A Call for a New Alphabet
By: Jef Czekaj
Get ready for an alphabet revolution!
X is exasperated. Every other letter in the alphabet has so much to do and plays such important roles in making words. X expects more. He calls for a vote on a new alphabet (gasp!). According to the Alphabet Constitution, X has every right to question the status quo. But the night before the vote, X is plagued by dreams of what could happen if he were to take on another letter's job. S has to run around a lot making singular words plural, except sometimes he isn't needed at all, and sometimes he needs to bring along another letter . . . it was all very confusing. Then X thought he'd like to be E. E was very important and very useful. E agreed. But E was exhausted. He was in thousands of words and constantly busy. X didn't think E's job was a good idea after all.
Jef Czekaj explores the order of the alphabet and the rules of spelling and grammar with hilarious consequences. His graphic-novel-style illustrations make these concepts and the story of X exciting, exhilarating, and extraordinary.
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Author Bio:Jef Czekaj, author
Jef Czekaj is a cartoonist, musician, and poster artist who lives and works in Somerville, Massachusetts.
His adventure comic strip, Grandpa and Julie: Shark Hunters, is read by over a million children monthly in Spanish and English in Nickelodeon Magazine. He is the illustrator of several books for children, such as Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation and The Circulatory Story.
In 2003, Boston Magazine included Jef on their list of "hot" visual artists. He's not sure what that means, but appreciates the compliment.
Read more about Jef.
Weary of being stuck near the end of the ABCs and saddled with the same old "xylophone" and "x-ray" all the time, the letter X campaigns for a new alphabetical order and a different job in this wry variation on Althea Kontis' Alpha-Oops!, illustrated by Bob Kolar (2003), and Steve Metzger's The Mixed-Up Alphabet, illustrated by Jannie Ho (2007). Sowing discontent among the other letters ("Q, aren't you bored to tears being stuck next to U? You two have to share nearly every word that you're in") and incidentally covering several English spelling rules, X engineers a vote. He changes his mind, however, after a night's exhausting dreams about silent letters, pronunciations that vary, the different ways plurals are formed and the fact that vowels have to be in every word. U comes clad in underwear and brandishing an umbrella, T sports a toupee and the other letters bear similar luggage in Czekaj's comical, freely drawn cartoon renditions. A clever use of a familiar but not stale premise to clue new readers in to some of our written language's little foibles.
Students struggling with the quirks of the English language might appreciate this alphabetical revolution, proposed by a dissatisfied letter X. "I always end up at the back of the book with a picture of an X ray and a xylophone. Why don't more words start with me?" he gripes. To persuade his 25 peers to rearrange their roles and order, he points out various grammatical conventions that make their lives predictable ("Q, aren't you bored to tears at being stuck next to U?"). The letters agree to vote on reassignment, but in an extended dream sequence X discovers unforeseen complications. Imagining himself as an S, he realizes that pluralization isn't so simple ("sheep" needs no S, "fox" needs an E and an S), and he is further baffled by silent letters with multiple sounds. Czekaj (Hip & Hop, Don't Stop!), who has a degree in linguistics, offers textual and visual alliteration aplenty (H wears a hard hat and high heels). Despite the book's clunky title, the comic book-style cartoons (and humor) should please budding wordsmiths.
On an otherwise quiet day in Alphabet City, exasperated X rebels against his appearance in so few words and his nearly last position in the alphabet. Standing on a soapbox, he stirs up the other letters and leads a revolution to change the old order. On the eve of a vote amending the Alphabet Constitution, though, X dreams of the disadvantages faced by other letters. He accepts the current system with all its rules and inconsistencies and casts the deciding vote for the familiar alphabetical order. Written with sly wit and wordplay that will appeal to the target audience, this little book delves into constitutional government as well as spelling rules before it's done. The upbeat text and brightly colored, cartoon-like illustrations propel the story, while the personified letters' grievances will draw a sympathetic response from children struggling with the order of letters as they learn to read. Pair it with Alethea Kontis' Alpha Oops! The Day Z Went First (2006).
School Library Journal
Czekaj weaves spelling lessons throughout this cheeky comic-book-format tale about a disgruntled letter. X is dissatisfied with his place in the alphabet, always at the end and stuck fronting only the words "X-ray" and "xylophone." He riles up the other letters and a vote to change the alphabet, along with its rules, is arranged for the following day. During the night, X dreams of what it would be like to be the other letters and to be responsible for their sometimes-confusing jobs within the English language. Of course, he realizes that he is satisfied with the way things are and breaks a tie vote to maintain the status quo. While the premise isn't immediately inspiring, this tale is surprisingly readable. Czekaj does an admirable job of conveying facts about spelling and grammar during X's dream without drawing too much attention to the educational component. Linguistic jokes abound (W complains, "I'm silent before an R! It's nerve-wracking!"). Visually, the story flows easily through each panel, even where panels appear within panels. The bright but basic line drawings aren't distinguished, but Czekaj continues the wisecracking tone of the text in his art (for example, sleep-inducing Z goes on a rant about how interesting he really is in a speech bubble that runs off the page). This tale won't draw a broad audience, but fans of the format will find a light and satisfying read nonetheless.
