Ian Whybrow

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March 15th, 2015. Nice Turns of Phrase & a Glimmer of Hope for Picture Books

March 15, 2015 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

At 94, my mother-in-law can be Shakespearean. “That wind is naughty,” she says. Her arthritic fingers are often dismissed as equally worthless – as are the last twinges of the shingles that got its talons into her back in September. Naughty, naughty.

“’tis a naughty night to swim in,” the Fool warns Lear as he starts to strip off his clothes. And there it is: “naughty” stripped to its origins. Like a zero; worth nothing; of no account at all.

I love that sort of discovery – which reminds me: must order up Robert Macfarlane’s latest – Landmarks. So it was a treat to have presented to me a phrase that I simply could not unpick but that was used unselfconsciously in an email I received recently from Andy Davidson, a Year 2 teacher at the British School in Jakarta, asking me if I would like to read some of the letters his class have written about Harry.

He was generous to a fault about the books, providing not only a thoughtful summary of some of the things his children got out of them – but a defence of picture books threatened by modern technology, so I’ll quote him.

“Attached are a selection of (mixed ability) letters to you.

We have had a wonderful time unpacking your books – looking for familiar happenings and words regularly used. Definitely and Endosaurus are used with abandon by my Snakes now. They love the conflict between Sam and Harry – and loved it when Nan got involved in putting Sam’s gas at a peep in the Splash book. Next week we will be attempting to write a story using Harry. Thank you so much once again for providing the wonderful stories as a catalyst. My Snakes’ letters are pretty good too…


Third Culture (Techie) children can still be charmed by a good old fashioned picture book!”


Now there’s an encouragement. And naturally, I had to ask him what he meant by “putting Sam’s gas at a peep.

Here’s his answer


“My mother used this phrase a lot.

PEEP: A tiny light or flame, the lowest level at which a gas flame can be at without going out, hence the phrase PUT SOMEONE’S GAS AT A PEEP to cut someone down to size, to put someone in their place, to take someone down a peg.”


My correspondents want to know what happened to Harry’s dad. If only I could take up their invitation to drop by and read them one of my books. If I could afford the fare I’d be off like a gos from an austringer’s glove.














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