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Allan Ahlberg (1938–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

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Born 1938, in England; Education: Sunderland College of Education, certificate in education, 1966.

Addresses

Agent—c/o Author Mail, Walker Books, 87 Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5HJ, England.

Career

Children's book author. Worked variously as a letter carrier, grave digger, soldier, plumber's helper, and teacher; full-time writer, beginning 1975.

Honors Awards

Commendation, British Library Association (BLA), 1977, for Burglar Bill; Kate Greenaway Medal, BLA, 1979, citation, Notable Children's Book Committee of the Association for Library Service to Children, 1979, and citation on honor list for illustration in Great Britain, International Board on Books for Young People, 1980, all for Each Peach Pear Plum; Other Award, Children's Rights Workshop, 1980, for Mrs. Plug the Plumber; Best Books of the Year designation, School Library Journal, 1981, and Silver Paint Brush award (Holland), 1988, both for Funnybones; citation, Notable Children's Book Committee of the Association for Library Service to Children, 1981, and Best Book for Babies award, Parents magazine, 1985, both for Peek-a-Boo!; BLA commendation, 1982, and Best Books of the Year designation, School Library Journal, Children's Books of the Year award, Library of Congress, Teacher's Choice award, National Council of Teachers of English, and citation, Notable Children's Book Committee of the Association for Library Service to Children, all 1983, all for The Baby's Catalogue; Emil/Kurt Mashler Award, British Book Trust, BLA commendation, and award, Federation of Children's Book Groups, all 1986, Golden Key (Holland), 1988, and Prix du Livre pour la Jeunesse, all for The Jolly Postman; or, Other People's Letters; Signal Poetry Award, 1990, for Heard It in the Playground; Kate Greenaway Medal, 1991, for The Jolly Christmas Postman; runner-up, British Book Awards, 1989, 1991; Blue Peter Book Award, 2001, and shortlist, 2002, 2004.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN

Ten in a Bed, illustrated by André Amstutz, Granada (London, England), 1983.

Please, Mrs Butler (verse; also see below), illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1983.

Woof!, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1986.

The Mighty Slide (verse), illustrated by Charlotte Voake, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1988.

Heard It in the Playground (verse; also see below), Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1989.

Mrs Butler Song Book (based on poems from Please, Mrs. Butler and Heard It on the Playground), music by Colin Matthews, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.

The Giant Baby, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

The Better Brown Stories, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.

The Mysteries of Zigomar, illustrated by John Lawrence, Walker (London, England), 1997.

Monkey Do!, illustrated by André Amstutz, 1997.

Mockingbird, illustrated by Paul Howard, Walker (London, England), 1998.

The Bravest Ever Bear, illustrated by Paul Howard, Walker (London, England), 1999.

The Snail House, illustrated by Gillian Tyler, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

My Brother's Ghost, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.

The Man Who Wore All His Clothes, illustrated by Katherine McEwen, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.

The Adventures of Bert, illustrated by Raymond Briggs, Farrar Straus (New York, NY), 2001.

Treasure Hunt, illustrated by Gillian Tyler, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

The Woman Who Won Things, illustrated by Katherine McEwen, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Meow!: A Lift-the-Cat-Flap Book, illustrated by André Amstutz, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA) 2002.

A Bit More Bert, illustrated by Raymond Briggs, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.

The Cat Who Got Away, illustrated by Katharine McEwen, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

The Little Cat Baby, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Dial (New York, NY), 2004.

The Improbable Cat, illustrated by Peter Bailey, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2004.

Half a Pig, illustrated by daughter, Jessica Ahlberg, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

The Boy, the Wolf, the Sheep, and the Lettuce, illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg, Puffin (London, England), 2004.

The Shopping Expedition, illustrated by André Amstutz, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

The Children Who Smelled a Rat, illustrated by Katharine McEwen, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

FOR CHILDREN; WITH WIFE, JANET AHLBERG

Here Are the Brick Street Boys ("Brick Street Boys" series), Collins (London, England), 1975.

A Place to Play ("Brick Street Boys" series), Collins (London, England), 1975.

Sam the Referee ("Brick Street Boys" series), Collins (London, England), 1975.

Fred's Dream ("Brick Street Boys" series), Collins (London, England), 1976.

The Great Marathon Football Match ("Brick Street Boys" series), Collins (London, England), 1976.

The Old Joke Book, Kestrel Books (Harmondsworth, England), 1976, Viking (New York, NY), 1977.