Puget Sound Council Reviews
X is tired of being so close to the end of the alphabet and having so few words that start with him. So he starts a rebellion to change the alphabet constitution and shuffle the letters and their jobs. However, after a night imagining himself in other letters places, X ends up casting the tie breaking ballot (an abstained) to keep the alphabet as it is. This is a fun bright graphic novel that kids will enjoy and teachers could find useful as well. Readers will zip through the story but might linger over the alphabet clues in the illustrations.
Frog On A Blog
Done in a colorful cartoon style, A Call For A New Alphabet by Jef Czekaj is engaging and lively. The author/illustrator managed to create a book that kids will enjoy, and at the same time, they will learn a lot about the alphabet. They will learn about “i before e except after c”. They will learn about consonants and vowels. They will learn about silent letters and how p and h together sound like the letter f and how sometimes the letter y acts more like a vowel than a consonant and they will learn a lot of new words. PHEW! Yes, he managed to cram all of that and more into one picture book and he did it in a super fun way. A Call For A New Alphabet is well worth a read.
The Horn Book Magazine
X is digruntled. Of all the letters in Alphabet City, he seems to have the least to do and always finds himself near the end--third from last, to be exact. Hopping onto a soapbox, he incites the other letters to question the authority of spelling rules and alphabetical sequence. Isn't Q tired of having to spend so much time with U? Aren't I and E tired of switching places every time C comes along? Then E reads them the rules of the Alphabet Constitution, which allows them to vote to create a new alphabet in which each letter may choose a new place and role. Czekaj gives his block letters attributes that every alphabet book--savvy child will appreciate: H wears a hardhat and high heels, while Z sports a zipper and has a habit of boring people to sleep ("zzz"). The eclectic design mixes regular typesetting with word balloons and keeps the pace lively with full spreads, inset boxes, and panels. In the end, X is the deciding vote (it's 12 to 12 because A abstained), but when he has a dream about being other letters who have to work much harder than he does, he realizes that his lot isn't so bad after all. So the alphabet as we know it lives on--at least until the next vote.
The order of letters in the Roman alphabet is unfair! The letter X, resentful and upset by his lot in life, persuades the remaining alphabet letters to revolt and rearrange the order. Chaos ensues among all of the letters, but it is agreed that a vote and rearrangement will take place the next day. That night, X has unsettling dreams pertaining to the bizarre spelling rules that govern the English language. Horrified, he awakens to cast the final vote to keep the alphabet the way it has always been maintain the status quo. Simplistic illustrations with thick outlines and bright colors provide a graphic novel effect, as do the word balloons and the zinging one-liners from the letter characters. While other books have humorously examined alphabetical order, this additionally highlights the seemingly random rules and paradoxes of the English language.
Your kids may be tempted to chant, "No more pencils, no more books. . ." if you suggest they do a little writing this summer, but we're betting they'll smile all the way through a new children's book, A Call for a New Alphabet. Created by Jef Czekaj, this 44-page hardback is the story of X, who is exasperated by always being near the end of every alphabet book.
Ideal for the read-aloud crowd and for elementary-age kids to read themselves, it's full of alliteration and puns, with many valuable reminders of spelling rules:
"S was soaking up some sun, bearded B was bouncing a ball, R was roller-skating, and there was P in the pool," is how the story begins with S in stripes, B in blue, R in red and P in pirate garb. When X begins to complain, Helpful H (in high heels AND hard hat) explains the alphabet, like grammar, must have rules.
Rules! That really sets X off. "Q, aren't you bored to tears at being stuck next to U? You two have to share nearly every word that you're in." Three small images illustrate examples of the rule: quail, quiet, quarter. The next page shows a stop sign emblazoned "I Before E Except After C," and the cowboy-boot clad C heading for vowels as X exclaims: "And I and E, aren't you tired of having to switch places every time C comes into the picture?"
X's dreams are even better for demonstrating how irregular our language is, and introducing (or reinforcing) its idiosyncrasies. X discovers how difficult it is to be the letter that makes a plural, like S. "Being S is too much work," he declares, explaining he's exhausted. By the time the character has tried out the jobs of several other consonants and of the vowel E (after all, it's in a "bunch of words), X wakes up knowing he wants to stay X, even if it means he's still at the end of the alphabet.
Why we like this book: vivid colors, simple shapes, and important messages about the value of rules and order, and the importance of the roles each of us play. Czekaj, who is a cartoonist and a linguist as well as an author, mixes in fairly sophisticated vocabulary (for example, unique, opinions, fainted, abstained, fantastic, complications), and he lets all of us, adults and children, enjoy rebellious X!
ISBN: 978-1-60734-268-7 PDF
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Page count: 48
6 x 9