Where I come from, the only building you’re likely to find out the back of the house is the outhouse, or rather, the dunny. (In case you haven’t guessed it, I’m Australian). But here in the wilds of Britain, some of our best-loved authors have, over the years, retreated to their own humble outbuildings to craft their masterpieces (minus the spiders and toilet paper of course). Dahl’s writing shed was built in the like of Dylan Thomas’– same dimensions and decorations, both a welcome refuge from noisy young families. “A place for dreaming, floating and whistling in the wind.” They really loved their sheds. But I wonder if British children’s book writer Allan Ahlberg (Each Peach Pear Plum, Jolly Postman), might just love his shed even more. After all, he’s only gone and written a book about it.
MY WORST BOOK EVER by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman is about a picture book doomed from the very start. What would have been a GREAT picture book about a crocodile “Not Roald Dahl, of course, or Julia Donaldson even, but not bad” – winds up being a complete catastrophe. You guessed it, THE WORST BOOK EVER. Better still… we get to follow its calamitous journey to print. There’s a fox, a cat, spilt coffee, squashed flies, sticky fingers, biscuit breaks, carrot cake breaks, unruly children, a missing crocodile, an unexpected hippo, an unwelcome dino, hard negotiations to remove the hippo and dino, choccy handprints, upside down pages… it’s a disaster. Oh, and did I mention the snails? At one point the snails eat the whole darn thing. Just try and use THAT excuse for your missing homework. Go on, I dare you.
In addition to being about real life writer Allan, it’s also about real life illustrator Bruce, who Allan describes as “a good friend and an even better illustrator”. Good job too, as they’ve done loads of other picture books together. Ingman’s illustrations match the good humour of the text – they’re warm and uncomplicated. The whole thing bounds along in what we can only assume is a fictitious account of the road to publication. But I would like to think at least the snail bit is true. Allan?