Wednesday, 4 May 2016

THE STORY OF ALISON HUBBLE by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman. Reviewed by Penny Dolan

Once a teacher always a teacher, I admit, even when enjoying new picture book titles.  
 Some picture books immediately suggest use within an educational context, partly because the story can be interpreted through interesting topic work, often with a classroom “play-corner” alongside. These titles become popular within Early Years, Foundation and Year One classrooms because they fit in with aspects of the curriculum and are not any the worse for that.

(For example, an Early Years classroom I visited recently was working on THE BOG BABY, written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Gwen Millard. The internet offered instructions on how to make a Bog Baby collage, a gallery of blue-painted bog-babies created in classrooms and a downloadable record sheet where children can record their bog-baby observations. Well done, Puffin, for spotting that possibility!)

Occasionally, however, a particular book brings the reader the sense of a close family moment or a privately shared armchair story-time. This book is one of those. I imagined Alison Hubble being read by grandparents or parents, each reading-aloud taking place within the bonds of love and quiet fun. The plot feels as if it sprang from a family joke or teasing comment, and then developed into a delightful fantasy. The full title explains the whole dilemma:

This is the story of ALISON HUBBLE
 who went to bed single and woke up double.

The writer of this rhyming story is the much-beloved author Allan Ahlberg whilst the talented Bruce Ingman – possibly the only artist who has brought a poignant conflict between pencils and erasers so vividly to life – forms the illustrating hand in the team.

The plot echoes a familiar complaint, gently sighed from adult to child at the end of a long day: “Whatever would I do if there was another one of you?” and this is exactly what the Hubble parents discover, because Alison herself does what the title says. 

The Hubble's one little girl becomes two Alisons then four and eight and more, doubling on and on and causing much consternation at home, at school and beyond. 
The troubles are pursued with gentle humour: when eight Alisons become sixteen:
“Oh no,” said her mum
“What a tragedy!
It’ll take us four hours
To cook her tea.”

“You’re right,” said her dad.
“What rotten luck!
We’ll have to do the shopping
In a three ton-truck.”

As in all cumulative plots, everyone tries to help. The local council does send an enormous tent for the increasing family but the excitement of camping is spoiled when thirty-two little girls now find themselves squashed into just sixteen sleeping bags.

Ingman’s illustrations offer enjoyable tiny "subplots": the harassed teacher, registering the many Alison Hubbles, does not see a boy in the background answering as Alison and the newspaper photograph of a batch of identical Alisons contains one Alison gazing off to the side, like real-life child who won't do the helpful thing for the camera. 

You can have a peek at some of the spreads here

Eventually, the many Alison Hubbles need a whole town of their own - but I won’t say which or where - and the end-paper suggests that even further choices might be needed, raising a few more issues that might need discussion. 

However, for now, ALISON HUBBLE (please add the full title yourself!) makes an enjoyably eccentric picture book. Promoted as a tale of Mathematical Mayhem, the book is full of fun, wit and would be lovely to share.  

ALISON HUBBLE will be in bookshops from today, 4th May, and I'm sure the well-established writer-and-illustrator team means that libraries will stock copies sometime soon. The picture book is recommended for children between 3 - 5years.

Penny Dolan
Ps. I’m just checking the publicity sheet here, as this was a picture book I received for review, and spot that the picture-book publisher is the ever-cunning Puffin! So I’m now wondering if I’ll find Alison Hubble "Times-table" games on screens when I next visit early-years classrooms? Or rows of identically Hubbley-paper-dolls on display? Perhaps you should take my review as an early “Alison Alert”?


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