Tuesday 20 January 2015


When I first started reading Once upon an alphabet by Oliver Jeffers to my six-year-old son I wasn't sure if I'd made the right decision buying it for him as a Christmas present. He had just finished his first year at school in Kindergarten and was devouring home readers, and wanted to read chapter books every night. This picture book almost seemed a step back. 

My concern continued as we were reading the story. He didn't laugh at any of the jokes, and looked a little puzzled. But when we finished, he asked to read it again. And he picked it up several times himself over the next week. He started to laugh more and talk about the characters. 

I think on that first reading he was absorbing all the word play. While it is a picture book, it is aimed at an older reader. The woman in the bookshop told me it's best suited for children from about age five to eight. (Although on the Amazon page it states ages 3-5 with customer reviews stating they feel it is too dark and complex for this age group.) Take, for example, the story behind the letter V:

"Victor was used to being victorious.
But recently he was defeated
and retreated into hiding under
the stairs, where he now sits,
plotting his vengeance.
One day they'll all be very sorry."

While it's challenging in some ways, it remains a picture book. But with Oliver Jeffers as the illustrator, it's not just any picture book. There are layers of detail and meaning in each drawing. And there's plenty to talk about while reading it.

It will be interesting to see if my son stays with the book over the next couple of years. Chapter books are what he returns to most at the moment. But this book still provides him with plenty to think about.

On the whole it is a beautiful and clever book that he has enjoyed. And I think it is good to read books that make us stretch, and talk about words and their meanings. Above are pages that he selected as his favourites.

images the indigo crew


  1. We love Oliver Jeffers in our house - with our 7 and 4 year old - our favourites are Lost and Found, Stuck and How to catch a Star

    1. Read his books so many times with my son. My daughter has yet to take as much of an interest but I might have to try again soon. Love the layers in his books.