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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Cultural, literary and linguistic hodgepodge: the odd couple of bedtime or how the Ahlbergs meet Lorca

Each Peach Pear Plum
Janet and Allan Ahlberg
First published in 1978
While writing the next 'proper' long review for We Read it Like This about a wonderful, amusing and playful character who's a firm favourite of ours (Javier Sáez Castán's "little king" or "pequeño rey" -click here to take a look), I felt it was time to write a post I have been thinking of writing for ages but couldn't quite work out how to go about it. 

It's slightly difficult to classify as a post, but it is after all an important part of what this blog is about: keeping a record of how we read our favourite books. Our family is culturally, linguistically and literarily bilingual and therefore how we read the things we like is rather influenced and mediated by this fact. There is one book in particular we have been reading to our son practically since he was born (it was a present from his maternal grandparents). It is the classic Each Peach Pear Plum, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (authors of the also fantastic The Jolly Postman and Peepo! among many other great hits). The book is  based on a very simple idea, the kind that is so difficult to execute convincingly and smoothly. In Each Peach Pear Plum the execution of the idea is so masterful that we are made to feel it was a piece of cake. It is a chained rhyme, an "I spy" game and a "Where's Wally?", all in one. Characters from traditional stories (Tom Thumb, Cinderella, the three bears, Robin Hood, the wicked witch) and from nursery rhymes (Baby Bunting, Mother Hubbard, Jack and Jill...) are peppered throughout the book, first hidden (where we are invited to play "I spy") and then unveiled on the following page.

Tom Thumb "hidden"
Tom Thumb in full view and Mother Hubbard hidden 

At the end they all come out of their hiding -Ta-daaah!- and sit down to enjoy the plum pie. Yum yum.  

Its gentle, rolling rhythm make it a perfect book to read from birth and also for non-native speakers of English. It is a great way of getting familiar with the rhythm and musicality of the English language, as well as getting to know the characters of many traditional nursery rhymes. The perfect excuse for going off and finding each of the nursery rhymes all the characters originally appear in.  

For us, reciting the text (it's very easy to learn by heart because the last words of each page are the first words of the following page) has become an essential part of our bedtime routine. When we have finished reading whatever stories or chapter book we are reading on any given night, it's lights off and Each Peach Pear Plum. The comforting familiarity of the rhyme guarantees a certain small boy will be asleep before the end of it. We have been following this ritual for at least three years and there's no indication that it's about to stop any time soon. 

But Each Peach Pear Plum rarely goes without its odd couple before it. Enter our peculiar and very natural cultural and linguistic hodgepodge: It turns out that also from when he was very young, I have sung my son a lullaby in Spanish, taken from Federico García Lorca's Blood Wedding and then adapted and sung hair-raisingly by Camarón, considered to be the best flamenco singer of all times. The lullaby is called Nana del caballo grande (Lullaby of the Big Horse) and I sing it a lot more quietly and with rather less duende than Camarón, I'm sure, but  I think I must have started singing it because it was the only lullaby I knew the lyrics for in Spanish. So that is how we got to our full routine. Lights off, Lullaby of the Big Horse followed without interruption by Each Peach Pear Plum. Three years of this odd couple at bedtime. Here's to making sure we never forget how strangely well they go together:

Here's a quick translation of the adapted version of Lorca's Lullaby of the Big Horse as sung by Camarón. The translation is meant to fit the song (more or less) rather than to be faithful to Lorca's version within Blood Wedding. Enjoy. 

Hush,my baby, hush now
Listen to the lullaby
The big horse came and would not drink  
The big horse came and would not drink.

The water was a deep dark black
Right under the branches.
When it came up to the bridge
The horse, it stopped and sang like this: 

Aaaaaay aaaaay aaaay aaay aaa

Who is to say, my baby,
What is in this water,
With its long, long, long, long tail
Along its green, green, green green hall?

Aaaaaay aaaaay aaaay aaay aaa

Sleep, carnation, sleep,
The horse is not willing to drink.

Sleep, my rose, sleep now,  
The horse is starting to weep.

(c) of all the illustrations in this post, Janet Ahlberg, 1978. 
(c) of the text and translation, Ellen Duthie. You may copy this or reproduce it, but please be nice and credit the author and site

1 comment:

  1. Oh how lovely. I've met Allan and I'm sure he'd be delighted by this juxtaposition!