Janet and Allan Ahlberg

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Janet Ahlberg (21 October 1944 – 15 November 1994; née Hall) and Allan Ahlberg (born 5 June 1938) were a British married couple who created many children's books, including picture books that regularly appear at the top of "most popular" lists for public libraries.[1] They worked together for 20 years until Janet's death from cancer in 1994. He wrote the books and she illustrated them.[2] Allan Ahlberg has also written dozens of books with other illustrators.[a]

Allan Ahlberg
Born (1938-06-05) 5 June 1938 (age 83)
Croydon, England
EducationSunderland Technical College
GenreChildren's books
Years active1976–present
Janet Ahlberg
(m. 1969; died 1994)

Vanessa Clarke
Janet Ahlberg
Born(1944-10-21)21 October 1944
Yorkshire, England
Died15 November 1994(1994-11-15) (aged 50)
Alma materSunderland Technical College
GenreChildren's books
Notable awardstwo Kate Greenaway Medals
Years active1976–1994
Allan Ahlberg
(m. 1969)

Janet Ahlberg won two Kate Greenaway Medals for illustrating their books[3][4] and the 1978 winner Each Peach Pear Plum was named one of the top ten winning works for the 50th anniversary of the Medal (1955–2005).[5] In the US it was published by Viking Press in 1979 as Each Peach Pear Plum: an "I Spy" story; the national library catalogue summary explains, "Rhymed text and illustrations invite the reader to play 'I spy' with a variety of Mother Goose and other folklore characters."[6][7]


Allan Ahlberg was born 5 June 1938 in Croydon.[8] An illegitimate child, he was adopted and brought up in Oldbury, in Sandwell in the West Midlands.[9] He has called it "a very poor working-class family" and identified himself as the baby in Peepo! (1981). He grew up with "no books and not much conversation".[2]

Janet Hall was born 21 October 1944 in Yorkshire[10] and brought up in Leicester.[9] The Ahlbergs both trained as teachers at Sunderland Technical College, where they met during the 1960s and married in 1969.[9]

Janet illustrated My Growing Up Book by Bernard Garfinkel (New York: Platt & Munk, 1972), which the US Library of Congress calls "A child's record of the things he has learned and done from the time of birth through age five. Also provides a place to paste photographs."[11]

Their joint work began when she asked him, a primary school teacher, to write a story.[2] The first three published Ahlberg collaborations appeared in 1976 and 1977, The Old Joke Book, The Vanishment of Thomas Tull, and Burglar Bill (1977).[9] Vanishment was bound in hardcover with a dustjacket, while many of their early works were "pictorial laminated boards".[1] For Each Peach Pear Plum (Kestrel), Janet won the 1978 Kate Greenaway Medal from the British Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book illustration by a British subject.[3] For the 50th anniversary of the Medal, a 2007 panel named it one of the top ten winning works, which composed the ballot for a public election of the nation's favourite.[5] Each Peach Pear Plum finished a close second to the 1977 medalist, Dogger by Shirley Hughes; the margin was 1% of the vote.[12]

Probably their greatest success was The Jolly Postman, published by Heinemann in 1986; Allan Ahlberg told The Guardian in 2006 that it had sold over six million copies. It made innovative use of envelopes to include letters, cards, games and a tiny book.[2] According to one WorldCat library record, "A Jolly Postman delivers letters to several famous fairy-tale characters such as the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, and the Three Bears. Twelve of the pages have been made into six envelopes and contain eight letters and cards. Each letter may be removed from its envelope page and read separately." Its first-listed Library of Congress Subject Heading (US) is "Toy and movable books".[13]

The Jolly Postman required five years to make, and much discussion with the Heinemann and the printer before it was issued in 1986. It won many awards including the Kurt Maschler Award for integrated writing and illustration.[9][14] There were two sequels, The Jolly Christmas Postman (1991), for which Janet won her second Greenaway Medal,[4] and The Jolly Pocket Postman (1995).

Working together, the Ahlbergs produced many popular books for a range of ages. Some, such as Peepo! and The Baby's Catalogue are aimed at babies and toddlers. For older children, they wrote books such as Burglar Bill, Cops and Robbers, Funnybones and the Happy Families series. Allan also wrote two books of verses, Heard it in the Playground and Please, Mrs Butler, which Janet illustrated, and more text-heavy books such as Woof!.[1][9]

Janet died of breast cancer in November 1994 at the age of 50, when their daughter Jessica was 15 years old. Allan Ahlberg says with regret that they "made an absolute fortune" but "never really had holidays".[2]

Allan later married his editor, Vanessa Clarke of Walker Books, his new publisher. As of 2017, he is the author of more than 150 published books, including two in 2004 illustrated by his daughter Jessica, who now creates picture books with other writers including Toon Tellegen.[2][15] Father and daughter have recently collaborated again, completing a movable picture book published late in 2012, The Goldilocks Variations (Walker), "a new twist in an old fairy tale".[16][17]

Allan Ahlberg is a supporter of West Bromwich Albion F.C., having grown up in the neighbouring town to West Bromwich.[18]


Beside the two Greenaway Medals, Janet Ahlberg was a "Commended" runner up three times, for Burglar Bill (1977), The Baby's Catalogue (1982), and The Jolly Postman (1986).[19][b] According to Allan, their daughter Jessica inspired the latter two, and his own "Burglar Bill" book is autobiographical, The Boyhood of Burglar Bill (Puffin, 2007).[2] A football story set in war-ravaged England, Boyhood made the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize shortlist.[20]

Allan appeared as a castaway on the BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs on 14 November 2008.[21] He described their work together, her illness and death, and the creation of Janet's Last Book.[21]