The Vanishment of Thomas Tull, Scribner (New York, NY), 1977.

Burglar Bill, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1977.

Jeremiah in the Dark Woods, Kestrel Books (Harmondsworth, England), 1977, Viking (New York, NY), 1978.

Cops and Robbers (verse), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1978.

Each Peach Pear Plum: An "I Spy" Story (verse), Kestrel Books (Harmondsworth, England), 1978, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.

The One and Only Two Heads, Collins (London, England), 1979.

Two Wheels, Two Heads, Collins (London, England), 1979.

Son of a Gun, Heinemann (London, England), 1979.

The Little Worm Book, Granada (London, England), 1979, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

Funnybones, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.

Peek-a-Boo! (verse), Viking (New York, NY), 1981, published as Peepo!, Kestrel Books (Harmondsworth, England), 1981.

The Ha Ha Bonk Book, Penguin (London, England), 1982.

The Baby's Catalogue, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.

Yum Yum (part of "Slot Book" series), Viking Kestrel (London, England), 1984, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1985.

Playmates (part of "Slot Book" series), Viking Kestrel (London, England), 1984, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1985.

The Jolly Postman; or, Other People's Letters, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1986.

The Cinderella Show, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1986.

The Clothes Horse and Other Stories, Viking Kestrel (London, England), 1987, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1988.

Starting School, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1988.

Bye-Bye, Baby: A Sad Story with a Happy Ending, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989, published as Bye-Bye, Baby: A Baby without a Mommy in Search of One, 1990.

The Jolly Christmas Postman, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.

The Bear Nobody Wanted, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.

The Jolly Pocket Postman, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.

See the Rabbit, Doll and Teddy, Baby Sleeps, and Blue Pram (board books adapted from The Baby's Catalogue), Little Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.

"HAPPY FAMILIES" SERIES

Mr Biff the Boxer, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg, Puffin (London, England), 1980, published in "Wacky Families" series, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Mr Cosmo the Conjuror, illustrated by Joe Wright, Puffin (London, England), 1980.

Miss Jump the Jockey, illustrated by André Amstutz, Puffin (London, England), 1980.

Master Salt the Sailor's Son, illustrated by André Amstutz, Puffin (London, England), 1980, published in "Wacky Families" series, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Mrs Plug the Plumber, illustrated by Joe Wright, Puffin (London, England), 1980, published in "Wacky Families" series, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Mrs Wobble the Waitress, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg, Puffin (London, England), 1980, published in "Wacky Families" series, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Miss Brick the Builder's Baby, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Puffin (London, England), 1981, published in "Wacky Families" series, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Mr Buzz the Beeman, illustrated by Faith Jaques, Puffin (London, England), 1981, published in "Wacky Families" series, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Mr and Mrs Hay the Horse, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Puffin (London, England), 1981, published in "Wacky Families" series, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Mr Tick the Teacher, illustrated by Faith Jaques, Puffin (London, England), 1981.

Mrs Lather's Laundry, illustrated by André Amstutz, Puffin (London, England), 1981, published in "Wacky Families" series, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Master Money the Millionaire, illustrated by André Amstutz, Puffin (London, England), 1981.

Master Bun the Baker's Boy, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Puffin (London, England), 1988.

Miss Dose the Doctor's Daughter, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Puffin (London, England), 1988.

Mr Creep the Crook, illustrated by André Amstutz, Puffin (London, England), 1988.

Mrs Jolly's Joke Shop, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1988.

Miss Dust the Dustman's Daughter, illustrated by Tony Ross, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.

Mrs Vole the Vet, illustrated by Emma Chichester-Clark, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.

Ms Cliff the Climber, illustrated by Fritz Wegner, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.

Master Track's Train, illustrated by André Amstutz, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.

"HELP YOUR CHILD TO READ" SERIES

Bad Bear (also see below), illustrated by Eric Hill, Granada (London, England), 1982.

Double Ducks (also see below), illustrated by Eric Hill, Granada (London, England), 1982.

Fast Frog (also see below), illustrated by Eric Hill, Granada (London, England), 1982.

Poorly Pig (also see below), illustrated by Eric Hill, Granada (London, England), 1982, Rand McNally (Chicago, IL), 1984.

Rubber Rabbit (also see below), illustrated by Eric Hill, Granada (London, England), 1982.

Silly Sheep (also see below), illustrated by Eric Hill, Granada (London, England), 1982.

