Tag Archive for Ahlberg Allan

Alison Hubble by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman

Alison Hubble

What makes a good picture book? It’s a question that plagues writers, illustrators and publishers of course. Unlike a novel, where it might take me some time to work out if I’m going to review it favourably and what it is that grabs me, with picture books that drop through my post box, it tends to be an instantaneous reaction.

Is it the concept, the re-readability, the illustrations, the characters, the rhythm, the humour? Whatever magic wielded here by experienced writer and illustrator duo Ahlberg and Ingman, this picture book worked from the moment I saw the cover.

The concept of Alison Hubble is, in itself, fairly genius – partly because the concept feeds into the rhythm of the book – the two are inseparable, full title being: This is the story of Alison Hubble who went to bed single and woke up double.

The story begins in the endpapers – Alison, a delightfully ordinary little girl with pink pyjamas and blonde hair kisses her mother goodnight whilst the cat looks on mischievously – told only through illustration. The title then kicks off the text – and Alison Hubble wakes up double. The cleverness of the rhyme sells the title straight away:

“Woke up with a twin
In her single bed.
“Who are you?” “Who are you?”
She said, she said.”

The cleverness of course is Ahlberg’s play with words throughout – from the use of numerical words, to the use of double entendres within the English language, from the mother describing what has happened to Alison as a very ‘singular’ event, to Alison’s speech:

“But what to wear?
Yes, that’s the trouble.
I’m in two minds,
said Alison Hubble.”

I can’t resist a rhyming picture book – they are a pleasure to read aloud and enable the listener or reader to guess what is coming next with ease. There is fun too, with the illustrations showing Alison’s delight at what has occurred and then the slight doubt as the two Alisons squabble over who is really Alison. But then, to the reader’s surprise, Ahlberg takes his joke to the next level by doubling Alison again…and again. And then it becomes as much a book about numbers and maths as it does about humour, fun, and cleverness.

Ingman is also let loose – with his subtle drawings of multiple Alisons and her environment, especially when multiple Alisons set off and off and off etc for school – each Alison the same and yet dressed slightly differently, and then answering the register call at school from all over the classroom.

His illustrations are reminiscent of those in The Pencil, where the world grew exponentially during the story, in the same way that Alison grows (in an unusual way) here. There is so much detail to take in on each page – from the other schoolchildren gawping at Alisons, to the cut-through of her house, and of course the many many Alisons, all the same and yet individuals too – and it is this subtle rendering of ‘clones’ all with their own personalities, that makes the book so clever, and so interesting.

Ahlberg has great fun with the ending too, along the way involving press, football team analogies and the hilarious despair of her parents. It’s all rather amusing.

And clever at the same time – Alison does her doubling wrong, and the reader must spot the mathematical error – and there is a cheeky school boy who answers to Alison’s name too, as well as some funny placards, and more play on words with newspaper headlines.

The last double page illustration is ripe for counting Alisons – my test child readers all did this – before demanding re-reads.

A new classic – a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek and smart picture book.

You can buy it here.

Freedom to Draw

In view of the world’s events last week, I thought it would be appropriate to share my thoughts on books that encourage children to draw, to dabble in cartoons and illustration, and to use drawing to express a point of view. Teachers use the power of drawing in many ways – whether it be early mark making, or at a later stage to help tease out the emotions and narrative threads in a story.

In my line of work I’m lucky to interact with plenty of illustrators, and when I saw Oliver Jeffers and Quentin Blake in conversation last year, my children were blessed to have a small tutorial by Oliver Jeffers on how to draw his iconic penguin. It’s created from a few very simple lines. Illustrators have taught me that sometimes the simplicity of a pen stroke can tell a whole story.
oliver jeffers penguin

Three picture books that promote the ability to create a story from a simple pen stroke are as follows:
The PencilThe pencil inside

The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman
The book starts with a pencil, all alone, who one day decides to draw. The pencil draws characters, and then a scene, and then actions, and after a flash of inspiration, a paintbrush which paints colours onto everything. When the world that’s been created starts to go wrong, the pencil draws an eraser…and chaos ensues. The characters, although all drawn by the pencil, have their own identities and want distinctly different things, and the rubber has its own agenda too. There are some lovely touches, such as when the rubber rubs out the chair from underneath the boy. There are some serious messages in here though – what can we create from nothing – and what would we create – and what happens when what we create doesn’t go as planned, and how we rectify it.
Dog loves Drawingdoodle Dog Loves Drawing

Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates
This dog loves books and drawing, which is fantastic. The idea is much the same as in The Pencil, Dog draws and as he draws the pictures come to life, and he creates a narrative. My favourite page is the page of doodles, the stickman pointing out:
“That’s the best way to come up with ideas.”
Brilliantly, the pictures Dog draws are simple and inspirational so any child reading the book can attempt to copy them. They are also drawn in simple pencil crayon and some are unfinished so drawing novices can really see how the animal takes shape. We managed a particularly good crab and owl.
crab Dog Loves Drawing
The book is full of humour too, as each new character also takes up a pencil or pen or paintbrush, and has its own ideas about what to do. In most cases though, the characters work as a team; dog draws a boat whilst crab scribbles the sea. The duck manages to mess things up by drawing a monster, and Dog has to escape back into his bookshop, but makes sure that his new friends are safe too. It’s a book that tells a sweet story, and promotes a love of drawing, with much fun along the way.

