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Burglar Bill was first published in 1977 and has been enjoyed by generations of children, mine included. If you're the sort of person who likes to buy realistic storybooks for your child, you might want to give this one a miss, but in spite of its far-fetched plot, this is a good old fashioned moral tale. What is great about it as that Janet and Allan Ahlberg have created a lovable character in Burglar Bill and for all his obvious flaws, he has a good heart underneath and isn't too old to mend his ways. This helps even the youngest of children to see that the world and its people are not just black and white or good and bad, and that people can change as a result of the circumstances that they find themselves in.
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.
Burglar Bill is the story of a Burglar named Bill. Bill has been a burglar all his life until one night he finds "a big brown box with little holes in it" on a doorstep and takes it home. When he gets home he discovers that the box contains a baby! Later when Burglar Bill is sleeping he wakes to find that he himself is being burgled by Burglar Betty! Betty turns out to be the babies mother after the fright of being burgled Bill and Betty decided to give it all up for an honest life together!
As with all good tales Bill, Betty and the Baby live happily ever after.
I really love this story and it has been around a very long time. I first bought the book for my sister over twenty years ago and have recently bought it for my children.
The illustrations in the book picture show jolly characters and are not scary or upsetting for younger children. There are some funny pictures too that children will find amusing.
There are some repeated phrases that children will love and after a few readings will anticipate and join in with.
Even though the book is about a burglar it is very light hearted and you come to love the characters as you read the words aloud.
Burglar Bill is a paperback childrens book written by Janet and Allan Ahlberg it is aimed at children from around 4 upwards. It is short enough that you could read it all to a 4 year old but would also appeal to older children who could read it themselves.
There are colour pictures on every page. Each picture has lots to look at, for example there is a little mouse under Bills bed and all the stolen property stashed around the house.
Well no points for guessing that this is a story about Bill who is a burglar. Now you might think that this isnt a particularly suitable topic for a childrens book but this was one of my favourite books as a child and didnt make me turn to a life of crime!
Bill is a burglar living in his house eating his stolen fish and chips with a cup of stolen tea and going off to work stealing things then comes home for a stolen breakfast then goes to sleep in his stolen bed. We follow Bill while he is at work where among the many things he steals is a big brown box. Later that morning he hears a noise which sounds like a police car, it gets louder and louder until he realises that its a baby which is in the box.
We then witness Bills hilarious attempts to feed and amuse the baby and attempt to make a nappy from a towel. He then takes the baby for a walk in a wheelbarrow! That night Bill himself is burgled by no other than Burglar Betty (original!) who it turns out is the mother of the baby and a widow.
Burglar Bill admits he got a fright when he was burgled and Burglar Betty got a fright losing the baby so they realise they have been bad people and decide to return all the stolen goods. Burglar Bill becomes a baker and they get married and live happily ever after.
What I like
I liked the book as a child and still like it now. Its a fun book especially when Bill is trying to look after the baby. I think you can also use it to teach children wrong from right and that its not good to steal because it can hurt and upset people. It has a nice ending as Bill and Betty learn from their mistakes and become better people.
WARNING: Highly critical review laden with personal opinion....
I am utterly shocked that there is only 1 other person who has written about this book. I'm sure there will be a lot of people who will have read this one in their childhood.
I was rather bored so decided to read the book again about 2am and write down on paper my thoughts.
Going back to reading it again, I came across a disadvantage - no page numbers but took the time (at 2:02am) to count them for you... 30 pages. That is only the pages with the story on them though.
Even to this day, I don't really get what the point of the book actually is. It was first written by Janet and Allan Ahlbery in 1977 and has been published several times since then to my 1990 edition. (Even printed in Musselburgh!).
The first thing that will grab a child about this book are the very detailed pictures. The review is set out so it has generous margins at the top, bottom and sides, a rather large picture and a very easy to read, large font. The pictures depict the things that are being talked about in the book and it reminds me of a comic strip. The pictures also take up more than half the pages which leaves only 4 or 5 lines of text. There are a few full pages pictures with a full page of text but even then that is still roughly 14-23 lines and not even full lines.
So what's the story?
Burglar Bill is about a burglar... obviously! He steals everything and nothing actually belongs to him, not even his bed. Each night he goes out to steal more things. One night he steals a big brown box which he thinks could be useful and finishes his work at 5am to go home for breakfast. Suddenly he hears a police siren coming from the box... he stole a BABY! He looks after the fat baby, feeding it stolen beans and trying to keep it happy. He takes the baby on his night time 'job' as a lookout even though it is just learning to talk.
Back in bed, Burglar Bill hears a noise and discovers that he is in fact being burgled himself. He cathes the woman in the act. It's Burglar betty. They acquaint themselves and she is right in there asking if he is married because she sees all the baby clothes. He tells her how he came about getting the baby (finding it) and she relises it is hers that was stolen she she was robbing a house!
Burglar Bill discovers she doesn't have a husband and after the evenings antics they discover the error of their ways and decide to lead an honest life together. This only happens after they take back all the things they have stolen to their rightful owners. Burglar Bill becomes a baker! Burglar Betty sells her house and gives the money to the Police Benevolent fund and they get married leaving the church, walking down the street behind the police station.
OK, that's the story out the way so what's wrong with it? Quite frankly I don't see what's right with it. I'm not sure about back in the 70's but nowadays, this book could be seen to encourage kids to steal and even kidnap children! They show no remorse so why should others? Ok, they do eventually change.
If you took the font and reduced it to an adults sized book, you would only make a page or two so really you are paying for the pictures.
Another thing... Burglar Betty did not seem at all distraught that her child had gone missing, carrying on as normal!!
The grammar/language in the book isn't great either. Some examples I noted:
"I got a baby"
"I like a few beans meself"
"I thought the police had got him"
"I never knowed there was a baby"
to name a few.
The pictures are the only good thing I can see in the book. They are highly detailed and you do get a giggle at some things you find there...
"6 doz pkts hair nets"
"HMS Eagle" bed pan
"House of Lords" Tea pot/jug?
and the wee mouse under the bed.
Buglar Bill is depicted as a stereotypical burglar - striped top and a black mask. His Pyjamas are also striped but both of these are blue and white stripes. His cat also has black and white stripes!!
Book design - 5/5
Story line - 2/5
Amazon currently have my edition (or it looks the same) for £4.99! Mine was only £2.99! I don't actually think it is worth that much so you can get a few cheaper that are being sold previously used.
I am not at all going to recommend this book even though it is so popular... I can't see why.