Hip-Hippo-Ray, illustrated by André Amstutz, Granada (London, England), 1983, Rand McNally, 1984.

King Kangaroo, illustrated by André Amstutz, Granada (London, England), 1983.

Mister Wolf, illustrated by André Amstutz, Granada (London, England), 1983.

Spider Spy, illustrated by André Amstutz, Granada (London, England), 1983.

Tell-Tale-Tiger, illustrated by André Amstutz, Granada (London, England), 1983.

Travelling Moose, illustrated by André Amstutz, Granada (London, England), 1983.

Fast Frog and Friends: Help Your Child to Read Collection (first six volumes of series), illustrated by Eric Hill, Dragon, 1984.

"DAISYCHAINS" VERSE SERIES

Ready Teddy Go, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg, Heinemann (London, England), 1983.

Summer Snowmen, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg, Heinemann (London, England), 1983.

That's My Baby!, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg, Heinemann (London, England), 1983.

Which Witch, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg, Heinemann (London, England), 1983.

Monster Munch, illustrated by André Amstutz, Heinemann (London, England), 1984.

The Good Old Dolls, illustrated by André Amstutz, Heinemann (London, England), 1984.

Rent-a-Robot, illustrated by André Amstutz, Heinemann (London, England), 1984.

Clowning About, illustrated by André Amstutz, Heinemann (London, England), 1984.

One True Santa, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg, Heinemann (London, England), 1985.

"FOLDAWAYS" SERIES

Families, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Granada (London, England), 1984.

Monsters, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Granada (London, England), 1984.

Zoo, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Granada (London, England), 1984.

Circus, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Granada (London, England), 1984.

"RED NOSE READERS" SERIES

Jumping, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1985.

So Can I, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1985.

Big Bad Pig, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

Bear's Birthday, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1985.

Help!, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

Fee Fi Fo Fum, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

Happy Worm, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

Make a Face, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1985.

One Two Flea!, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1986.

Tell Us a Story, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1986.

Blow Me Down, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1986.

Look out for the Seals!, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1986.

Shirley Shops, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

Me and My Friend, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

Crash, Bang, Wallop!, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

Push the Dog, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

Who Stole the Pie, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1996.

Put on a Show!, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Walker (London, England), 1996.

"FUNNYBONES" SERIES

The Pet Shop, illustrated by André Amstutz, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

The Black Cat, illustrated by André Amstutz, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Mystery Tour, illustrated by André Amstutz, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

Dinosaur Dreams, illustrated by André Amstutz, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

Bumps in the Night, illustrated by André Amstutz, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

Give the Dog a Bone, illustrated by André Amstutz, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

Skeleton Crew, illustrated by André Amstutz, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.

The Ghost Train, illustrated by André Amstutz, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.

"FAST FOX, SLOW DOG" SERIES

Chicken, Chips, and Peas, illustrated by André Amstutz, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

Fast Fox Goes Crazy, illustrated by André Amstutz, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

The Hen House, illustrated by André Amstutz, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

Slow Dog Falling, illustrated by André Amstutz, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

Slow Dog's Nose, illustrated by André Amstutz, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.

OTHER

(With John Lawrence) The History of a Pair of Sinners: Forgetting Not Their Ma Who Was One Also (verse), Granada (London, England), 1980.

Janet's Last Book: Janet Ahlberg 1944–1994 (biography), Penguin (London, England), 1997.

Also author of the stage play The Giant's Baby.

Adaptations

A number of Allan and Janet Ahlberg's books were adapted for audiocassette, including A Place to Play, Fred's Dream, and Each Peach Pear Plum.

Sidelights

An award-winning British writer of children's stories, verse, picture books, and short novels, Allan Ahlberg is known for his irreverent wit and unfailing ability to make the commonplace seem extraordinary. From the mid-1970s until her death in 1994, wife Janet Alhberg served as both illustrator and co-designer, working with Ahlberg to produce highly regarded picture books, comic tales, and rhyming stories. The Ahlbergs were known for creating whimsical tales such as The Jolly Postman, Each Peach Pear Plum, and The Bear Nobody Wanted, books that continue to delight young audiences while also earning their creators such top awards as the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal. Since his wife's death, Ahlberg has continued to blend his sardonic humor and often-times wacky world view with illustrations by a wide range of talented artists. In series such as the "Red Nose Readers," "Funnybones," and the ever-popular and zany "Happy Families," he incorporates nonsense rhymes into easy-to-tackle texts for budding readers, and his tongue-in-cheek humor keeps kids turning the pages.

