The Dangerous Alphabet Paperback – Jul 27 2010
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About the Author
Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.
Gris Grimly is a children's book illustrator who moonlights in painting and filmmaking. Some of his best-known works include Gris Grimly's Frankenstein, Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness and Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Death and Dementia, and Neil Gaiman's bestselling picture book The Dangerous Alphabet. He lives in Los Angeles.
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If you buy it for a child that is of picture book age, you may well have a similar scenario. This is, as the title suggests, an alphabet book. But forget about sweet glittery things. A may be for "always", but the youngsters that enter this sewer of horrors soon discover that "E's for the evil that lures and entices", and "F is for Fear and its many devices". There are muffled screams, pies cooked with human looking bones, chained up children, piracy, skulls, vile deeds, and lots of monsters. In short, as is his wont, Gaiman has tapped into the psyche to produce a terrifying trip through an amusement park horror show.
It's also extremely funny, in a black, gruesome way. Older children will love it. There is a little mix-up on the alphabet which children will feel good pointing out, and even a kind of happy ending as the boat comes through the tunnel to the letter Z, though I struggled to convince my daughter of that. The watercolour and ink illustrations are superb - incredibly detailed, with nightmarishly surreal imagery on every page. You might not want your child to look too closely though, as every element, from the chains on the author, the organs in jars, or the maggoty meat on a plate, comes straight from the deepest, most terrified parts of the human psyche. The humour (such as finding two well dressed lovebirds in a boat next to a monster--crossed tunnel-lines perhaps) requires an older perspective to appreciate.
So, while I enjoyed this book for its originality, its anti-cuteness, the amazing detail and intensity of its horror, and the depth and cleverness of its naughty humour, I'm not sure I'd recommend that you buy it for your five year old daughter or niece. Squeamish parents probably won't appreciate it. But ten year old boys will, definitely.
-- Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening
Its written the way that nightmares are supposed to be recorded. I mean-its an alphabet book for someone who is well aware of how the alphabet works. Its reminiscent of 'The Gashlycrumb Tinies' but this is creative and new in is own right. And none of the characters die.
You could almost expect to see this organized as poetry -although the illustrations really bring the language to life. very compatible-Gaiman and Grimly.
My favorite page is 'B is for Boat, pushing off in the dark'(the barbed wire and the vulture and the sense that these awful things are preferable to drifting into the darkness).
You kind of get lost in the story...Made aware that the author is no longer Neil Gaiman but a tree monster with sprawling roots and draped in a chains ('I am the author who scratches these rhymes')
This is taunting and relentless-unlike many "scary" books for children these days; this one does not bring comfort in the end...maybe indifference...definetely not comfort.
This is a little grim. But it is so fun.
I am a novice uncle. I do not know what little children enjoy; were it nephews I would buy them Ninja Turtles, but I am confused and frightened by My Little Pony. Literature is the ground that I retreat to, and I am lucky that my niece is a child of learning who enjoys reading.
She loves The Dangerous Alphabet. It is one of her Favourite Books, which means that soon enough she will not have to know how to read it, because she will have Memorized the thing from the repetition of her parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents reading and re-reading the book to her.
If this is not the kind of book that you want your child to read (I can't imagine why, do you not like children? Do you not believe in Whimsy?) then I would recommend that you get it anyway. You might not want your child reading it, but your child certainly will want to read it.
For those of you who enjoy such things, and would like a book that you can enjoy along with your child, then I heartily recommend this most Dangerous of Alphabets to you.
When I received the book and did the initial read through, I was worried. There are events in the book such as the usage of the letter "C" for "see" and the letter "U" for "you" that didn't sit well with me. Now I know it is hard to write an alphabet book with the letter U without forcing usage of the word umbrella, but the letter C? Come on! Also the letter W appears to happen before the letter V, something that just irked me. This book is decidedly macabre. Nonetheless, after some careful consideration of my son's book collection which includes scarier offerings such as "Where the Wild Things Are," I decided to plow ahead.
I would not have been surprised if he was scared, however he loved the book. He is at a point in his alphabet books where most of them bore him with their staccato approach, each letter, disconnected from the rest. There is a storyline here, about a pair of children who sneak off from the father with their pet gazelle and a treasure map to search for treasure in the dark underground city full of unscrupulous individuals. In the end, there is a happy ending. (This is a children's book, after all.) I have caught my son telling his own rendition of the tale to his toys. This is something that doesn't usually happen with alphabet books in our house.
We read this book at least five times in a row before we move on to something else, daily. He likes to snuggle up next to either us and have us read the book in that creepy voice normally reserved for campfires. My son's main gripe is that it's too short, as it is a quick read. He delights in the pictures and is constantly finding fun things in them. Such as the author reading the book to a selection of 'captive' children and how the author placed V on W's page and vice-versa. However, seeing as how many of the items in the images are beyond his vocabulary (albatross, Jörmungandr, Portuguese man of war, etc) I can't really ask him to name many things on the pages. There is also some imagery that I'd rather not bring up with a 4-year old yet, like corpses, dead dog, or penguin pelt.
I think everybody may be ready for this type of book at a different stage. It may depend on what your child has already been exposed to. I'd say there's nothing worse in here than you'd find visually in "The Nightmare before Christmas." If your child enjoys being scared or books about monsters, this is a very delightful read. Some parts of it are more disturbing to me than him. An example would be the image of the meat pies, (Sweeney Todd imagery for me, chicken pie imagery for him), but we each take from each picture what we want to believe. So if it's for you (wink wink), then go ahead and buy it. If it's for your child, I'd suggest reading it to them and judging from their reactions their actual readiness for it.
The couplets forming the text of the book are not all as sharp as I would expect from the talented writer - and if you just read them straight through, they don't form the complete picture as a poem that they should. The story is jagged and incomplete.
The drawings by Gris Grimly are superior, but also way off base for younger children. Each page is filled with gruesome details, some are fine and even fun to spy - such as a worm coming out of an apple or bones revealed by an x-ray machine. But others include blood coming from the wrists of a child manacled to a wall, children in stew pots and chained by their necks.
While I think older children - those able to more clearly distinguish fantasy from reality - and adults can enjoy this book, I would not give it to a child under 8 or 9. This alphabet is just a tad too dangerous for the wee ones.