The title character in Bill Richardson and Roxanna Bikadoroff’s new book looks one part Carmen Sandiego and two parts Blue Meanie, and acts in precisely the manner her name suggests. She appears fleetingly; mostly we follow her trail of damage.
Our villain runs through the world pilfering the alphabet in order, and the letters she steals change the words in the text, resulting in new hybrid creatures and startling situations. “The Alphabet Thief stole all the D’s / and every beard was a bear,” for example. In this scenario, two men are surprised when their facial hair suddenly takes the form of angry grizzlies.
Trailing the thief is a freckled and bespectacled redheaded girl in a black beret accompanied by a scruffy white pup. She acts as narrator and occasionally interacts with the odd scene. The unnamed heroine’s moment of triumph comes when we reach Y, which she uses as a slingshot to launch a volley of Zs at our thief, stopping the crime wave with slumber.
Illustrator Bikadoroff has her work cut out for her, as Richardson’s transformed words don’t always lend themselves to an easy portrayal. “The Alphabet Thief stole all the C’s / And a cloud became loud in the sky / My chair wasn’t there – it had turned into hair / And all of the spices were spies.” In this instance, the cloud is outfitted with a guitar and an Elvis curl, while the salt and pepper shakers are shaped like the Spy vs Spy characters from Mad magazine. The story unfolds in a fairly consistent rhyme but wanders rhythmically, giving it an off-kilter cadence and literary quality. It’s a fun romp that lends itself to both quietly amused solo reading and boisterous read-aloud sessions.
The Alphabet Thief is as much an enjoyable object as a delightful story. The small trim size is fairly unconventional for a picture book, but wise when you consider that it can easily be filed with early readers, a category desperate for clever content. Remove the slipcover and you discover a cloth casing in classic red, with the gold embossed title along the spine. The author’s and illustrator’s initials form a crest on the cover. But alas, our thief has already been here: all the Bs are all missing.