The Big Idea: Alethea Kontis
Posted on July 13, 2010 Posted by John Scalzi 16 Comments
It’s my opinion that any sort of book can have a Big Idea behind it, and when I say “any sort of book” I really mean “any sort of book.” And to prove this point, here’s Alethea Kontis, talking about her book AlphaOops! H is for Halloween — a kid’s alphabet book. Skeptical there’s a big idea here. Oh, just you wait.
Alphabet books are dumb. I mean, come on, really. What’s the point? It’s not like the English alphabet’s anything shiny and new. A generous smattering of years ago, Smarmy McTinkerson wrote twenty-six characters down in a scathing letter to the illiterate Viking brutes who sacked his village, and A has been for Apple ever since.
And yet…there are almost as many alphabet books published every year as there are versions of the Bible. Why is that? F’s not going to get kidnapped in the middle, X isn’t going to get sucked through a wormhole, and B and Q aren’t going to run away and elope. It’s not even a dark and stormy night. Every incarnation of an alphabet book will always begin with A, and your kid will always be passed out from boredom by the time the zebra comes around. But people still buy these books, people who already know the alphabet well enough to pass a driver’s test and own a smart phone. There are even folks who collect alphabet books. No kidding! I can’t tell you how many times I wished I was an artist so I could get in on that racket.
Turns out, the question was not “How does one make the alphabet shiny and new?”; the question was “Who asked the alphabet what order it wanted to be in the first place?” And just like that, contrary to even my own contrary nature, AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First was born.
I still remember the morning I called my parents, all excited about the blasphemous epiphany I’d woken up on the couch with that morning. (Needless to say, the epiphany was quickly fed up with the eight hours of writing that commenced and left without even making me breakfast.)
“Hi, honey. How’s it going?”
“I just wrote an alphabet book!”
In the dramatic pause that followed, I realized just how ridiculous I sounded. I thought about the situation from my dad’s point of view. Either his eldest daughter was playing one heck of a joke on him, or she really had just spent eight hours at her dining room table writing down the alphabet. I imagine he prayed for the former and silently planned an intervention for the latter, but his response was simply. “Fantastic. I really need to brush up on that.” I love my dad.
Six and a half years after that fated phone call, here we are, celebrating the release of AlphaOops: H is for Halloween. That’s right–not only am I the girl who questioned generous smatterings of years of authority, but I gave it a sequel. AlphaOops: H is for Halloween was born of that initial irreverence, as well as my love of theatre and science fiction conventions. Seriously…how cool is that? (I had to change that blurb for the book jacket, by the way. People who drive cars and own smart phones might not know what science fiction conventions are.)
In fact, I was this close to dedicating the book to anyone who’d ever attended Dragon*Con when I got the news that one of my favorite teachers had passed away. Mr. David Oberly taught me (and a generous smattering of my friends) two years of Calculus at Spring Valley High School. He gave us all nicknames, made jokes so corny even we crazy nerds laughed, and he always–ALWAYS–dressed up for Halloween.
So this one’s for Mr. Oberly. May it give other young people just as many laughs as he gave us. I hope he’s somewhere smiling down on me, patting his belly (or doing that cool arm-twist thing he could do with his double-jointed elbows that creeped us all out) and chuckling about how his Countess Allie Kat is all grown up and a real Princess now.
Thank you, sir.
And thank you to the fans of AlphaOops: past, present, and future.
Viva la revolucion!
AlphaOops: H is for Halloween: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read Alethea Kontis’ blog. Follow her on Twitter.
My daughter loves the Alpha Ooops book! She has borrowed it about twelve times from three separate libraries. It always makes me smile too, which is saying something when you’ve read a book about fifty times.
You always did love Halloween and dressing up. I may not have taught you calculus BUT I did teach you the alphabet! It’s nice to know you are STILL using it. You continue to amaze me. I love you!
Yay! Love you too, Mom! (Hey, guys, that’s my MOM!)
@tansyrr — Thank you so much. I also have to give a ton of credit to Bob Kolar, the illustrator, for hiding a billion and one things in the artwork so that there’s something new to find the eleventy-first time you read it!
HUZZAH for more Alpha Oops books! The first is fabulous and all the youngsters (I include myself in that number) who I’ve gotten it for absolutely adore it. Because I only surround myself with youngsters of clever taste.
I think there should be an Alpha Oops story for every holiday. (Halloween is, of course, my favourite so I’m very glad this exists. Every day is H for Halloween).
Get on it, publishers, Alethea, I want an Alpha Oops Christmas tale stat. I have youngsters to buy prezzies for.
Happy release week to the Princess, one of my very favourite persons to ever exist on this planet or any other planet for that matter.
I’m thrilled that you two have done a sequel to the first AlphaOops. My six-year-old son loved the original (along with “G is for One Gzonk”). When he was reading the Whatever over my wife’s shoulder and saw the sequel, he ran to me saying, “Dad! Dad! Guess what! There’s another AlphaOops book!”
Also: yay Dragon*Con.
H is for Halloween will have to be Riley’s AlphaOops! book and we’ll be looking for you the next time you fly through town to personalize it for him.
And just like Carter said on the day we came to say goodbye – “there should be a Christmas book.”
Congratulations on all your writing success.
@leanna — you are beautiful. xox
@stephen — you are awesome. Give your son a big fat hug from me!
@allaboutduncan — miss you too. And Carter bigtime!
This was a fun read – thanks! My daughters both love that “Day that Z went First” book too. One of those books they never seem to get tired of for some reason.
Hallowe’en is the BEST holiday and absolutely deserves its own Alphabet. I’m looking forward to my copy!!
Now, I shall go practice being – wait, how did K dress up?
Other books in the genre that my kids and I both liked:
On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss – the secret letters THEY don’t want you to know about!
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. – all the letters decide they need to race to the top of a coconut tree – right now. Hilarity ensues.
That sounds completely awesome. I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, I’m getting them that book.
Hooray! Thanks so much to all of you…and all your children! I live to contribute to the delinquency of minors.
Is there any higher calling? Unthinkable.
Objectively, I’ll get back to you in fifteen years and let you know how that philosophy works out with my daughter. For whom I am now going to buy your alphabet book.
You rock, Bill.
With multiple baby showers coming up, I can’t wait to gift these over all the standard books to-be moms get!
As a neice-in-law of Dave Oberly, I can’t wait to get our copies! You have truly touched our hearts by honoring him. I am also an elementary school librarian and am ordering some copies for our library as well! Thank you- and keep writing!