Barbara Wersba Patricia Dooley - Essay

Patricia Dooley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Twenty-Six Starlings Will Fly Through Your Mind] is an idiosyncratic, surrealistic paean to the alphabet rather than an alphabet book. Each letter is arbitrarily characterized ("A, secret and determined…. B, glancing shyly"); but readers inevitably begin to wonder why "H" is "the uncle of I," or why "I" is "pale and discouraged."… Why is S "the good letter … bringing silver and silence" rather than a bad one bringing sadism and sin? The dauntless anthropomorphism and imperious tone raise the expectation of logic when there is none. Readers who like either sense or nonsense may be baffled by a book that falls in between. Another question arises over the potential audience. This "alphabet" could be read neither to nor by "Emily, who is learning to read," and who is exhorted and addressed several times in the text: among the words dropped (rather than used, or given any context) are "quadratics," "fandango," "palladium," "vacuous," and "whimsey."… It's not enough to say that the splendor of the illustrations justifies the book, since they are so closely tied to the text that they can't be enjoyed alone. This looks like another coffeetable book for tripping teens. (pp. 159-60)

Patricia Dooley, in a review of "Twenty-Six Starlings Will Fly through Your Mind," in School Library Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2, October, 1980, pp. 159-60.