When I conjure up the name Lisa Campbell Ernst, what instantly pops into my head is not a stark yet colorful alphabet book. This is the author/illustrator that brought us such memorable classics as, "Stella Louella's Runaway Book", and "Little Red Riding Hood". She has a bubbly cartoony style that I never seriously thought she'd break away from. But break away she has (and how) in this somewhat Laura Vaccaro Seeger-inspired, "Turn-Around Upside-Down Alphabet Book". Apart from being a bit of a mouthful, the book is an inventive take on teaching kids new ways to examine individual letter. And though it bears an uncanny similarity to Seeger's, "The Hidden Alphabet", Ernst's imbued it with enough wit and style to make it stand entirely on its own.
Now to read this book you better be prepared to do exactly as the title suggests. With each letter we see four different ways to view each letter. Turn the letter "A" one way and it's a bird's beak. Turn it another and it's a drippy ice cream cone. Placing her color contrasting letters in meticulously crafted positions, Ernst is able to draw the most remarkable images from her illustrations. At her best, she does amazing things with difficult letters. I was especially impressed with the "magic wand casting a spell" that came from her elegant letter "G". Ditto the "M"'s, "two fish playing chase". Ernst isn't afraid to stretch her images from time to time, however. The "point of a wishing star" that's supposed to come from an angled "A" is sketchy at best. Ditto the "mama duck and her two little ducklings" that springs from an inverted "K".
Another disadvantage to this book comes from the black borders that surround some of the letters. "The Hidden Alphabet" by Seeger is similar in layout to this book, but has thick black borders that never show the residue of oily fingertips. "The Turn-Around Upside-Down Alphabet Book" doesn't have this advantage. If you touch a page, that page stays touched. And considering that this is a book that is going to enjoy multiple repeated touchings, this works to its disadvantage. I know Ernst isn't to blame here, but for her sake I wish the publisher could've found a better black border substance to withstand the grubby prints of little fingers. After two readings, this book will show its age.
Otherwise, it's lovely. A fun way to get kids interested in the alphabet and nice eye-twisting almost optical illusionary twist on a tried and true form. As alphabet books go, it's fine n' dandy. Not the most inventive out there, but certainly not the least. For Ernst fans, it marks quite a departure. For people who've never encountered her work before, it's a lovely introduction.