Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

**TOP SECRET**

Posted on | January 31, 2012 | 15 Comments

If you continue reading this post, you are agreeing to keep the details revealed herein TOP SECRET. The only people who already know what I am going to share with you are:

  • 1) The Queen
  • 2) The Prime Minister
  • 3) Spies

  • and shortly…

  • 4) YOU.

  • Shhhh! Make sure no-one is looking over your shoulder as I reveal to you……









































    Operation Alphabet.

    Previously highly classified, this action packed tale of derring-do has now been sanctioned for release to a few, highly trusted readers. This story is for your eyes only.

    This is the tale of one young boy, named Charlie Foxtrot (a great code name, don’t you agree?), who succumbs to a terrible case of the Alphabet-A-Heebiegeebies.

    At school Charlie is due to be tested on his knowledge of the alphabet but is struggling with his ABCs. But all is not lost – this is a perfect case for the clandestine department known as the Ministry of Letters (responsible for creating all the words you and I read each day – just imagine their POWER!).

    The SAS (that’s Special Alphabet Service, by the way – not those imposters that call themselves the Special Air Service) swing into action to save Charlie Foxtrot from a terrible fate, although along the way the lives of the SAS themselves are threatened… But with the help of a Royal relative and an all singing-all-dancing Capital display, the SAS save the day. The Ministry of Letters succeeds in its top secret mission and remain ready and waiting for their next call to arms…

    Click to view larger image

    With Operation Alphabet Al MacCuish (the author), Jim Bletsas (the designer) and Luciano Lozano (the illustrator) have created a debut picture book which has it all. Mystery, adventure, silly songs, opportunities to hum your favourite film and tv music and put on terrible accents, and bags and bags of panache.

    The pacey plot, full of intrigue, is a huge hit with my kids (they adore the idea of being let in on a secret they mustn’t share), and it’s a while since I’ve had as much fun reading a book aloud; for those of us with a penchant for drama and tom-foolery this book is a dream to share. Like the Traction Man stories of Mini Grey, I couldn’t help but read this with a terrible attempt at a Sean Connery voice, occasionally breaking into snatches of James Bond or the A-Team theme music.

    The book as a physical object is also a lovely thing to hold. Lozano’s illustrations are a homage to the best of 1960s design, in browns and oranges that exude vintage class (I was immediately reminded of this recent post on the wonderful blog Vintage Kids’ Books my Kid Loves). The hardback book, at 64 pages long, with a beautiful dust jacket that doubles as an alphabet poster, is sumptuous to look at and to hold – an ideal gift.

    Click to view larger image

    Initially I had my doubts about the theme of the book (learning the alphabet) and its target audience (this is a perfect picture book for slightly older kids, say 4-8); the text is quite long for a picture book, the illustrations (whilst wonderful) are not typical kiddie fare and so I wondered if older children who are already well past the stage of learning to write the alphabet would still enjoy this book. But I need not have worried – the 7 year olds I’ve read it to (all of whom are happy reading and writing by themselves) have loved the story, it’s humour, and the secrecy that surrounds it. Just like them I will never look at a letter box in the same light again.

    Inspired by the SAS who parachute in to Charlie’s room to help him learn the alphabet we created our own parachuting set of letters.

    Here’s what we used:

  • squares of light weight fabric, about 10″x10″
  • buttons with four holes
  • thread (we used embroidery thread but string would probably be fine), about 36″ long, 2 threads per parachute
  • fridge magnets in the shape of letters
  • scissors


  • We basically followed the instructions in this youtube clip, but substituted alphabet magnets for toy soldiers:

    Once our SAS detail was ready, we launched them out of the windows upstairs in our house:

    We were launching our parachutes until dark –> definitely a great activity to try out with or without kids, the hardest thing being finding a high enough launch site.

    Whilst making our parachutes we listened to:

  • The theme music to the James Bond film Dr No
  • The theme music to the A-Team
  • They Might Be Giants’ Alphabet Lost and Found:
  • The Alphabet Song by Big Don


  • My go-to source for great children’s music, Zooglobble, has this great list of alphabet themed children’s songs, many of which will appeal hugely to adults too!

    Other activities that would be fun to do alongside reading Operation Alphabet include:

  • Making alphabet paper dolls, inspired by Journey Into Unschooling
  • ABC bean bag toss from More Mom Time
  • Baking the alphabet, as done by Nurture Store


  • Now don’t forget, everything you’ve read here today is TOP SECRET. Do not share your knowledge of The Ministry of Letters and the SAS with anyone. Remember:

    And if you can keep this secret, come back tomorrow when I have an amazing giveaway bundle of Operation Alphabet artefacts….

