By Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
Published by Thames & Hudson ISBN 978-0-500-65090-5
Reviewed by Spencer Hill
My Worst Book Ever is the latest work from successful children’s writer Allan Ahlberg, and also the latest in a succession of collaborations with illustrator Bruce Ingman. These guys have a mantelpiece of awards between them, and both have a track record for producing wonderful children’s books. Bruce even managed to squeeze a couple of their books into this one when he illustrated a bookshelf in the middle of the story. I love little details like that. However I am getting ahead of myself, and I’d like to start out here at the cover and work in.
On first impression this book is clearly written and illustrated by two people who understand what their readers want. The cover is a montage of the story within and is drawn and coloured in the illustrator’s recognisable style. We have snails, a crocodile, spilled coffee and more in Bruce Ingman’s loose and lively line and colour, and you want to go in and find out more. On the back you can see how much the partnership between Bruce and Allan plays a part in the creation of this book as they feature as illustrated versions of themselves. I like that too, and I reckon most of us love drawing ourselves more than most other subjects.
I know it has been said before but this book really is a rollercoaster ride of events describing one misfortune after another as Bruce and Allan attempt to write, illustrate then publish a book about a crocodile. You feel the pace quicken and the pressure increase as the writer is disturbed, the writing eaten or defaced, the illustrator doing what we do and drawing what he imagines rather than what is written, and that is before it is designed, published and distributed. I admit I didn’t believe this would be a captivating story, and I was proved wrong. It is very clever, and like all good books it communicates on a number of levels as the child and any accompanying adult each get their story. With this book I feel that there is also a little message stream for those of us usually behind the scenes, and that was a nice touch.
So what about the illustrations? I can’t imagine that there is anyone who doesn’t enjoy Bruce Ingman’s work. It is skilful but childlike, loose but controlled and he clearly knows his illustration onions. We have superb amounts of white space, then fully illustrated pages with wonderful backgrounds and landscapes and machines…the guy can just draw everything! The best part is he does it in such an approachable way that I believe children would be encouraged to pick up their drawing materials and have a go.
I have two favourite parts in this book; I love the landscape views when Allan takes his family on holiday as it has just enough colour and detail in it to work beautifully without popping your eyeballs. I also love the fold out thumbnail plans of the book within the book, which is part of that nod to fellow writers and illustrators I was talking about earlier.
This book is the result of two craftsmen at work. Put aside your initial misconceptions about whether the subject matter will work or not and immerse yourself in a beautifully illustrated ride with rhythm and pace which will sweep you from cover to cover with a smile.