Born in 1938, Ahlberg was educated at Sunderland Teacher Training College in England where he met his future wife, Janet Hall. In 1969 the two married and Ahlberg went on to work at a variety of jobs, including teaching, while his wife pursued a career in the graphic arts. By the mid-1970s they had set up a collaborative effort producing picture books, a joint effort that took flight with the "Brick Street Boys" series. Part of the couple's success, according to Aidan Chambers in Horn Book, came from the sense of unity in their work: "Their books certainly possess that integrated relationship be-tween words and pictures usually achieved only when writer and illustrator are the same—one person," Chambers noted.

The Ahlbergs' beginning readers combine lighthearted fun, clear morals, and happy endings; good triumph over evil, and when adversity strikes, it is never over-whelming. In Burglar Bill, for instance, Bill steals commonplace items, such as a toothbrush and a can of beans. When he is finally robbed himself, he realizes how unpleasant it is to have things stolen and subsequently changes his ways. In picture books such as The Baby's Catalogue, Each Peach Pear Plum, and Peek-a-Boo! the couple focus on the simplicity of common objects and the security of everyday life, entertaining as well as reassuring young preschoolers. As Eric Hadley noted in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, an Ahlberg book is "wholesome and decent" and does not "present a troubled world or set out to disturb."

One notable Ahlberg convention is to include classic fairy-tale characters like the three bears and Little Red Riding Hood in some of their stories. In Each Peach Pear Plum preschoolers can scan the vibrant, detailed illustrations to find such celebrated figures as Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep, Tom Thumb, and Robin Hood. The boy detective in Jeremiah in the Dark Woods embarks on a journey that introduces him to three bears and takes him past a field of giant beanstalks. And The Jolly Postman features a postman delivering mail to famous characters like Cinderella, the Big Bad Wolf, and Goldilocks. The Jolly Postman was especially popular with readers and critics alike; as Chris Powling commented in Books for Keeps, "Once in a while a picture-book arrives that's so brilliant, so broad in its appeal, it seems to be a summation of the state-of-the-art. For me, The Jolly Postman is just such a book. As a matching of word and image it's a virtuoso performance; as a feat of design it's without a flaw."

On his own since Janet's death, Ahlberg has paired with talented illustrators such as André Amstutz, Katherine McEwen, and even his own daughter, Jessica Ahlberg, to produce numerous picture books that reflect his whimsical take on life. Ten in a Bed focuses on a little girl who finds a different fairy tale character in her bed each night: the Three Bears, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Cat from "Hey Diddle, Diddle," among others. Each time, the girl is able to get rid of the intruder by telling her own version of the fairy tale they inhabit. Critiquing this title in Books for Your Children, J. Tweedie commented that Ahlberg's "stories are ideal for children at the stage when fantasy and reality are still interchangeable," and predicted that the "racy and humorous" tales are "bound to become familiar favourites."

In The Snail House illustrations by Gillian Tyler enhance Ahlberg's story-within-a-story that finds siblings Michaeland Hannah, and their infant brother shrinking so small that they can live in a snail's snug shell. The adventures of the trio in their new garden home are narrated by their imaginative grandmother as the three children—all still human-sized—sit nestled in the woman's lap. The Snail House "will surely set young imaginations loose," noted a Publishers Weekly critic, adding that the story book "may well color the way readers view diminutive garden dwellers." In Horn Book Joanna Rudge Long noted of Ahlberg's story that "the enchantment of a world observed from the perspective of the smallest creatures is developed here with unusual felicity," while in School Library Journal Tina Hudak proclaimed that the book's "story and artwork together kindle the magic for anyone who has ever dreamed of unseen worlds with secret doors."

Other books for preschoolers and young children include The Adventures of Bert, Treasure Hunt, and Half a Pig. In The Adventures of Bert a day in the life of a somewhat clumsy young protagonist is set forth in a series of very short chapters. Introduced to readers first thing in the morning, Ahlberg's smiling, round-headed hero stumbles good-naturedly through his day, inadvertently waking up the family's baby, getting tangled in his shirt while dressing, fleeing from a giant sausage during a walk down the road, and diving into a chilly river to save a puppy. A Horn Book reviewer praised the gentle-hearted picture book as "chock full of pratfalls and slapstick humor" designed to "score a direct hit on five-year-old funnybones." Noting the comicbook elements introduced in Raymond Briggs's illustrations, a Publishers Weekly critic added that "both author and illustrator invite audience conversation with their amiable hero." Bert reappears in A Bit More Bert, in which the amiable youngster goes dog-walking, gets a rather strange haircut, and then hopes to hunt for his lost pooch in a town where everybody, animal and human, is named Bert. "Ahlberg's poker-faced text is ready with wit," noted a Kirkus contributor, while in Horn Book Martha V. Parravano called Briggs's illustrations "sublime," adding: "a bit more Bert is not enough."

