You remember how a certain piece of music, or a particular smell instantly evokes a moment in time? A mix of institutional floor polish and fresh carnations has always made me instantly 18 again, in the school chapel on my very last speech day; and some choral music will whisk me back to university: candlelight, more floor polish, and the happiness you feel in the pit of your stomach singing in close harmony, hearing my notes balance and meld with the rest of the college choir to go soaring up to the rafters.
Books are no different. And this week we have been reading to Elma a very special book that was originally given to Kitty, and which for a long long while was top of her bedtime story requests; Peepo, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
It’s the book that we read to Kitty at bedtime in the weeks before and after her little sister was born, and so for me it is now intrinsically tangled up in my memories of those days. Hugely pregnant, snuggling up in my bed against a damp December with Kitty nestled into the crook of one arm while Elma-bump kicked and wriggled; and then those early days of trying to balance hungry newborn, sleepy toddler and exhausted Mummy. I think I can probably still recite the whole thing without having to have my eyes open or turn the page.
Aside from all such cheesy sentimentality it is a beautiful book, with detailed illustrations painting such a vintage picture of family life it’s hard to believe that it was only published in 1981. But perhaps that was the point, it was always meant to be vintage, targeting my parent’s generation as they started to read to us and tapping into their nostalgia for a 1950’s childhood.
Somehow I’m not sure that a children’s picture book vignetting the early 80’s would have quite such success today.
But Peepo quickly became a classic, and understandably so, it’s such a fun book to read, even with babies that would rather be chewing the corners than appreciating the illustrations. Elma loves to play hide and peep through the pages, and I’m looking forward to the day when, like her sister before her, she chimes in “Peepo!” as we turn the page.
I can’t remember exactly when Kitty moved on to asking for something different, probably after an influx of new stories at Christmas, but she’s not outgrown it, and if I choose it for bedtime she’ll still curl up happily, sucking her thumb while her free hand tangles up in her hair, or mine if she can reach it, rubbing the strands between thumb and forefinger.
It’s a perfect bedtime read, peeping into a family’s day from sunshine to bedtime through the eyes of their baby boy. Lullaby rhythms in the rhymes quiet busy little people, and a gentle palette to the illustrations are a soft sigh at the end of a busy day.
It’s a book I don’t think I will ever tire of reading, which is probably a good thing as it’s going to be on the bookcase for many years to come.