Gabby, a bespectacled little redhead, is cleaning up her playroom when a book falls off a shelf, causing chaos as letters bounce out of the pages and are strewn about the room. Gabby begins to tidy up the letters, naming them as she goes. Much to her surprise, a cat appears as she spells out C-A-T; a fish and bird are created in the same manner. When a conflict arises between the critters, Gabby has to think quickly to help the animals she has brought to life.
Gabby is children’s literacy advocate Joyce Grant’s first picture book. While the concept behind the story is wonderful, the execution lacks excitement. The reader keeps expecting something momentous to happen, but nothing does. Grant attempts to teach spelling while imparting a message about the importance of friendship, limiting her options to simple words that are accessible to children who are beginning to read. The result is a story with great potential that fails to wow its audience.
Despite the lacklustre plot, Jan Dolby’s quirky, childlike illustrations breathe life into the story. Gabby is an imp of a girl with an unruly mass of red hair barely tamed by two horizontal pigtails. Each animal is formed by the letters that make up its name. (The cat’s head, for example, rests on shoulders made by the letter “C” followed by a torso formed by the letter “A” and a tail fashioned from the letter “T.”) The images evoke an innocence and timelessness that can only be found in a child’s world.
It is unfortunate that there is such a disconnect between the text and illustrations, but there is an opportunity for learning here. The story is followed by two pages of activities and art lessons that could be useful for teachers looking to make spelling fun and accessible to young students. While not exactly groundbreaking, Gabby has heart, and could find a place in the classroom.