Preep, The Little Pigeon of Trafalgar Square
Milton Shulman, pictures by Dale Maxey
Random House, 1964
My son's current favorite picture book involves two of his favorite things: pigeons (because pigeon are , duh, birds) and London (because Harry Potter's from there). It doesn't hurt either that the pictures are incredible and the story is suspenseful and super well-told. Really, it would be the perfect gift for an English child or a kid going to London for the first time. Or a child who just dreams of going, like my little guy.
As the story opens, we learn about Admiral Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and how Nelson's Column (the monument at the center of the square) came to be. Then we meet a delightful pigeon family that lives atop the monument; a father and mother and seven little baby pigeons called Emilie, Harriette, Jonathan, Lucy, Jeremy, Willie and Preep.
"Preep? What an odd name!" neighboring pigeons would say to Mamma Pigeon. "Why did you call your youngest that?" "Well, just look at him? answered Mamma Pigeon. "Isn't he an odd color? And see, his legs are much shorter than they ought to be. And what a ridiculous beak he has. And has anyone ever, ever seen wings like that? When my husband first saw him come out of the egg, he was so astonished he shouted, 'Preposterous!' And who could blame him? So we decided to call him Preep which was a short way of saying Preposterous. Although we love him very much," Mamma Pigeon would continue, "you must admit he is not much like us. I think Preep suits him very well."
As we've learned from a million children's books, being different is just about the best thing there is to be. Preep's jovial demeanor makes him popular with everyone, so it's no surprise that when he's bird-napped from the square one day, it sends the pigeons of London into a tail-spin. The birds collectively strike against London until Preep is returned to their loving wings.
Now, in full disclosure, my son always cries when Preep is kidnapped. But the sadness drives the rejoicing, making it that much better when the story ends. A longer read than most picture books, everything about it makes me happy: the size, the shape, the colors. An all-around joy to read. Now, off to find Dale Maxey's Seeing London. Mega WOW.