Monday, April 19, 2010

Everybody Was a Baby Once: and Other Poems

By Allan Ahlberg, pictures by Bruce Ingram

Candlewick Press, 2010

$15.99, ages 4-8, 64 pages

Every page of Ahlberg's book is so playful and happy that you feel as though you're right there with the characters, skipping, splashing and seeing funny things unfold.

This is another book that begs to be held up as you read aloud, and is also a perfect book for children to get lost in, as there's so much to look at as they read.

Ahlberg puts a fun spin on everything from wash day to bath time to the nonsensical, while Ingram's ink drawings, punctuated with strokes of color, build on that whimsy and energy.

Each page celebrates the splendor of being little and at times the content feels as capricious as a child.

Poems and pictures are always on the go, dashing here and there. But they're so fun to read and look at that readers will be tempted to linger on one spread even as they itch to see what's next.

Some poems, like "When I Was Just a Little Child," are so cleverly worded, they feel like classics-in-the-making. This particular poem shows how larger-than-life things can seem to a small child.

"When I was just a little child / The world seemed wide to me. / My mom was like a featherbed / My bath was like the sea. / My high chair was a mighty tower / The view I had was grand. / With cups and plates stretched out for miles / Across the tableland."

Other poems reflect the kinds of crazy imaginative thoughts that come to a child, like what sausages would do if they had legs, and some are just plain wacky in a way that a child will appreciate.

Take "Dangerous to Know," a poem about the perils of being around inanimate objects that take on a life of their own.

Next to a drawing of a red-lipped eraser with a pigtail, a verse reads: "The Rubber Girl / Without a doubt / When rubbed up wrongly / Will rub you out."

Clever bit: A good finale often comes with a pause and with a few of Ahlberg's poems, you have to flip the page to read the final line, giving Ingram a chance to set up a funny scene, which in at least one case sets up the next poem.

After reading most of the first poem of the book, "Monday is Washday" on one spread, you turn the page to see a bathtub and soap bar chasing a boy on a bicycle, which takes us to the next pages and the second poem, "Dirty Bill."

As the boy continues to be pursued, you read: "I'm Dirty Bill from Vinegar Hill, / Never had a bath and never will." Terse and matter-of-fact, the lines capture his defiance, and are sure to put a mischievous giggle in your listener.

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