Some authors need no introduction. Allan Ahlberg is one.
Which is a relief to me, because trying to sum up his incredible career and contribution to children’s literature in a few short sentences is a challenge.
Incomparable might cover it.
From Peepo and Each Peach Pear Plum to Funny Bones and Burglar Bill, almost every child and parent in Britain will have a bedtime memory of his work, especially from his 20-year creative collaboration with his late wife Janet.
Now on the verge of his 80th birthday, the teacher-turned-author has published more than 150 books, with his latest title, Baby On Board with Emma Chichester Clark, out on 7 June.
The Jolly Postman (which took five years to make, thanks to its innovative paper technology) has sold an estimated six million copies alone, and counting.
Not bad for a boy who was adopted and grew up in a self-confessed working class home with no books and little conversation.
Choosing your favourite Allan Ahlberg book is a tricky task so we decided to ask the man himself. Here are the five books that Allan has written which mean the most to him…
Each Peach Pear Plum (1978, Puffin)
“I do like this one. It’s the book I most often used to explain publishing to audiences of young children: I do the words (took me about a day) and Janet does the pictures (took her about six months). Then we send the words and the pictures to the publisher and the publisher sends us some money. And I get half the money for my day’s work, and Janet gets half for her six months’ work (smiles from the teachers): the basis of a happy marriage.”
The Goldilocks Variations (2012, Walker)
“When Jessica arrived, it was commonly supposed by our friends that here was not so much a baby, more a piece of market research. Well, she did earn her keep – playing with the breakfast post led to The Jolly Postman; loving the Mothercare Catalogue (much preferring it to any of her parents’ books) drove us to produce our own Baby’s Catalogue. And now, later on, in the fullness of time, Jessica has joined me to make a set of variations on the Goldilocks theme. It’s her best work in my opinion. I love it.”
My Brother’s Ghost (2001, Puffin)
“This is Oldbury, my home town and the 1940s, my childhood. It has a satisfying plot and has been known to make readers cry. Most of the time I aim to amuse, which of course – when you manage it – is an agreeable thing. But tears – blurred vision for the reader,
sadness in his or her heart, dampness on the page …that’s something else.”
The Pencil (2008, Walker)
“This has the benefit of Bruce Ingman’s wonderfully rough and painterly and laugh-aloud pictures. It has a tremendously brave little pencil in it, a boiled egg named Billy, a column of ants (Alice, Alvie, Abraham, Amy, Araminta, Alberic, Algernon, Anastasia, Ada, Allan) and a tremendously destructive rubber – named Rodney.”
Please Mrs Butler (1984, Puffin)
“A book of school poems. I might have picked The Mighty Slide, but Mrs Butler was the first book that Fritz Wegner and I did together and Fritz’s pictures here – and always! – are so… good. Vignettes mostly – small, black-and-white, funny – all the life and movement of the roughs surviving effortlessly(?) in the finished art. Fritz himself was rarely satisfied. He’d deliver his artwork, then strive to get it back so that he could do it all again. And he’d apologise for defacing my books which was no problem really. I always forgave him.”
And finally, a sneakily inserted number 6 …
The Bee-man of Orn (2004, HarperCollins)
“I needed a pseudonym for this one (Frank R. Stockton) I had a bit of luck with my illustrator too (Maurice Sendak). Though I say it myself, it turned out pretty well. If you gave me another entire lifetime, I could not do any better.”
Baby On Board by Allan Ahlberg and Emma Chichester Clark is published on 7 June. £12.99 (hardback), Puffin.