A book designed to "celebrate the playful games that deepen family ties," according to a Kirkus reviewer, Treasure Hunt finds a toddler named Tilly indulging in her love of discovery with the help of her loving parents. All day long things are deliberately hidden and joyously discovered: a delicious banana, a fuzzy toy bunny, the family cat. Finally, near bedtime, Tilly hides a special treasure for her parents: herself! In his simple tale Ahlberg creates "effervescent vignettes [that] convey a keen sense of humor," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, while in Horn Book Christine M. Heppermann dubbed Treasure Hunt a story full of "joyous" discoveries about a family that "exhibits the happy disorganization that comes from having a young child around."

Continuing a family tradition, Ahlberg joins with his daughter, illustrator Jessica Ahlberg, in creating the picture book Half a Pig. Noting that the illustrations "call to mind the simple line and soft pastel shadings" of the late Janet Ahlberg's art, a Publishers Weekly writer called the father-daughter collaboration "high-spirited." In Half a Pig the duo tell a story about a pig named Esmeralda, whose secure life is shattered after her two owners, Mrs. Harbottle and her evil ex-husband, do battle over custodianship of the novel's porcine protagonist. The sausage-loving Mr. Harbottle has something other than Esmeralda's best intentions in mind, and when possible plans for her future involve rump roast and pork loin, the roly poly pet takes to the hills in a book that "positively squeals for some parent and child sharing," according to Horn Book reviewer Roger Sutton.

Ahlberg has a knack for capturing the attention of beginning readers with his simply worded texts which feature likeable characters and lively plots. His "Happy Families" series follows the antics of a variety of families from Mr. Biff the Boxer to Ms. Cliff the Climber. "To the uninitiated," remarked Jeff Hynds in Books for Keeps, "they might seem like simple stories in simple language, but those who think like this are missing the parody and underestimating the linguistic tricks that Ahlberg plays continually with his readers." While equally captivating, several of Ahlberg's stories hint at complex themes, such as the competing needs of work and family after divorce breaks up a home in Mrs. Vole the Vet. Reviewing Master Bun the Baker's Boy and Miss Dose the Doctor's Daughter, Growing Point contributor Margery Fisher concluded, "Simple jokes and expressive, dramatically active coloured pictures should confirm the popularity of a favourite series, conducted with the utmost expertise in word and line." Also appraising multiple titles in the series, a Books for Keeps reviewer commented on Ahlberg's casting of a "resourceful and ambitious" female protagonist who capably saves her entire town in Miss Dose the Doctor's Daughter.

Featuring illustrations by Colin McNaughton, Ahlberg's popular "Red Nose Readers" series was hailed by Books for Keeps contributor Pat Triggs as a "brilliant … collaboration," while other critics noted its significant comic appeal. "Funnybones," a series that stars a cast of boney skeletons in Ahlberg's trademark silly plots, also drew significant praise. Reviewing the first two series titles, The Black Cat and The Pet Shop, School Library Journal critic Ruth Smithof noted the books' "cartoonlike layout, repetitive language, and situational humor" and dubbed them a "good choice for beginning readers." Reviewing Dinosaur Dreams and Mystery Tour in the same periodical, Leslie Barban remarked that Ahlberg's "crazy and wacky" stories are "more funnier-than-spooky entries for an audience often looking for good material in this genre." A Books for Keeps contributor also praised the series, noting that "few beginning readers can resist the sheer silliness of these stories,… which are full of repetition, so easy to read and yet are quirky, witty and original."