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    Comments

    15 Responses to “**TOP SECRET**”

    1. Clara
      January 31st, 2012 @ 9:18 am

      I spotted this talented team just recently (I too love the sophisticated retro artwork, and the wartime newsreel-style voice), and now need this book IMMEDIATELY…
      I also require those buttons of those – in the national interest, naturally.
      Clara recently posted..more about bears

    2. Zoe
      January 31st, 2012 @ 9:21 am

      It’s no secret, Clara, that there’s almost nothing as nice as a tin full of buttons!

    3. Elli
      January 31st, 2012 @ 9:23 am

      Very much my kind of book. A proper work of art, rather than just a story.
      Elli recently posted..Incompatible with Morning

    4. Library Mice
      January 31st, 2012 @ 9:31 am

      We really loved this book too!
      http://www.librarymice.com/2011/11/ministry-of-letters-operation-alphabet.html
      I love the parachute idea. Might have to steal it for a book group activity :0)
      Library Mice recently posted..FABULOUS FIVE: Dave Shelton presents Five Fabulous Funny Picture Books

    5. lucy
      January 31st, 2012 @ 9:41 am

      Your secret is safe with me ;-)

      This book sounds amazing!! My 4yo is just getting interested in letters, so this looks like a win for her … definitely going to get it.
      lucy recently posted..TAST 2012 – Buttonhole and Cretan Stitch

    6. Zoe
      January 31st, 2012 @ 10:20 am

      yes Elli, superb illustrations! I’m hoping this team will be working together again soon…

      Library Mice – please do try the parachutes – they were so much fun. If you could find somewhere really tall to throw them off it would be amazing!

    7. Zoe
      January 31st, 2012 @ 11:18 am

      Hi Lucy, this is definitely at the sophisticated end of ABC books – hop you and your 4yo will enjoy it!

    8. Stacey
      January 31st, 2012 @ 11:57 am

      How have I not seen this book!? It looks just amazing. And don’t you love They Might be Giants? We have them on constantly in the car right now :)
      Stacey recently posted..Have Books

    9. Sara
      January 31st, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

      ooh and oh my!

      not only an outstanding book, but my favourite post in a long time. Keep up the good work lady!
      Sara recently posted..Extra Credit: The Cameo Double Bill

    10. Zoe
      January 31st, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

      Hi Stacey, the book does seem to be available in the US so hope you can track down a copy!

      Sara, thanks for the positive vibes :-)

    11. Even in Australia
      January 31st, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

      I love this one too. It is definitely available in the US. I haven’t read it to my girls yet, though, so I don’t know what they will think of it.

      By the way, we have a giant “button box” – a plastic container big enough for the kids to sit in (barely) full of buttons. I pull it out from time to time and it’s always a hit.
      Even in Australia recently posted..Weeding Progress Report

    12. Damyanti
      January 31st, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

      Fab review, I will have to hunt down a copy as sounds ideal now my son is recognising letters, & he loves a good secret
      Damyanti recently posted..Goodnight Tales by Johnny Morris

    13. Elli
      January 31st, 2012 @ 8:41 pm

      Is the illustrator actually Italian by birth, or is it just an Italian name? The book reminds me of a fantastic alphabet print we were given by a Venetian printmaker, in which all the letters of the alphabet are depicted as people in various poses – black and white line drawings, and totally brilliant. Much better than standard alphabet friezes.
      Elli recently posted..Incompatible with Morning

    14. Myra from GatheringBooks
      February 1st, 2012 @ 9:55 am

      There is so much JOY in your posts, Zoe, I love reading and rereading it. Lots of activities, videoclips, resources in this fantabulous review of Operation Alphabet. I now have this cutesie little notebook where I jot down all these book titles so I won’t forget them when I visit the library the next time. :)
      Myra from GatheringBooks recently posted..AWB 2012 Database

    15. Zoe
      February 1st, 2012 @ 11:31 am

      Hi Myra, I’m glad the joy comes through, for it is definitely there!

      Hi Elli, I don’t know if the illustrator is Italian by birth/training – perhaps you could find out via their FB page?

      Hi Damyanti, I’m sure your son would love it. Oh, and I have a photo a need to share with you and him… will tweet it later
      Zoe recently posted..The SAS want a new home to parachute into… will it be yours? (a giveaway)

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