posted in: Al MacCuish, Jim Bletsas, Luciano Lozano | 15

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….

    15 Responses

    1. Clara

      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

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

      • Zoe

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

    3. Zoe

      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!

    4. Stacey

      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 πŸ™‚
      Stacey recently posted..Have Books

    5. Zoe

      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 πŸ™‚

    6. Even in Australia

      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

    7. Elli

      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

    8. Myra from GatheringBooks

      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. πŸ™‚
      Myra from GatheringBooks recently posted..AWB 2012 Database

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