Review of Under the Table

Under the TableUnder the Table
by Allan Ahlberg; illus. by Bruce Ingman
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
6/24     9781536231519    $18.99

In this tale of humorously escalating adventure and silliness, Elsie discovers a series of animals under the family dining table, an extravagant catalog that includes an elephant, kangaroo, and penguin. What to do with such a zoo? In each case the visitor finds a useful role in the family (e.g., car-washing, unloading groceries). The form and tone of the narrative beautifully capture the experience of an adult co-creating a story with a young child on the spot. The pleasures of pattern; the back-and-forth of improvisation; delicious, suspenseful page-turns; and the loopy energy of a plot twist coming in from left field—all add up to a warm and jokey conversation happening in the immediate present. “There was once a girl. Elsie, her name was—yes, Elsie Cannon.” Ingman’s naive-style paintings in primary colors, reminiscent of Ludwig Bemelmans, are perfectly suited to the flavor of the tale as they pursue and develop their own subplots. An anthropomorphic boiled egg, piano stool, saltshaker, and cutlery add an obbligato of animation, comedy, and naughtiness. What happened to Mildred the family cat? Oh, there she is, sipping lemonade at the picnic. And what about Bertie, that boiled egg who appears on almost every spread? Is he possibly our unidentified narrator? Ahlberg, a veteran of almost fifty years of picture book writing, pulls yet another irresistible rabbit out of his storyteller’s hat.

From the March/April 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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