From July to September 2011, Janet and Allan's work was celebrated at The Public arts centre in Sandwell (which encompasses Allan's hometown Oldbury). The exhibition included works by schoolchildren with local artists "in response to" Ahlberg stories.[22]

In July 2014, Allan Ahlberg declined the (inaugural) Booktrust Best Book Awards 'Lifetime Achievement Award' (which has a 5000 GBP prize attached). He cited ethical grounds related to the award's principal sponsor Amazon.com. In a letter to The Bookseller he stated that "Booktrust does good work and has a well-deserved reputation ... For my part, the idea that my "lifetime achievement"— i.e. the books (and all of Janet's work too)—should have the Amazon tag attached to it is unacceptable."[23][24]

Allan Ahlberg sits on the Council of the Society of Authors.[25]

Selected worksEdit

By Janet and Allan AhlbergEdit

Bookseller World mentions about 80 "UK First Editions Books" by Janet and Allan. Five series comprise more than 40 books, none published by Kestrel or Viking; 35 singletons include 8 published by Kestrel (a Viking imprint) from 1976 to 1983, and 12 published by Viking from 1984 to 1994.[1]

Written by Allan AhlbergEdit

Most of these books were illustrated by other people, except My Brother's Ghost.[a]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b As of November 2012, the US national library catalogue (LCC record) shows 82 books created by Allan Ahlberg, published from 1976 to 2017 (forthcoming). They include multiple editions of some titles and do not include all titles in the selection listed here; for example, Janet's Last Book (1997) is missing. With one exception, all 82 listings specify either creators Janet and Allan Ahlberg or Allan Ahlberg and another illustrator; the exception is My Brother's Ghost (2001).
    • "My brother's ghost". LCC record. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
  2. ^ Today there are usually eight books on the Greenaway shortlist. According to CCSU, some runners up through 2002 were Commended (from 1959) or Highly Commended (from 1974). There were 99 commendations of both kinds in 44 years, including two in 1977, two 1982, and six 1986.
    • No one has won three Greenaway Medals. Among the fourteen illustrators with two Medals, Janet Ahlberg is one of seven with one book named to the top ten (1955–2005) and one of six with at least three commendations (1959–2002).
  3. ^ a b The LCC record lists a 32-page book, The baby's catalogue, published by Little, Brown in 1982. It lists four 12-page books published by Little, Brown in 1998; copyright 1982; "Edition: 1st American Board Book ed."; "Series: The baby's catalogue". For instance:
    • "Baby sleeps" (1998). LCC record. Retrieved 2012-11-14.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Janet and Allan Ahlberg Bibliography: U.K. First Editions". Bookseller World. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Interview: Allan Ahlberg". The Guardian 23 June 2006. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  3. ^ a b (Greenaway Winner 1978) Archived 6 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  4. ^ a b (Greenaway Winner 1991) Archived 29 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b "70 Years Celebration: Anniversary Top Tens" Archived 27 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine. The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards. CILIP. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  6. ^ "Each peach pear plum: an 'I spy' story" (first U.S. edition). Library of Congress Catalog Record (LCC record). Retrieved 31 August 2012.
  7. ^ "Each peach pear plum" (Penguin edition). WorldCat. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  8. ^ "Ahlberg, Allan". Library of Congress Authorities. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Allan Ahlberg" Archived 6 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Penguin Books Authors. Penguin UK. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
    "Janet Ahlberg" at Puffin Books Authors comprises identical text with a footer "Bibliography" comprising links to Puffin Books editions of her books. Puffin Books is a Penguin imprint.
  10. ^ "Ahlberg, Janet". Library of Congress Authorities. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  11. ^ "My growing up book" (U.S. edition). LCC Record. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  12. ^ "Pullman wins 'Carnegie of Carnegies'". Michelle Pauli. The Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  13. ^ "The jolly postman, or, Other people's letters" (first U.S. edition). LCC record. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  14. ^ "Kurt Maschler Awards". Book Awards. bizland.com. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d "Ahlberg, Jessica". WorldCat. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  16. ^ a b "Interview: Allan and Jessica Ahlberg". Linda Morris. The Sydney Morning Herald 20 August 2011. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  17. ^ a b "The Goldilocks variations" (U.S. edition). LCC record. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  18. ^ Adrian Chiles, We Don't Know What We're Doing: Adventures with the extraordinary fans of an ordinary team, Sphere, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84744-013-6.
  19. ^ "Kate Greenaway Medal" Archived 16 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine. 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  20. ^ a b "Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2007". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  21. ^ a b "Desert Island Discs – Castaway : Allan Ahlberg". BBC Online. BBC. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  22. ^ "Allan Ahlberg exhibition at The Public, West Bromwich". Express & Star (expressandstar.com). 9 July 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  23. ^ "Booktrust and Amazon". thebookseller.com.
  24. ^ "Amazon-backed award turned down by Ahlberg". thebookseller.com.
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 October 2015. Retrieved 25 September 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further readingEdit

  • D. Martin, "Janet & Allan Ahlberg", in Douglas Martin, The Telling Line: Essays on Fifteen Contemporary Book Illustrators (Julia MacRae Books, 1989), pp. 264–78
  • Allan Ahlberg, Janet's Last Book: Janet Ahlberg 1944–1994: a Memento (Privately published, 1996; Penguin Books, November 1997, ISBN 978-0-14-026872-0)
  • Wendy Lynch, Janet and Allan Ahlberg (Oxford: Heinemann Library, 2000, ISBN 978-0-431-02311-3) — a 24-page biography, illustrated

External linksEdit