In a multi-chapter book that features what a Publishers Weekly reviewer described as "an appealing madcap plot, dialogue that verges on slapstick, and sprightly pictures," Ahlberg introduces the Gaskitt family: Mr. and Mrs. Gaskitt and nine-year-old twins Gloria and Gus. The Man Who Wore All His Clothes finds Mr. Gaskitt dressing for work; in fact, he seems to be OVER-dressing, as he dons layer after layer of clothing until his closet is almost empty. While this mystery percolates in young readers' minds, Mrs. Gaskitt races off in her taxi-cab, and her first fare appears to be a bankrobber fleeing from a heist. The robber races from taxi to school bus, where he takes the Gaskitt twins and their fellow passengers on a merry chase until Ahlberg's confabulation neatly sorts itself out. A Kirkus Reviews writer dubbed The Man Who Wore All His Clothes as a "tilt-a-whirl tale" and praised the "bright, comic cartoon scenes" brought to life by illustrator Katharine McEwen, while in School Library Journal a reviewer cited the book's "numerous funny touches … and surprise ending."

The Gaskitts have appeared in several more books by Ahlberg, including The Woman Who Won Things, which finds Mrs. Gaskitt on a winning streak while the twins' substitute teacher seems more than a bit shifty; The Cat Who Got Carried Away, in which the disappearance of the twins' classroom mascot, a rat, is followed by the disappearance of family cat Horace; and The Children Who Smelled a Rat, wherein a series of mysterious occurrences leave each member of the Gaskitt family in a quandary. Dubbing The Children Who Smelled a Rat "unputdownable," School Library Journal reviewer Jodi Kearns called Ahlsberg's easy-to-read chapterbook text "funny, riveting, [and] absorbing." The book is "part graphic novel, part breathless action-packed soap opera," explained a Kirkus Reviews writer, while in the same periodical Kathleen Kelly Macmillan predicted that in The Woman Who Won Things Ahlberg's "clever use of language will delight new readers."

Writing for middle-grade readers, Ahlberg has turned his humorous talents to novels with Woof! and The Giant Baby, and to short stories with both The Better Brown Stories and The Bravest Bear Ever. In Woof! Ahlberg creates a Kafka-esque scenario when young Eric Banks suddenly transforms into a Norfolk terrier. Eric gets a dog's eye view of things until he becomes Eric once more, but he never knows when this change will occur again. With The Giant Baby Ahlberg again pushes the bounds of reality when a giant infant unexpectedly arrives on Alice's doorstep. Though the young girl longs for a baby brother, the new arrival is rather too much for poor Alice. Soon, however, Alice and her parents become attached to the large infant and they get into all sorts of predicaments trying to keep the foundling from being taken away to a foster family. "Fast-paced, tightly plotted, and packed with excitement and humor, this tale is destined to take its place with the very best novels for this age group," wrote Ruth Semrau in a School Library Journal review of The Giant Baby. Comparing Ahlberg's prose to that of British writer Roald Dahl, Semrau added that Ahlberg's "wry wit makes his book as appealing to adults as to children."

Ahlberg presents characters who rebel against their creator in both The Better Brown Stories and The Bravest Bear Ever. Miffed with the stories that are mapping out their day-to-day lives and leaving them little time for their own devices, the members of the Brown family seek out the writer responsible and give him a piece of their communal mind in The Better Brown Stories. Another frustrated bear, with aspirations of being a storybook hero, takes over writing duties altogether in The Bravest Bear Ever. First Baby Bear concocts a heroic exploit, featuring trolls, dragons, a princess, a penguin, and even a sausage; then each character in turn retells the tale in a way that puts their part in the spotlight. Christina Dorr, writing in School Library Journal, called The Better Brown Stories a "clever collection of short stories that's sure to be a hit." Booklist critic Hazel Rochman concluded that if American readers do not quite get the British references in the story, "everyone will enjoy the mischief and the wry characters that suddenly move from the mundane to the marvelous." Praising The Bravest Bear Ever as chock-full of "hilarious non sequiturs and inventive plot twists," Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld also noted that a subtext rife with smart-alecky banter creates "lively, chaotic scenarios" out of what would otherwise be straightforward tales. As a Books for Keeps critic remarked of The Bet-ter Brown Stories, "Picking up a book by Allan Ahlberg is always exciting, for children and adults. There is a feeling that one is going to be both entertained and challenged, and this new title certainly lives up to that expectation."

Moving his attention to somewhat older readers, Ahlberg penned the novel My Brother's Ghost, which takes place in 1956. Part of an ill-fated blue-collar British family in which both parents are dead, ten-year-old Tom Fogarty dies when he is struck by a milk float, but reappears to his nine-year-old sister, Frances, and little brother Harry as they mourn his death at his funeral. Taking on the role of guardian angel, Tom helps Frances cope with the hard-hearted aunts now raising the Fogarty children, and also face a bully at school. When Frances takes Harry and runs away to escape her unhappy home life, Tom is there to avert a third family tragedy. Timothy Capehart, reviewing My Brother's Ghost in School Library Journal, found the writing excellent and the period evocatively described, but added that the book's "intended audience is difficult to define" because the tale reads as "a ghost story that isn't scary and an affecting family tale that centers on the supernatural."

