The Genius of Alfie Atkins

Alfie Atkins is a little boy who lives with his single dad in a flat in a high rise in an ordinary Swedish suburb. He is not very big, not very strong, he worries about the kinds of things little children worry about and like all children he has a wonderful imagination. He is adventurous and playful but in the books he also shows fear, anger, guilt and jealousy and, as in Good Night, Alfie Atkins (1972), mischief.

The book, the first in the series, introduces Alfie Atkins aged 4. He is sometimes nice and sometimes mischievous. Now he is being mischievous because he doesn’t want to sleep.

Alfie begs his dad to read him another story, brush his teeth, fetch him a glass of water, change the bed linen after Alfie accidentally spilled the last drop in the bed (or did he spill it on purpose?), search for lions in the wardrobe, fetch the potty, and the teddy.

Finally Alfie’s dad collapses in a heap on the living room floor (sounds familiar?). And finally, Alfie decides that since there’s no point in calling for someone who won’t be able to come, he too can go to sleep. And so the book concludes: Good Night, Alfie Atkins!

What is amazing about these books is the simple nature of the stories and how Gunilla Bergström manages to examine the ordinary in detail. There are no spectacular adventures, the adventures and the humour are found in everyday life. Alfie’s dad is a super dad. Not because he has particular powers or plays incredible games. Mostly because of being ordinary, and very very kind. And calm. The extent to which Alfie goes in order to find an excuse to call his dad is recognised by all children and parents. The kindness and patience displayed by Alfie’s dad is returned when Alfie puts a blanket on top of dad as he’s fast asleep on the floor.

As well as being stories about a little boy facing the troubles and adventures of everyday life (the bullies in school, playing with girls, having an imaginary best friend) these are stories about the relationship between a boy and his dad.

The language is broken down to achieve a remarkable slowness and rhythm that examine common expressions: ‘Good night, sleep tight. But Alfie doesn’t want to sleep tight. He doesn’t want to sleep at all.’, or, ‘He’s terribly thirsty. He can feel that now. It is terrible how thirsty he is’. What I love about these sentences is the way they mimic the young child’s language, the close examination of what the adult says quickly and matter of factly.

Similarly the simple expressive drawings use mixed media techniques, ink or collages with fabric, paper and yarn, to highlight the focus of the image. Careful choosing of colours illustrate the mood of the picture, and isn’t it lovely how the toys are scattered all over the bedroom floor but left without comment either in the text or illustration.

In this house Good Night, Alfie Atkins is a favorite of both mum and the 2.5-year-old. To my knowledge, Alfie Atkins isn’t available in the UK (I’ve checked online and my local library). I had to order my copy from Canada. Please pester your local book store, library and publishing house to get these books. They are wonderful and every child (small or large) should read them!

Finally, a little treat:

Good Night, Alfie Atkins (Gunilla Bergström, 1972, 2005), R & S Books

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