cover image The Dangerous Alphabet

The Dangerous Alphabet

Neil Gaiman, , illus. by Gris Grimly. . HarperCollins, $17.99 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-06-078333-4

Acrawl with evildoers, Gaiman's (The Wolves in the Walls ) rhyming abecedary charts the perils of two children and their limpid-eyed pet gazelle. With the words “A is for Always, that's where we embark;/ B is for Boat, pushing off in the dark,” the stern-faced Victorian boy and girl clamber into a bathtub-shaped boat and sail into the bowels of a Dickensian sewer system. An oily brown map suggests a treasure hunt, and the seekers must evade subhuman monsters. Darting past stone-walled quays and rusty pipes (“F is for Fear”), they see unluckier children held in cages and soup pots by freakish octopi and bristling goblins (“H is for 'Help me!' ”). When the girl is kidnapped by a fleshy ogre, the boy and gazelle brave a Sweeney Todd meat-pie operation (“O is for Ovens, far under the street”) and ghoulish Pirates to save her. Grimly (the Wicked Nursery Rhymes volumes) pictures the trio's gruesome ordeal in butcher-shop hues of meaty pink and fatty beige. With Lemony Snicket as a reference point, young goths might eat this up. All the same, Gaiman and Grimly frequently sacrifice humor to fetishize the grotesque; adults might like this best. Ages 5–up. (May)