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Monday, 30 January 2017


Author: Alan Ahlberg

Illustrator: Janet Ahlberg
Publisher: First published by Viking 1981, published in Puffin Books 1983, Published in the edition featured 2004

It's National Storytelling Week and I'm all excited as I'm about to go into Edie (3) and George (1)'s nursery to read to the children.  Now I know I only posted a book from The Ahlberg writing duo last week, but as 'Peepo' is one of my favourite books of all time, and will join in on my nursery reading adventure, it felt only just to feature it tonight.
I should make a disclaimer that 'Peepo' entered our house as a gift on the arrival of my second son, so it's tied up in a real personal joy for me, and despite myself I always feel teary when I read this book.
I think that beyond the personal sentiment the book brings a tear to my eye because it captures an era so beautifully, so wisely, that no other film nor book set in this wartime period does so well. This is the life of a baby, seen through the eyes of that baby (emphasised by the cut out 'vision circles' on every other page). This baby perceives itself as surrounded by family, two sisters, mum and dad and gran. This is kitchen-sink life on the homefront during the Second World War, not the more familiar depiction we associate with these times of trench warfare, battle, Blitz aftermath. For the baby it's an unremarkable time, just life, normal, everyday. The baby notices the little, incidental things like 'the hairnet his mother wears in bed', his 'sister squabbling, She wants him on her knee,' the 'tassel's on his grandma's shawl', 'his ball and his teddy'. In every illustration in this book there's a detailed 
plethora, an archive of artefacts from the time. This book is a feast of nostalgia, a catalogue
of urban life in the family during the war, and strangely, as a child on the 1980s I remember 
so much of the furniture, the household products, the items of that time, as my own postwar baby boom parents had inherited 'this stuff', these ways, this look. I remember my own great grandmother, the very image of this shawl clad, hat pin wearing grandma in Peepo. 

Now the problem for my four, all they hear me say when I read this book is, 'look, mummy 

had a bed like that when she was little', 'mummy had a coal shed and outside loo like that in 
her house when she was a girl' (disclaimer: I grew up in a rural cottage so not all 1980s born parents will think like me on this one!) The children used to do well to listen to my ramblings fairly attentively, I think it was white noise to them really, they were too bewildered by the very busy detailed pictures, trying to spy the tiny 'incidental' (in the baby's eyes) image of the war planes on the 'park outing' page, but recently 7 year old Alf has started groaning, 'not this book that's all about you again !'... Fair point! 

So why recommend this as a read and bring this one into a children's nursery?  Because it 
works on so many levels: this book is fun (our 1 year old just hear's the repetition of the word 'Peepo!' , it's moving (OK, more so for adults), it's educational (a history lesson in every sitting*), and the rhythm, cadences and rhyme in this book- sublime. It's lilting, song-like language; I find it so easy to read aloud and share with children. I think I'll always be so grateful that this book entered my life, the least I can do is pass it on. 

*Bert (5) informs me that his class looked at the following page of Peepo this week to look at 'things in a kitchen', I was surprised myself by how much he identified, so how much of our lives are therefore the same and not so distant from this time.  

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