02 July, 2008


Previously by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman, hardcover, 32 pages, Candlewick Press, list price: $16.99

Allan Ahlberg's whimsical take on the world comes through clearly in all of his books for young children, but perhaps never more so than in Previously, where he teams up with artist Bruce Ingman to produce a charming concatenation of some familiar fairy tales. Beginning with Goldilocks arriving home after her adventure with the three bears, author and illustrator tell her story backward, so to speak, by describing what she had been doing "previously." The final "previously" has her walking in the woods, before coming upon the house of the three bears, where she bumped into Jack (of climbing the beanstalk fame).

As his story progresses backward, it turns out that he's the same Jack who tumbled down the hill with his sister Jill, and that the two of them had encountered the Frog Prince, who (before he was turned into a frog) had fallen in love with "a disappearing girl named … Cinderella," who had collided with the Gingerbread Man and his retinue, and so on and so on, until the very satisfying conclusion.

Reading this book aloud to 4- to 8-year-old children is a delight. Not only will they take great pleasure in repeating "previously" with you each time it appears (nearly 30 times) in the text, but they'll appreciate Ahlberg's word pictures — The Frog, "sitting on the window sill/with a sorrowful look in his eye/and a crown on his head"; or Goldilocks, who "had been humming a tune/and having a little skip by herself in the dark woods." Beginning with the deliberately childlike pencil drawings on the endpapers, Ingram's pictures offer a colorful and clever complement for Ahlberg's quirky text. Just take a look at the picture of the poor Frog Prince watching Jack and Jill arguing at the breakfast table, and you'll see what I mean.

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