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Friday, 6 March 2015

The Ahlbergs

There have been a few books that belonged to my sisters and I that I requisitioned when we found out I was pregnant with our son.  One of them was an extremely battered copy of 'Peepo' by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.  I actually still have it but it has certainly seen better days (I have four sisters) and it really wasn't up to the excited interactions of my son, so we bought a replacement in hardback form.

One of the things that is so great about 'Peepo' is the circular cut out that runs through the book.  It is perfect for chubby little hands to grab and turn the page to see what the baby sees.  Or just for the sheer fun of grabbing and turning the page.  The rhyme and the detailed illustrations of a baby's day from when he wakes up until he says goodnight during the 1940s are very charming.  Janet Ahlberg has captured how the little baby enjoys his interactions with his parents, two older sisters and grandmother in a delightfully detailed way - such as the illustration of the baby enjoying cuddles with one sister while the other sister protests loudly.

Baby gleefully pulls his sister's hair, while dropping crumbs all over her.
I love the way it captures what I imagine to be an ordinary kind of day in those times for a (working class) family and it's interesting to compare that to the kinds of days I spend with my two children. Now as an adult, I find the illustration that resonates with me the most is the one of the baby looking in the mirror at the end of the story and his dad, who is dressed in his army uniform kisses him goodnight.

With all of our knowledge of what happened during World War Two, it seems to be a really beautiful moment. The baby in 'Peepo' was based on Allan Ahlberg and his working class upbringing, which you can read more about here.

I was given a copy of 'The Baby Catalogue' at my son's baby shower which has also been thoroughly enjoyed by our family.  When my son was a baby, he particularly enjoyed the sequences of the mornings.  I enjoyed pointing out the mum who was getting ready to go to work and leaving in the car to drive to work, which is what I was doing at that stage.  The 'accidents' page is also very funny. The inspiration for 'The Baby's Catalogue' is really lovely - Jessica Ahlberg, the only daughter of Janet and Allan, loved reading the 'Mothercare' catalogue and so they decided to put together something better for her.  My son enjoys looking through catalogues as well and last year one of the things he enjoyed the most about one of his birthday gifts (some diggers) was the catalogue they came with, which he would pore over in detail with my husband.  The Ahlbergs have captured the essence of babies - they love interacting with the real world and things that adults use are always more entertaining than toys. Probably the most successful toy that we owned was a yellow silicone bakeware star that I bought from The Warehouse for about $3.  Both my son and daughter would happily twist and manipulate the star for long periods while their Lamaze toys lay discarded to the side.

Back to the Ahlbergs- sadly Janet passed away from breast cancer in 1994 after completing her and Allan's most popular (and my personal favourite) work together - 'The Jolly Pocket Postman'. My copy of this book was so adored that it was literally loved to pieces. Jessica has gone into both writing and illustrating, and has worked on a few projects with her father, which seems to be a naturally inevitable in the nicest possible way.  You can read more about Jessica Ahlberg here and here.  I look forward to buying a replacement copy of 'The Jolly Pocket Postman' once my two are a little older, but for now am happy to keep enjoying 'Peepo' while I can.  X

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