12 March, 2016

Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Here’s a little baby, one, two, three.
Sits on his sister’s lap. What does he see?

One of the hallmarks of Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s work is their attention to the everyday details of the stories they tell. Spotting these details is in fact the point of Peepo, where young readers are invited in simple rhymes to notice the things that occupy a baby’s day: the teddy, the ball, the sister in the pond. The mother takes a nap. A dog is at the door. There’s a uniform on the chair, and high in the sky are the little shapes of bomber planes.

Peepo, it turns out, is a spot-the-details book for adults, too. Under the charming bounce of the rhyme and the sunny story of the baby are the everyday facets of a very grown-up world: the air-raid warden with his helmet, the bombed-out houses, the father’s military uniform as he carries the baby up to bed. What’s clever about Peepo, however, is that these details aren’t the central feature of the book by any means. In the same way a child’s world centres on them, the focus of Peepo is the baby’s perspective, and the many details that add up to life in wartime London are a background murmur to the normalcy of waking, eating, sleeping and going to the park.

Given these layers, while the joys and troubles of working-class life during the Blitz are likely to go whizzing over the heads of the book’s target audience, adults (who are more likely to be conscripted into repeated readings) will appreciate Peepo’s multiple levels of complexity, which offer them the chance to spot new details right alongside younger readers.

Title: Peepo!
Authors: Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Reviewed by Valerie T, Māngere Town Centre Library.

Valerie T
loves Shakespeare, fairytales, Trinitarian theology, twentieth century poetry and picture books about bears.

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