Whether producing whimsical series readers or standalone stories full of tongue-in-cheek witticisms, Ahlberg has become popular with children on both side of the Atlantic. Surprising, given the numerous awards and praise that he has received during his long career, he remains understated about his achievement. "It's play," he once told Victoria Neumark in the Times Literary Supplement in describing his work. The reason for his success? "It's farce, it's the neatness of the plot."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1984.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 18, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Hobson, Margaret, Jennifer Madden, and Ray Prytherch, Children's Fiction Sourcebook, Ashgate Publishing (Brookfield, VT), 1992.

Martin, Douglas, The Telling Line: Essays on Fifteen Contemporary Book Illustrators, Julia MacRae Books, 1989, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.

Pendergast, Sara, and Tom Pendergast, editors, St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1983.

Ward, Martha E., and others, Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 1, 1994, p. 1606; January 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of The Better Brown Stories, p. 832; December 1, 1997, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Mysteries of Zigomar: Poems and Stories, p. 61; April, 1998, Linda Perkins, review of Monkey Do!, p. 1328; September 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mockingbird, p. 228; January 1, 1999, p. 784; May 15, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Bravest Bear Ever, p. 175; July, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Snail House, p. 2016; September 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of The Adventures of Bert, p. 112; March 15, 2002, Michael Cart, review of Treasure Hunt, p. 1261; November 1, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of A Bit More Bert, p. 502; May 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of The Little Cat Baby, p. 1624; August, 2004, Diane Foote, review of Half a Pig, p. 1932.

Books for Keeps, January, 1987, Chris Powling, review of The Jolly Postman, pp. 4-5; January, 1988, p. 3; January, 1988, review of Woof!, p. 17; May, 1988, review of One Two Flea!, p. 12; September, 1988, review of Miss Dose the Doctor's Daughter, p. 8; March, 1993, review of Mystery Tour, p. 10; July, 1996, review of The Giant Baby, p. 12; November, 1996, Jeff Hynds, "Master Allan the Ahlberg," pp. 4-5, Liz Waterland, review of "Happy Families," p. 5, and review of Who Stole the Pie?, p. 8; January, 1997, review of The Better Brown Stories, p. 23; September, 1997, Jill Bennett, review of Master Track's Train, p. 21; January, 1998, Annabel Gibb, review of The Mysteries of Zigomar, p. 19; January, 1999, Valerie Coghlan, review of Mockingbird, p. 18.

Books for Your Children, spring, 1991, J. Tweedie, review of Ten in a Bed, p. 17.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1998, Pat Mathews, review of Monkey Do!, pp. 272-273; October, 1998, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Mockingbird, p. 51.

Carousel, summer, 2000, Pat Tate, review of My Brother's Ghost, p. 25.

Commonweal, November 11, 1977.

Growing Point, September, 1988, Margery Fisher, review of Master Bun the Baker's Boy and Miss Dose the Doctor's Daughter, p. 5049; January, 1990, Margery Fisher, review of Heard It in the Playground, p. 5283.

Horn Book, December, 1982, Aidan Chambers, "Letter from England: Two in-One," pp. 686-690; July-August, 1993, p. 456; September-October, 1996, pp. 590-591; May-June, 1999, review of The Better Brown Stories, p. 354; March, 2000, review of The Bravest Ever Bear, p. 180; May, 2001, review of The Snail House, p. 307; July, 2001, review of The Adventures of Bert, p. 437; May-June, 2002, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Treasure Hunt, p. 311; September-October, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of A Bit More Bert, p. 548; July-August, 2004, Roger Sutton, review of Half a Pig, p. 433; July-August, 2005, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Shopping Expedition, p. 447.

Junior Bookshelf, December, 1979; August, 1987, review of One Two Flea, p. 158; April, 1996, review of Who Stole the Pie?, pp. 64-65.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2001, review of The Man Who Wore All His Clothes, p. 1352; March 1, 2002, review of Treasure Hunt, p. 328; April 15, 2002, review of The Woman Who Won Things, p. 560; September 1, 2002, review of A Bit More Bert, p. 1300; April 15, 2004, review of Half a Pig, p. 389; June 1, 2004, review of The Little Cat Baby, p. 533; July 1, 2004, review of The Improbable Cat, p. 625; May 15, 2005, review of The Shopping Expedition, p. 583; September 1, 2005, review of The Children Who Smelled a Rat, p. 967.

