My Worst Book Ever! by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman

My Worst Book Ever! by Allan Ahlberg,
 illustrated by Bruce Ingman
Purchased from Barnes & Noble (after spotting it at McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers)
My Worst Book Ever! is, as always, a completely entertaining, humorous story from the phenomenal Ahlberg (The Jolly Postman Trilogy, illustrated by his late wife, Janet, as well as newer books illustrated by his daughter, Jessica, among others. But, what I think My Worst Book Ever! does best is give readers a glimpse into the start-to-finish process of writing, illustrating and publishing a picture book. The title page shows the author walking to his writing shed, cup of coffee in hand, cat trailing behind. Once there, he begins work on a new, rhyming story called, Crocodile Snap! Things start well, a list of words that rhyme with "snap" is made, but interferences in the form of a cat being chased by a fox, spilled coffee, a family vacation at the seaside and snails that eat paper interfere with the writing process. Be sure to take note of the fox in the illustration below, as it appears again and a strategic point in the story.
When the story is done, Allan calls his good friend, and "even better illustrator," Bruce. Not only does Bruce have some ideas of his own (there are too many crocodile books) he also has some small children with sticky hands and popsicles... When the illustrations are finally done, the author and illustrator head to New York City to talk to their publisher, who has some exciting ideas of her own. Once the manuscript is shipped off to the printer, another child with sticky hands leaves her mark on Crocodile Snap! In a fantastic two page, gatefold spread, readers are treated to the book that should have been, "A pleasant enough tale, as you can see. Not Roald Dahl, of course, or Julia Donaldson, even, but not bad," and the book that was actually printed - in various languages with a variety of illustrations. This spread is a delight to read, compare and contrast. However, this is not the book that the author intended and knowing it is out in the world this way leaves him "pretty sad after that. Inconsolable." It also leaves him with a bit of writer's block. But, after a week in his writing shed, much coffee and digestive biscuits consumed, another story comes to him - SPIDERS ON THE MARCH! You see the start of a story all over again with the final page showing the author in his shed, wondering, "What could possibly go wrong?" The final illustration shows the cat in the garden, cleaning herself, with the fox peering around the corner of the writing shed once again...

While Ahlberg and Ingman bring high jinks and hilarity to the process of writing, illustrating and bringing a book to print, having worked for a literary agent and publishers, Ahlberg does a great job showing readers how many hands (and not just sticky-child-hands) go into making a book. It truly can be a collaborative process, and if you read the acknowledgements you will often see that!

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