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Allan Ahlberg, Janet Ahlberg - Author

About the Author

Allan Ahlberg was born in Croydon in 1938, but grew up in Oldbury, near Birmingham. From the age of twelve, his dream was to be a writer. Before he fulfilled his ambition, he tried his hand at a variety of other jobs including postman, grave digger, plumber's mate and teacher.

Janet Hall was born in 1944 and spent her childhood years in Leicester. She went to Sunderland to train to be a teacher. Allan Ahlberg had enrolled on the same course.

They married in 1969. Janet decided against teaching as a career and turned instead to graphic design. While Allan worked full time as a teacher, Janet's first work was published. She began urging Allan to write a text for her to illustrate. Hard though it is to believe, their submissions to publishers were met with rejection slips. Then, in one week, Penguin took The Old Joke Book, A & C Black took The Vanishment of Thomas Tull and Heinemann took Burglar Bill. The Ahlbergs had arrived and there would be no looking back. In 1978, Janet's artwork for Each Peach Pear Plum won her the Kate Greenaway Medal. The following year there were celebrations for an altogether different reason - the Ahlbergs' daughter, Jessica, was born.

By the 1980s, the Ahlbergs were big news, not just in Britain but all around the world. Their books were translated into twenty-one languages - from Catalan to Finnish; from Hebrew to Japanese. But it was The Jolly Postman, published in 1986, that brought Janet and Allan their greatest success. The book was five years in the making but the effort paid off with awards, including the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Emil/Kurt Maschler Award, and sales of over five Million copies worldwide for The Jolly Postman and its successors, The Jolly Christmas Postman and The Jolly Pocket Postman.

Influences

Janet and Allan Ahlberg fashioned their books from familiar ingredients: from folk and nursery tales; from the surrounding and activities of family life; from their own memories. Both Janet and Allan retained strong memories of growing up during the 1940's and 1950's. The affectionate references to that era in books like Peepo! and The Bear Nobody Wanted were not simply drawn from memory but meticulously researched. Janet Ahlberg was a collector of artefacts, from paintings to teapots to mechanical toys. As children, both Janet and Allan loved reading comics. Janet's favourite books included Rupert Bear, Winnie the Pooh and The Famous Five. Books were more of a rarity in Allan's childhood, although he does remember one very special story, The Bear Nobody Wanted!

Allan's stories and Janet's pictures demonstrate their ability to view the world through a child's eyes. In Allan's case, this perspective was sharpened by his years as a teacher. The couple's daughter, Jessica, helped to inspire some of the Ahlbergs' most successful books. Her passion for the Mothercare catalogue was one of the seeds for The Baby's Catalogue. A few years later, Allan watched a slightly older Jessica play with a stack of envelopes and he began to evolve The Jolly Postman.

A Special Way of Working

Allan once joked that it took him a day to do the words for a book and Janet six months to do the pictures, but this is to diminish the extent of his involvement. Generally, the initial idea for a book would be his, but he would quickly begin the process of 'playing table tennis' with Janet.

Often, Allan would pass visual suggestions and pictorial jokes on to Janet. Sometimes, he would provide her with a complete layout. Then it was Janet's turn to assess the book in its entirety; the balance and rhythm of words and pictures, pages and spreads. Janet would then produce detailed layouts and dummies to prove to herself, Allan and their publishers that the idea worked. Janet also often undertook detailed research for her illustrations. This might involve visiting a school to sketch children for Starting School, taking photographs for landscapes for Bye Bye Baby or referring to a 1939 Army and Navy Stores' catalogue for Peepo!

Allan once said that 'it is vital to be aware of the book as a physical, bound object - that you hold, with pages that turn'. Both he and Janet remained involved throughout the publishing process - overseeing everything from type size and binding through to cover layout and paper quality. The result of their involvement is books that really work for their intended audience in every way.

What Makes Janet and Allan Ahlberg So Special?

Janet and Allan Ahlberg are two of the most important names in children's publishing.

'The Ahlbergs belong with A. A. Milne and Lewis Caroll, to the greatest tradition of British children's books, having the kind of genius that can dominate an era' - Sunday Times

Featured books by Allan Ahlberg, Janet Ahlberg

Other books by Allan Ahlberg, Janet Ahlberg

Baby's Big Box of Little Books

Baby's Big Box of Little Books

3+ readers

Author: Allan Ahlberg Format: Board book Release Date: 01/01/2015

Janet Ahlberg's iconic illustrations present a vast array of baby paraphernalia that should be instantly recognisable and absorbing to a young child. The liberal sprinkling of wit and charm will appeal to every adult too! From Janet and Allan Ahlberg, the creators of Burglar Bill and The Jolly Postman among numerous others and adapted from their classic picture book, The Baby's Catalogue, this little collection is perfect for babies at any and all times of their busy day for the box contains a number of board books for little hands covering Mornings, Night-times, Toys, Baby, Games, Family, Inside, Outside and Pets.  

Starting School

Starting School

Author: Allan Ahlberg, Janet Ahlberg Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 04/07/2013

Are you starting school soon? How exciting! If you can't wait to start school, or are feeling a little nervous, this is the perfect book for you. Full of humour and fun, this reassuring read will help children and parents get ready for the first day of school, and find out what to expect from the rest of their first term.

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