|From Janet and Allan Ahlberg's Peek-a-boo!|
Allan Ahlberg, who wrote picture books with his wife Janet, and since she's passed away has had continued success on his own, is another name for that list. The Guardian recently wrote a profile of Allan Ahlberg which reminded me that I don't proclaim how awesome he is enough on the blog:
Of all the books the husband-and-wife team created together, Peepo! is perhaps the best-loved. Thirty years old this year, it is firmly established as a classic for toddlers and babies. Its simple, rhythmic text and richly detailed illustrations tell the story of a day in the life of a baby in the 1940s, from breakfast to bedtime, with the added fun of a circular cut-out on every other page so that the next part of the story peeps through.This is precisely what I love about their books: they are filled to the brim with familiar life. Perhaps they aren't the same bed posts and ironing boards and uncleared dishes and limp teddy bears that we all grew up with--but they are close. And, somehow in spite of all the clutter, their homes feel homey, full of life, real. (Weary parents are one of her specialties.) And there is always, very real, the hard part of life standing in the background:
While it took Allan just three or four weeks to write the gentle little story, Janet spent months creating the pictures, which are packed with absorbing detail. The cosy scenes of working-class domesticity are filled with period detail, from the tin bath in front of the coal fire and the outside lavatory in the backyard to the baby's sturdy black perambulator. "This was Janet's bible," says Ahlberg, pulling down a battered old red hardback edition of The Army and Navy Stores Catalogue, 1939-1940. "In the days before computers, if she wanted to see what a jug or a mangle or a wringer looked like, she could check it out in here. She loved this book; she would get waylaid in it and sit for ages looking at bread-bins and kettles."
The war, never mentioned explicitly in the text, is lightly gestured at in Janet's pictures: a bombed-out building in the far distance; a gas-mask box hanging off the end of a bed-knob; the poignancy of the father dressed in uniform as he kisses his baby son goodnight at the end of the story. For Ahlberg, this balance between words and pictures is precisely what a picture book is about. ...It's a description of an unshowy style of writing that mirrors Ahlberg's modesty about his own talents. "I'm far from being the best writer in the world, and Janet was very good but she wasn't the greatest illustrator in the world either. But the pair of us were twins in the sense that we both really wanted our books to be good. So it's as though we took my modest talent and we took Janet's modest talent and we poured it into a tiny 32-page thing."
|From Janet and Allan Ahlberg's The Baby's Catalog|
When you're done admiring this remarkable man, check out the reviews I have written of my favorite of his books (what?! Only two reviews!): Peepo or Peek-a-Boo! and The Baby's Catalogue
Other favorites which I have not reviewed include:
Each Peach Pear Plum was our family favorite board book...besides Moo Ba La La La. It wonderfully integrates a bunch of fairy tales and Mother Goose stories into one hide and seek board book--and the pictures are just lovely! Janet won the Kate Greenaway Medal for it in 1978
The Pencil and The Runaway Dinner: Illustrated by Bruce Ingman, these are more recent capers written by Mr. Ahlberg, and they really are the most fun!
The Jolly Postman: He and Mrs. Ahlberg developed a series around the "jolly postman"--but I like the original best.
It was a Dark and Stormy Night: This is the perfect long-form storybook for feisty boys: it has adventure and pirates and spunkiness and creativity and is just bursting with fun.
Starting School: Like The Baby's Catalogue this is a wonderful primer for kids about to start school.By the way, his daughter has carried on with the family tradition: Jessica Ahlberg is the illustrator of the Toon Tellengren books I love so very much. Father and Daughter are working on a set of inverted fairytales called The Goldilock Variations which, I hope, will be out soon! You'll hear about it when they are, I can promise you that.
|Allan Ahlberg in his studio.|