new words that are guaranteed to outrage your opposition, who’ll argue that you can’t have them and then have to eat their words when you prove to them that they are, in fact, in the dictionary.

While I love the idea of these additions—you would think that the availability of more words would ease my anxiety—the reality of it makes no difference to me. It’s not that I don’t have enough word combination possibilities; it’s that I have too many. My brain seizes up and freezes up or attempts to put down words for which I’m missing one crucial letter or for which there’s no actual space on the board. That or I simply can’t see visualise the word to begin with.

What I will leave you with, though, just in case you’re a keen Scrabble player, is a selection of the newly acceptable words and their point values. Methinks there’ll be some chagrin from old-school Scrabble players who think this is lowering the tone and literacy levels. Me? I think these words are kind of funny:

  • innit (5)
  • thang (9)
  • Facebook (19)
  • MySpace
  • bling (12)
  • tik, tina, gak (7, 4, and 8, respectively; they’re apparently drug terms, although I’ve personally, in my naivety, never heard of them)
  • inbox (14)
  • vlog (8)
  • wagyu (12)
  • webzine (21)
  • wiki (11).