Al MacCuish (text), Luciano Lozano (illustrations) & Jim Bletsas (design)
(Thames & Hudson)

Young Charlie Foxtrot is in a bit of a pickle. You see, he has a tendency to daydream at school and so it comes as a bit of a shock when he realises he has to learn his alphabet. “The Alphabet-a-whattie” wonders Charlie? But never fear young Charlie, as somewhere deep in London, the Ministry of Letters works tirelessly (and secretly!) to help people with letter-related problems. Operation Alphabet is just getting started!

There are so many things to be praised about Operation Alphabet, I just really love this book!
The fantastic retro style artwork is the first thing that caught my eye. Beautifully coloured, for some reason many of the London spreads were reminiscent, to me, of some of LS Lowry’s work, probably because of the colour scheme as well as the era they both portray.

The story is wacky in a oh-so-British way and it is very quirky and fun, with lots of action, twists (including a rather ferocious-looking cat!) and comical moments. I have a penchant for the motorbike-driving duchess myself!

But behind this quirky tale lies an important positive message about the alphabet of course, but also reading, writing and making words. It is all about interacting with letters and words and making it fun, whether it is about writing or reading. The fact that the letters come to life, sing songs, and do magic tricks convey the message that acquiring literacy skills should first and foremost be fun. Here is a great example, with the text from one of the songs:

Use us at home or take us to school,
letters are a most incredible tool.
Make a new word from us every day,
then use it in every possible way.
Use letters wisely or use them for fun,
one at the time or by the ton.
And every time that you open a book,
just think how many letters it took.

The overall book design of the books is a real success, and it will be pleasing to the eye for many retro-style enthusiasts, whether they have children or not. I really hope this is the first volume in a series because this is a very promising start indeed. For its sheer originality and wonderful design and artwork, The Ministry of Letters: Operation Alphabet is one of my favourite picture books from 2011.

Check out the fantastic website here which includes some fantastic downloads including bookmarks and name plates amongst other goodies. The book jacket itself doubles up as a great Alphabet poster.

All text  © Al MacCuish, and illustrations © Luciano Lozano.

Thank you to Thames & Hudson for sending me a review copy of  the book.