Make it Allan Ahlberg’s latest, Baby On Board.
The story is enchanting. A baby is taken to the beach with his big sisters, their friends, and a dog or two. They’ve packed rounds of sandwiches and lashings of lemonade, balls and a kite. It’s the kite that causes all the trouble because when its string snaps, all the children go chasing after it – forgetting the baby, which is how the pram ends up being washed out to sea. Luckily, baby isn’t the only one on board; a capable panda and dolly are along for the voyage, together with a seasick rabbit.
And did I mention that the story is set ‘a long, long time ago’? That’s important because it allows baby to be cocooned in one of those old, high-sided prams built like little tanks – I mean, just try setting sail in a Babyzen Yoyo…
In an immensely charming author’s note, Ahlberg explains that it’s like the pram he himself had as a baby. Two bigger girls from down the road would call to take him out, playing with him while his mum was able to enjoy a rare, undisturbed cup of tea.
Ahlberg is now in his 80s now and maybe that accounts for his new narrative’s pleasing shorthand. There really are no spare words. ‘Only then’ is the phrase onto which he nimbly threads his tale, and its denouement begins ‘Final scene’.
As if all this weren’t delightful enough, the illustrations – generous, full-page images, moving from sunny seaside scenes to moonlit maritime adventures – are pure joy. They’re by Emma Chichester Clark who is a legend in her own right. If you’ve not encountered her work before, Baby on Board makes the perfect introduction.
This book already reads like a classic, full of all-time favourite tropes and yet original with it. Plus, it’s a great choice for anyone looking to involve baby siblings in story time. The recommended age group is 3 to 5, but there’s plenty to entice still younger children. Its protagonist is, after all, a hand-clapping, flannel-chewing baby.
p.s. So beloved is this book in our household, it’s single-handedly persuaded me to resume blogging. I know, I know – Littlest Librarian has been a very, VERY stop-start endeavour, but we promise to blog more frequently – and regularly – from now on.