OK… So I know what you’re thinking. A grown woman like me reviewing a TV show for tiny children who are only just beginning to talk, read and write? When she should be focusing on something a little more “mature”? Well, since I’m an aspiring animator, and the overwhelming majority of animations are aimed at children, it’s something I have to do occasionally for my research and inspiration-taking. 😉
So what is Alphablocks? I briefly mentioned it in my blog post on Autistic Pride Day, though it was only a few words and a big picture long. But today, since this is a full-on review, I’ll be going into much more detail about this series, and why I’m attracted to it.
Alphablocks is a children’s TV series which originally began airing on the CBeebies preschool channel (part of the BBC) in 2010, thus making it a British production. It follows the adventures of 26 personifications of the letters of the alphabet, each with their own lively personalities and traits. Together, the Alphablocks make Alphaland, their homeland, a magical place by holding hands to spell out words, which causes the spelt-out word to come alive – for example, if C-A-T is spelt, an actual cat will appear. (I wonder if that could happen in real life – simply spell out words to get what you want or need…)
As well as a TV series, Alphablocks has also been made into a magazine, a mobile app, a jigsaw puzzle, and a large library of books aiming to help children learn spelling and phonics in a fun way. Strangely, although it is quite a hit in its native England, Alphablocks remains virtually unknown around the rest of the world (though there’s talk of an American version being produced for Stateside kids. So they’d need to make a few changes to the series. First up, they’d have to call the final letter of the alphabet “Zee” instead of “Zed”…)
As mentioned before, each one of the 26 Alphablock characters have a unique personality and their own quirks. (This might be a little long, since I’m going to go through every one of them, but you’ll come out a lot more educated on the series… it’s supposed to educate!)
Eight-year-old A is the protagonist of the Alphablocks series. With a plaster stuck across her cheek, she is cheerful but clumsy, often having apples drop onto her head, which gives her the “Ah!” sound. A bit of a singer, she likes to help her vowel pals out.
Seven-year-old B is the bass guitar player of the band, playing with her bigger brother D.
C is the resident daredevil girl. Wearing goggles and having a crack in her ‘head’, the seven-year-old loves to perform stunts and tricks. Everywhere she goes, she causes cracks to break through the ground, as though she were creating earthquakes. She sometimes questions why she’s even a letter because she sometimes sounds exactly like her big brother K, but she does have a sound of her own too.
Ten-year-old D is B’s older brother. Just like his littler sister, he’s a musical type, playing the drums in the Alphablocks band. He’s nearly always seen carrying his trusty drumsticks.
E is very busy for a nine-year-old. His status as the most-used letter in the English language means he’s always on his toes spelling out words or using his megaphone to sound himself out. Because of this, he’s a popular and friendly sort.
Fifteen-year-old F blasts off to infinity and beyond. This spacegirl loves to float and fly, using puffs of air to blow herself about. On one occasion, her space adventures led her to make a new alien friend.
Six-year-old G is a garden girl. Loving to grow plants, her hair is even made out of grass. If she drinks water, she can grow it to great lengths. She loves anything that’s green like her.
Eight-year-old H loves to run, but she can get exhausted quite easily, huffing, puffing and panting. This gives the ‘hah-hah-hah’ sound.
Despite only being a mere fourteen years old, I is already a superstar. She loves to sing – even when it’s not needed or wanted. She thinks she’s the most important letter, and also the most incredible, intelligent and interesting.
Jolly J loves to dream. The three-year-old thinks she’s a blue jaybird (although she more closely resembles a penguin), and can also fly and sing like one. She often flaps her arms as though they were wings, and she wears an orange ‘beak’.
The eleven-year-old Kicking K loves to kick his football around. He’s C’s bigger brother. They sometimes bicker with each other because they make the exact same sound in some cases, but they both do have their differences.
Twelve-year-old L loves to sing lullabies with her “Luh-luh” sound. She sings to help the others sleep, but sometimes she herself falls asleep in doing so.
33-year-old M loves to cook and munch on everything – even things which aren’t supposed to be edible, like plates. This can be an annoyance to the others.
Nine-year-old N is pretty negative, always saying “no” even if he means “yes”. He’s also somewhat stubborn and nearly always looks angry.
Six-year-old O has a rather unusual quirk – he cannot speak at all, so he can only communicate by making his “Oh” sound. Despite this, he’s very curious, and he loves to investigate things with his magnifying glass.
Six-year-old P loves to make a pop. Seeming to be a pixie, she is sweet and loves to help her friends out. Her unexpected popping in and out sometimes makes the others jump.
