IN THE CULINARY world, there is something of a vogue for deconstructing beloved favourite dishes to give them a new and surprising twist. That’s exactly what author Allan Ahlberg has done with his witty interpretation of the classic fairytale starring the feisty and mischievous girl with the corn-coloured hair and a trio of bears in assorted sizes. Only this time, Ahlberg – working alongside daughter Jessica as illustrator – has extended his cast list to include 33 bears, the Bliim (a family of aliens), a chair called Horace, a bowl of porridge called Maurice, a bed called Boris… and an entire ensemble of nursery rhyme favourites.
Ahlberg has, of course, already displayed his fondness for fairytales and nursery rhymes, with some of his most popular books including Each Peach Pear Plum (I spy Tom Thumb) and The Jolly Postman, both of which were illustrated by his late wife, Janet. In this instance, the initial inspiration was not actually literary, but musical. “It’s based on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which consists of an aria and 30 variations,” says Allan.“Most children are already very familiar with the traditional story of Goldilocks, so it’s fun to mix it up a bit.” But isn’t the idea of talking furniture a tad surreal for a young audience? “I think a bit of complexity is good,” says Allan. “Not every speck has to be accessible. Children can always skip a bit and move on.”
With its novel six-tales-in-one format, including a cute little book within a book, it takes readers on a journey of humorous twists and turns, with plenty of clever paper engineering to create added comic effects. There is incredible detail, too, in Jessica’s charming soft watercolour drawings that are reminiscent of her mother’s artwork. “I’m absolutely in awe of her work,” says Jessica, who was 15 when her mother died of breast cancer. “It gives me something to aim for and, though I don’t try to work in a similar way, we do have similar interests in making funny images and background detail.”
Needless to say, Allan was more than pleased with his daughter’s contribution. “Jessica has the talent and capacity to take great pains with the minutest details,” he says. “Though I am tremendously biased in her favour.” A perfect pairing of words and pictures, Goldilocks is fun and flamboyant and showcases Ahlberg’s love for rhymic prose, and reveals his surprising talent for alien-speak – “spootz” is porridge… of course.
You can see how Allan Ahlberg fared in our Junior Top 100 Children's Books Of All Time (pretty well, I'd say).