The Dot

The Dot by Peter Reynolds
There’s now a tenth anniversary pack on sale for this wonderful book. It tells the story of Vashti who thinks that she cannot draw, and so leaves her sheet of paper blank at the end of the lesson. Her marvellous teacher grabs the opportunity to see potential in her pupil, and Vashti gradually learns how to express herself through dots. Vashti experiments with colour and even blank spaces, and eventually gains enough confidence to pass the life lesson onto another child. The book is about using art to express yourself, having someone to believe in you, and how gaining confidence can influence a growing self-belief in others. Peter Reynolds also published a book called Ish, which is about children worrying that what they’ve drawn isn’t good enough, and overcoming that fear. You can watch him reading Dot here.

The Day in the Crayons Quit

Lastly, one book I must include but which speaks out with a slightly different message is The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Duncan’s box of crayons send him a stack of letters, each one signed by a different colour crayon with a different message. Some are overworked, many are cross at being stereotyped (pink wants to be used more). The message is again one of individuality amongst the crayons – a rising up of the ‘workers’ against the ‘employer’, but also, much more pertinently, one of suggesting to a child that they can stretch the boundaries and use colours in a different way –promoting freedom of expression. Why can’t the sky be yellow, the sea be green, the whale be orange and the rainbow be black? This book has been shortlisted for the 2015 Red House Children’s Book Award.

All of these books inspire children to draw. Starting with a blank page – what narrative would we create and how would we illustrate it? Whether it be telling a story, expressing an emotion, or an opinion – illustrations can be hugely powerful things.

If your children love drawing, see this link from Guardian Children’s which teaches how to draw some favourite characters from children’s books.

 

 

With thanks to http://www.ojxdi.com/ for the Oliver Jeffers’s penguin image.

Picture Books Aren’t Just for Preschoolers

With the wealth of picture books in today’s children’s book market, it will come as no surprise to find that they are not all targeted at pre-schoolers. Reading the rich, beautiful vocabulary in some of them, imbibing the intensity of the emotions in others, and gaining moral insight in others, demonstrate that certain picture books are destined for audiences older than the 0-5 years marketplace. Many parents seem to think that once their child can read, they should progress swiftly to chapter books. Nothing could be further from the truth. I actively persuade my older children to look at picture books for inspiration for good writing, creative ideas and simple explanations of complex ideas.

The Snatchabooksnatchabook

One recent example, The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty, published by Scholastic, is enjoyed much more by my grown self, and my seven year old avid reader, than by the toddlers in the vicinity! The language lends itself to an older audience, and the message itself – that stealing is wrong, but that one can put wrong a right and become accepted for admitting your crimes – is for the older audience. Language such as “making amends”, vocabulary such as ‘rumours spread’, and ‘solve the mystery’ give clues that the book demands to be looked at by the older reader.

I hate schoolHonor Brown

Sometimes the ‘joke’ inside the book and the punchline at the end, also lead to the understanding that the book is intended for a much older child. I Hate School by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross, and published by Andersen Press, is intended for a school child with some sophistication. A lovely rhyme about a child who explains to an adult how much she hates school (with some vivid imagery…”They beat us till we bleed”) until the punchline when it’s revealed that actually the child cried on leaving:
“Yes, Honor Brown just hated school
For years and years and years,
Yet on the day that she could leave,
I found her full of tears.”
Even Year 11s leaving school would relate to this one I think.

kicking a ballWhat does daddy do

Two books that I bought for my husband are Kicking a Ball by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Sebastien Braun and published by Puffin books and What Does Daddy Do? by Rachel Bright, also published by Puffin. In the first, by Allan Ahlberg, it’s not even the words that transfixed me so much, as the pictures, which have the capability to produce empathetic emotions only in those who have parented. Not only that, he makes a pun on the word ‘scoring’, using it in both senses of the word, which, thankfully, goes over the head of all three of my children at present:
“Kissing my wife, bathing our baby
Kicking a ball and SCORING (maybe).”
But in essence, it’s a book about the love of kicking a ball (anywhere, anyhow) and it works for any football mad boy to man in the world.

Kicking a ball2

What Does Daddy Do? by Rachel Bright, published by Puffin, is slightly more personal, because a member of my family does a job in the financial sector that for years was impossible for me or anyone related to him to describe! The title alone was enough to get us all chuckling, but even the text itself lends itself to a more grown up humour (even though it works perfectly well for four year olds too):
daddy superhero

““And he is a superhero!”
“Like Superman? gasped Bob.
“Yes!” said Daisy, “because he has to rescue people from a big bored room”
The illustrations in this one also come alive right off the page. It’s a smashing little find.

Lastly, revisit some Julia Donaldson picture books to fully appreciate the rich vocabulary she uses. The Snail and the Whale, published by Macmillan, is a good study for anyone wishing to hone their creative writing:
“These are the waves that arched and crashed
That foamed and frolicked and sprayed and splashed”
Sometimes the most complex ideas and feelings are best explored through picture books. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and The Promise by Nicola Davies are outstanding examples of this, and all for different reasons and on different themes – but more on them another time!