In his discussion of single poet collections in BfK No. 179, Brian Alderson talked about the importance for such compilations to be ‘what might be called “shaped units” existing as a complete reading experience in themselves rather than as a bundle of the writer’s latest effusions’. He adds: ‘Crucial too are presentational matters…’
In Everybody was a baby once, a small format picture book compilation of 19 Ahlberg poems for the very young interlarded with humorous rhymes from ‘our old pals Trad & Anon’, careful editorial organisation together with very convincing attention to presentational matters in Bruce Ingman’s deceptively child-like drawings result in a coherently designed and deliciously satisfying ‘shaped unit’. The young child’s experience of father (‘When I was just a little child/ The world looked tall to me./ the stairs rose to the mountain tops/ My dad was like a tree.’) and mother (‘My Mum was like a feather bed’) is splendidly evoked as is the child’s amusement and shock at realising that everybody, including their parents, ‘was a baby once’: ‘Life begins with a baby’s cry/ Life begins in a cot/ A little tear in a little eye/ A little bum on a pot.’…‘Everybody went to beddy/ with a little furry teddy./ Everybody… was a baby… once.’
Full of amusing word play and engrossing subjects (monsters, snowmen, sausages, witches), this is a perfectly pitched poetry collection for very young readers poised to venture out into the wider world whilst yet maintaining a toehold in the cosy and familiar world of early childhood experience.