Archives for category: Quotations

Allan Ahlberg

“You set out to make a book because it amuses and pleases you to make it. It’s a pleasure to do. If you get it right, the pleasure will be shared by other adults right through the chain of publisher, bookseller, reviewer, school, parent to the child reader.  What a series of hurdles you have to clear!”   SIGNAL January 1990.

Obviously, anyone reading this knows that the hurdles are worth the effort.  Allan Ahlberg has been leaping over these hurdles through a long, varied, and prolific career. Not only does he understand the fun of a story well told, he knows and shares the delight of playing with the patterns of well-known stories.


Just some of the picture books by Allan Ahlberg

THE ADVENTURES OF BURT. Illus. by Raymond Briggs.  2001.

THE BRAVEST EVER BEAR. Illus. Paul Howard, 2001.

EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM. Illus. by Janet Ahlberg, 1978.

FUNNYBONES.  Illus. by Janet Ahlberg. 1988 (1980).

THE JOLLY POSTMAN. Illus. by Janet Ahlberg, 1986.

THE LITTLE CAT BABY.  Illus. Fritz Wegner. 2004.

MONKEY DO! illus. by Andre Amstutz, 1999.

PEEPO! Illus. by Janet Ahlberg, 1981.

THE PENCIL. Illus. by Bruce Ingman, 2008.

PREVIOUSLY! Illus. by Bruce Ingman. 2008.

“People sometimes think we dash them off…We work very long on each one, frequently over a year.  We write and rewrite, we draw and redraw, we fight over the plot, the beginning, the end, the illustrations–as a matter of fact our work is nearly the only thing we do fight about.”


In this variation on “too many cooks spoil the broth” Billy’s friends are so eager to critique and revise his picture it becomes unrecognizable.

“The line of the story must be pure, and must carry itself along without visible strain. Each word must lend its muscle. And the rhythm by which the words attach themselves to each other, by which they roll and move, must be economical but forthright. In all these qualities, the language of the picture book resembles the language of the poem.”  Donald Hall

Hall, Donald.  THE OX CART MAN.  Illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  Viking, 1979.

The story behind THE OX CART MAN is a journey itself.  When Donald Hall left Michigan and moved to his grandparents’ farm in New Hampshire a cousin told him the story of an ox cart man.  In time, Hall retold the story as a poem, “The Ox Cart Man,” that appeared in THE NEW YORKER (October 3, 1977).  He revised it slightly when it was published in his collection KICKING THE LEAVES (1978).  Then again when it was published in OLD AND NEW POEMS (1990). Children and picture book fans know the poem in yet another form–the picture book which received the 1980 Caldecott Medal.

Hall’s picture book is an excellent example of how the rhythm and cadence of a text can echo and evoke the story’s subject matter. How did he do it?  What decisions and revisions did he make? We can learn by exploring his process. Many of Hall’s drafts can be viewed online thanks to the Milne Special Collections site at the University of New Hampshire Library:

May you enjoy the journey.