Newest Review: ... an honest life? Can they live happily ever after along with the baby? The first time I became aware of this book was when I read it to a ... more
"That's a nice book. I'll have that."
Burglar Bill - Janet Ahlberg, Allan Ahlberg
Member Name: CarolineR-D
Burglar Bill - Janet Ahlberg, Allan Ahlberg
Advantages: A good story, great characters, lovely pictures
Disadvantages: Not very realistic
Burglar Bill lives in a house that is full of stolen property. Even the fish and chips he has for his supper are stolen and the marmalade and coffee he has for breakfast. Burglar Bill steals the silliest things you can imagine. One night he finds a big brown box on a doorstep and takes it home, only to discover later that there is a curious noise coming from it. When Burglar Bill lifts the lid, he discovers a baby inside. Burglar Bill begins to look after the baby in a clueless and comical way, but quickly starts to bond with it. Then the unthinkable happens - Burglar Bill's own house gets burgled and he meets Burglar Betty, who turns out to be the baby's mum. Is it time Burglar Bill and Burglar Betty changed their ways and started to lead an honest life? Can they live happily ever after along with the baby?
The first time I became aware of this book was when I read it to a class of excitable 5 year olds during teaching practice back in the 1980s. The children particularly loved the part where Burglar Bill is looking round the various houses for things to steal and he says things like, "That's a nice tin of beans. I'll have that!" The repetition of the phrase, "I'll have that" each time he spots something worth stealing became a bit like "he's behind you" at pantomimes and the children loved to shout this out at the appropriate point. Later on Burglar Betty adopts the same catchphrase, which adds to the humour. The enthusiasm of those children on my teaching practice stayed with me and when my own children came along a few years later, the book was added to their collection and was just as well received. My own children found the baby an absolute hoot. He is a character in his own right, so mischievous and funny, throwing cups of tea on the floor and hurling a football at the cat. Children who have a baby brother or sister of their own will be able to relate to some of the baby's antics. Burglar Bill's woeful attempts to change the baby's nappy are particularly entertaining and the accompanying pictures, which show the baby's bemused expression, are wonderful.
Reading this aloud is a joy because you can give the characters different voices. I used to give Bill my best cockney accent, which was probably a bit on the Dick Van Dyke side, but it went down well with the kids. My Burglar Betty had a touch of the Pat Butcher to her as well. Although some children might find the idea of a burglar rather scary, Bill and Betty are comedy villains through and through. They even wear the black masks and striped shirts of a stereotypical burglar.
My children used to enjoy spotting the various items of ridiculous stolen property in Burglar Bill's home. There are ice skates, straw hats, watering cans, golf clubs and even a box on the shelf which is labelled "6 Dozen Packets Hair Nets." It is also fun to spot the friendly-looking cat in each picture or the mouse underneath Bill's bed. One of the best sets of pictures in the book is of Burglar Bill and Burglar Betty taking back all the stolen property they have collected over the years. We see them tipping goldfish back into a pond, putting a potty back underneath someone's bed and even returning a policeman's helmet through the window of the police station. However unlikely this may seem in the light of the real-life burglars we hear about today, the moral of the story is that it's never too late to try to put right a wrong.
This book is perfect for reading aloud to children aged around 5 to 8 years. Children would need to be fairly competent readers if they wanted to read this to themselves, but the use of repetition in the text of phrases such as "shines his torch around", "and puts it in his sack" and of course "I'll have that" makes it easier for children to read without faltering. For instance, when describing the different houses Burglar Bill visits on a particular night, he always climbs in through the window, so the word 'window' gets repeated several times, but each time it is a different window - first the bathroom, then the kitchen, then the bedroom. This means that children become familiar with the word 'window' but read three different 'room' words. There is a good balance between new words and frequently occurring words.
The unlikeliness of the storyline can be a good starting point for discussion. If Burglar Betty had really lost her baby, wouldn't she be in a state of panic rather than calmly burgling a house to steal umbrellas and tins of beans? A child could be asked, "What would you do if you found a baby? Would it be a good idea to tell someone?" or "Why do you think Burglar Bill and Burglar Betty go out stealing things?" On the other hand, this story could just be enjoyed for what it is, an amusing tale which takes place in a make believe world where there are no social services and where criminals steal date and walnut cakes and where an ex burglar decides to sell his house to give money to the Police Benevolent Fund. Adults can have a quiet chuckle about this, but it will probably be lost on most children who will just see it as a funny adventure about a man who gets a wakeup call. If only life was really so simple, but the nice thing about storybooks is that for a short time, you can pretend that it is.
Burglar Bill is available in paperback for £5.17 from Amazon.
Summary: A classic children's book
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