please look after author and illustrator r.w. alley. thank you.

Break out the marmalade, Paddington Bear turns 60 this year!

On October 13, 1958, Michael Bond published the first book about our favorite ursine from darkest Peru, A Bear Called Paddington. The novel was inspired by a stuffed bear Bond rescued from a department store shelf on Christmas Eve, and it took all of ten days to write.

Today, Paddington boasts an international following with some 70 titles translated into 30 languages, with 30 million copies sold. A beloved British institution, Paddington shows no signs of slowing down with two very successful feature films, oodles of merchandising, and commemorative coins issued by the Royal Mint.

We can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by chatting with award winning author/illustrator R.W. Alley, who’s been drawing Paddington since 1997. Though there have been several other Paddington artists through the years (Peggy Fortnum was the first), to my knowledge only Mr Alley has illustrated Paddington quite as long, and in all formats — novels, picture books, board books, and early readers. He’s also the only American among the Paddington artists.

Bob first visited Alphabet Soup for the Robert’s Snow Auction in 2007, and I’m honored to welcome him back to reflect on his 20 years as official Paddington illustrator, with thoughts about Paddington at St Paul’s (HarperCollins, 2018), the last Paddington picture book Bond wrote before he passed away in June 2017.


UK and USA Paddington at St Paul’s covers

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knock knock knock!

pictures by R.W. Alley (Roaring Brook Press, 2008),
ages 4 and up, 40 pp.

There’s a wolf at the door!

Believe me, you’ll want to let him in. Better brace yourself first, though. Chances are good that you’ll be pleasantly surprised, as I was, at just how uproarious, snarky, and hip these five classic tales can be.  

They all feature the very same top hat and tails, decidedly dapper, dastardly, famished wolf, who prowls through these familiar plots in search of a good meal (or two, or three). He stars in:

The Three Little Pigs
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Little Red Riding Hood
The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, and
The Wolf and the Seven Little Goslings.

The husband and wife team of R.W. Alley and Zoë B. Alley (both freely admit to liking initials), have created a graphic folklore wonder. Is it a picture book? A comic? Or a graphic novel for younger readers (ages 4-8)? All of the above.

And it’s big. Big trim size (11 x 14). Big fun. Big talent, literary and artistic. The five interwoven nursery tales are retold in sequential comic panels, complete with speech balloons containing the pithiest of one liners. The panels themselves differ in size and shape, with each page layout designed to heighten the action. This gives the whole an expansive, unrestricted feel, underscoring its rollicking, topsy turvy tone.

from The Three Little Pigs

Debut author Zoë B. Alley has thrown caution (and pork chops) to the wind with her unconventional use of street legal names and distinctive personalities for characters who have traditionally been portrayed as two-dimensional. Did you know that the three pigs are actually Alan, Gordon and Blake? Who knew that when Gordon built his house of sticks, he faced a termite problem? Or that uber-cool, clever Blake, who outwits the wolf with nary a blink of an eye, is actually a poet with a penchant for rhyme: "Sturdy and strong, shouldn’t take me too long?"

from Little Red Riding Hood

And don’t get me started on Rhonda — a somewhat shallow little girl who loves fashion and the color red. Why shouldn’t she don a little sass with her red hooded cape? Would you like to go out and get your newly curled hair all frizzy? And the wolf, disguised in Granny’s nightie, doesn’t know what hit him when Rhonda chastises his fashion sense: "Did no one ever tell you not to wear white after Labor Day?"

Poor wolf! He’s foiled every time by crazy circumstances and cheeky characters who would challenge even the cleverest of carnivores. Alas, no pork chops, roast lamb with mint sauce, shepherd’s pie, or goose dumplings for him. He is last seen heading for Mr. McGregor’s garden with a newfound desire to become a vegetarian.

No, these are definitely not your mother’s wolf stories. The comic timing is spot on, and each storyline is enhanced, enriched and expanded through vibrant and engaging ink and watercolor illos that perfectly depict the quirky cast in all their gustatory glory. Readers of all ages will easily find lots to revel in; this book would be great as a group read aloud, or will provide many giggly hours for the quiet reader who enjoys poring over every charming detail.

There’s a Wolf at the Door has already received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus and Hornbook. It’s been nominated for a 2008 Cybils Award in the Graphic Novels (Middle Grade) category, and was just listed as one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Best Children’s Books to Read and Share. Sounds like the perfect holiday gift to me!

Peek inside the book at the publisher’s website here.

Read a Publishers Weekly interview with the Alleys here.

**And stay tuned: the one and only Zoë B. Alley will be stopping by for a SOUP’S ON interview very soon. Don’t miss it!

Interior spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2008 R.W. Alley, published by Roaring Brook Press. All rights reserved.

Robert’s Snow: Please Look After Snowflake Artist R.W. Alley


Happy November!  So glad you’re here.  Have you ever seen such beautiful snow?

Today, my beary special guest is the one and only children’s book illustrator and Paddington Bear portraitist, R.W. Alley!

Can you believe it? I am so delighted, thrilled, and honored that he agreed to drop by, talk about his 2007 Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure snowflake, and let us in on what he’s been up to lately. The 28 resident Paddingtons even brushed their fur to welcome the talented illustrator who was born right here in Virginia, gained international recognition for his Paddington pictures, and who, admittedly, has never stopped being ten years old.

You are probably familiar with Michael Bond’s thirteen novels documenting the endearing ursine who came to live with the Brown family at 32 Windsor Gardens, London. You may also know that Peggy Fortnum was the first to draw Paddington’s likeness, and that there have been at least four other artists who have followed suit. But in 1997, R.W. Alley was selected to carry on Paddington’s legacy by illustrating a series of PB picture books. As an avid bear collector and diehard Paddington fan, I must say that no one else has drawn Paddington quite as well as he does.

Why? Because it’s a lot more than a duffle coat, floppy hat, black ears and Wellington boots. The real challenge lies in infusing the pictures with energy, capturing facial expressions which really nail Paddington’s personality, and pinning down a much beloved bear long enough to allow his readers to truly internalize him. Hats off to Robert Whitlock Alley! Thanks to his pictures, Paddington has never been more loveable, more mischievous, more irresistible.

Though Paddington usually takes center stage, Bob Alley has illustrated over one hundred  picture books, easy readers, chapter books and poetry collections for other authors, such as Larry Dane Brimner, Andrew Clements, Jean Van Leeuwen, Claudia Mills, and Susan Katz. He has also self-illustrated about a dozen other titles: The Clever Carpenter (Random House, 1988) and There Once Was a Witch (HarperFestival, 2003), to name just two. Such is the prodigious output of the former Haverford art history student who spent class time “doodling in the margins and dreaming up stories.”

These days, Bob Alley lives in Barrington, Rhode Island, with his lovely wife, Zoe, and their two children, Cassie and Max. He can usually be found in his garage studio, happily working in his slippers.


Jama:  Welcome, Bob! Let’s begin by talking about your snowflake. Where does the drawing come from?

Paddington at Paddington Station, London,” will be featured in Auction 3, December 3-7, 2007.

Bob:  This drawing is from the title page of the newest Paddington picture book. The book is in full color, but since Paddington was first illustrated in pen and ink, and since his 50th anniversary is being celebrated with a new novel decorated with pen and ink drawings by me, I thought this was an appropriate image for the snowflake. Sort of retro. Very popular these days.

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