Listener, November 8, 1979.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 31, 1981.

Magpies, May, 1998, review of Monkey Do!, p. 5.

New Statesman, November 28, 1975; November 21, 1980; December 4, 1981; December 3, 1982.

New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1977; April 22, 1979; April 29, 1979; May 20, 1979; March 1, 1981; June 17, 2001, Marigny Dupuy, review of The Snail House, p. 25.

Observer (London, England), July 19, 1981; December 6, 1981; December 7, 1997, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, November 2, 1990, p. 73; August 9, 1991, p. 56; January 25, 1993, p. 87; February 28, 1994, p. 88; November 27, 1995, p. 70; October 13, 1997, review of The Mysteries of Zigomar, p. 75; January 31, 2000, review of The Bravest Ever Bear, p. 106; February 19, 2001, review of The Snail House, p. 91; June 25, 2001, review of The Adventures of Bert, p. 71; September 10, 2001, review of The Man Who Wore All His Clothes, p. 93; March 25, 2001, review of Treasure Hunt, p. 63; February 2001, review of The Snail House, p. 91; June 25, 2001, review of The Adventures of Bert, p. 71; April 26, 2004, review of The Little Cat Baby and Half a Pig, p. 65; August 9, 2004, review of The Improbable Cat, p. 251.

Punch, November 17, 1982.

Saturday Review, May 28, 1977; May 26, 1979.

School Library Journal, September, 1981; April, 1986, Louise L. Sherman, review of Big Bad Pig, p. 67; February, 1987, Kathleen Brachman, review of Woof!, p. 76; March, 1991, Ruth Smith, review of The Black Cat, p. 166; July, 1991, Leslie Barban, review of Dinosaur Dreams, p. 52; July, 1995, Ruth Semrau, review of The Giant Baby, p. 76; February, 1996, Christina Dorr, review of The Better Brown Stories, p. 100; November, 1997, John Sigwald, review of The Mysteries of Zigomar, p. 76; June, 1998, Christine A. Moesch, review of Monkey Do!, p. 94; October, 1998, Paula A. Kiely, review of Mockingbird, p. 119; June, 2000, Marlene Gawron, review of The Bravest Ever Bear, p. 100; March, 2001, Tina Hudak, review of The Snail House, p. 192; July, 2001, Timothy Capehart, review of My Brother's Ghost, p. 102; August, 2001, Grace Oliff, review of The Adventures of Bert, p. 142; October, 2001, review of The Man Who Wore All His Clothes, p. 62; April, 2002, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Treasure Hunt, p. 100; June, 2002, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of The Woman Who Won Things, p. 80; November, 2002, Teri Markson, review of A Bit More Bert, p. 110; September, 2003, Liza Graybill, review of The Cat Who Got Carried Away, p. 166; August, 2004, Phyllis M. Simon, review of Half a Pig, p. 82, and Susan Hepler, review of The Improbable Cat, p. 115; October, 2004, Marianne Saccardi, review of The Little Cat Baby, p. 108; August, 2005, Robin L. Gibson, review of The Shopping Expedition, p. 84; October, 2005, Jodi Kearns, review of The Children Who Smelled a Rat, p. 102.

Spectator, July 16, 1977.

Teacher Librarian, November, 1998, pp. 42, 44; June 2000, Shirley Lewis, review of The Bravest Ever Bear, p. 49.

Times (London, England), March 5, 1980.

Times Educational Supplement, November 23, 1979; January 18, 1980; March 7, 1980; June 20, 1980; November 21, 1980; January 2, 1981; July 24, 1981; November 20, 1981; November 19, 1982; March 11, 1983; June 3, 1983; September 30, 1983; March 21, 1997, Elaine Williams, "More than Words" (interview), p. B8; November 7, 1997, p. 2; December 5, 1997, p. 17; January 2, 1998, p. 23; November 20, 1998, p. 10; March 19, 1999, p. 25.

Times Literary Supplement, March 25, 1977; December 1, 1978; March 28, 1980; June 20, 1980, Victoria Neumark, "A Marriage of Words and Pictures," p. 42; November 21, 1980; September 18, 1981; March 26, 1982; November 26, 1982; July 22, 1983; November 30, 1984.

Washington Post Book World, February 11, 1979.

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