65-year-old Q dresses like a queen – and acts like one too. It seems she can’t live without U, as she needs him for her to have a sound, but he isn’t that into it as he thinks she’s quite quarrelling.
Twelve-year-old R loves to play the pirate. She’s always going “arrrrrrr” and “walk the plank”, and likes to swing on a rope like a swashbuckler. She’s tomboyish and loves adventuring on the high seas.
With her bright, colourful looks and inflatable tube, the eleven-year-old S could easily be mistaken for a beach ball. She can fly (somewhat) by inflating or deflating herself and letting it go, blowing her around. She can be somewhat prone to feeling sad, especially when she sags.
50-year-old T loves his tea – maybe a bit too much. He’s always asking everybody else if they want some tea, and if he’s run out of it, he’ll tut-tut-tut. He’s the true gentleman of the troupe.
Nine-year-old U can be moody and uncooperative. He uses a lot of ‘un-‘ words, like “unbelievable” and his favourite, “unfair”. He has to run away from Q whenever she says “I Need U”, as he thinks she’s quite quarrelling.
Sixteen-year-old V loves to vroom! With his steering wheel and feathers on his arms, he can zip around fast like a racing car.
Three-year-old W is a wailer. If he hurts himself or gets upset, he will start to cry uncontrollably, which causes flooding everywhere. He’s so much of a wailer that he calls himself by the sound of wailing.
Fifteen-year-old X is the X-Man – the superhero Exciting X! He can fly and use his X-ray vision to see through solid objects. However, despite his heroic demeanour, he sometimes crashes, which causes his letter shape to drop sideways, becoming a plus sign. He then turns into Plusman, who has the power to make two words into one, like blending ‘star’ and ‘fish’ to make ‘starfish’.
Two-year-old Y is the youngest member of the Alphablock gang. Sometimes identifying himself as a (semi)vowel – on one occasion he wanted to join A’s vowel troupe via means of a musical ditty – he will always persevere even in the face of trouble.
80-year-old Z is the oldest of the Alphablock bunch, carrying his walking stick around. He’s always catching some of his own kind, snoozing away (usually while standing up). I wonder what he wears that medal for, though?
As mentioned earlier, whenever two or more of the letters hold hands, they spell out a word. This can be very helpful for little kids who are just beginning to read and write for the first time, and Alphablocks makes a great job of personifying each letter for easier identification – for example, D could be the “drum man” and R the “pirate girl”. Whenever a child sees a difficult-to-spell word, they could simply think of the letters of that word as some of the Alphablocks themselves holding hands. That in turn can help them become more confident in spelling and writing.
While the first two seasons (there are currently 4 seasons of the series) focus on the most basic letter sounds and learning the alphabet, later seasons introduce what are called “letter teams” – letters that, when placed together, create a different sound, such as “ch” or “sh”. These are suited to slightly older kids (about 4 to 5 years old) who have passed the “ABC” stage and are now ready to read and write at a more advanced level.
There is also ‘silent’ and ‘magic’ E, who in the show is basically E wearing a black ninja outfit (silent E) or a black top hat (magic E). When in these two forms, he can make the vowels say their longer sounds or change the pronunciation and meaning of a word, like ‘hat’ vs. ‘hate’. (For the older generation who didn’t have Alphablocks, like me, they must surely remember Words & Pictures, or that catchy ‘Magic E’ song…)
Apart from the obvious aim of teaching kids their ABCs and the two R’s (reading and ‘riting), Alphablocks does give some of the letters more depth in their character. For example, C sometimes questions her standing as a letter of the alphabet and even bickers with her bigger brother K, because they sometimes make the same sound as each other. (In one episode C even challenged K to think of as many words as he could with his sound, with her finding others with the same sound.) However, they do understand that C does have another sound when paired with certain letters, which sounds more like her own name. The two can even come together at times to make a letter team of their own.
So not only do kids learn to say the alphabet, read, write and spell, they also learn that it’s OK to be different even though we may share some mutual traits, as with C and K.
And since I love personifying things, I found the series’ mechanic of personifying the letters of the alphabet appealing to me and my imagination. So much so that I got deep into the show, and I imagined them as actual people:
This is how I draw the Alphablock characters whenever I draw fan-art of them, since they’re much more fun to draw than just coloured cubes with faces and letters. And it gives them more personality and humanity, too. (More details can be found in this exhibition.)
If you’d like to start your kids (or even yourself!) on the Alphablocks pathway, here’s the first two episodes I watched which’ll help introduce them – they teach the letter sounds and the alphabet:
The Alphablocks even have their own YouTube channel to continue the learning.