Do you know Katie Morag? We were just introduced last year when a dear godmother sent my son Katie Morag Delivers the Mail. It was followed up this year with Katie Morag and the Big Boy Cousins. My (carrot-topped) son is now six years old and he pretends to be offended to receive books starring a female protagonist. But he’s still the first one to curl up next to me when I pull them out! As it is, the series of books are very popular in the U.K. and don’t seem to be as widely known here. Pity though, because they are lots of fun. Right away I was drawn to three things:
*It’s about islanders. Ever since living on Whidbey Island, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for island stories. There’s something about being an islander that is very different than living on the mainland and I like to catch parts of that in stories like Katie Morag or such…
*It stars a red-head. Call it the Pippi Longstocking syndrome, but since I have two redheads of my own now, I’m always drawn to gingers… who tend to be spitfires.
*It’s based in Scotland! Who doesn’t love a good Scottish brogue? You can almost hear it in the characters in these stories…
And of course there are the illustrations. They are reminiscent of Barbara Cooney in some ways, just perfect for this setting of a feisty, little girl who lives on an island off of Scotland. Mairi Hedderwick is a talented author/illustrator and I love how easily she depicts the simple island life. The stories are simple fun, they aren’t action packed adventures with high adrenaline or anything… just plain, easy going goodness. Hedderwick makes sure that she doesn’t romanticize the pastoral, island life too much though and she includes stories of different changes and things that happen. There are some adults who want to call these stories very socially PC nowadays: some non stereotypical roles fit into the stories: Granny Island always wears overalls and she’s very handy too. The father can be seen doing the dishes in an apron at one point. And apparently there was a Grandpa Island at one point but they are not married and I’ve yet to find anything objectionable with that rarely-mentioned situation. The books even include some adult humor, not anything objectionable but little things that the children won’t catch. There is one interesting thing to note about these stories:
Hedderwick has unwittingly become part of a censorship struggle as she commonly depicts Katie’s mother breastfeeding the baby. I personally love this (“Train ’em young!”) when it’s done tastefully but there is one image in Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted in which the entire breast is exposed because the baby is looking back at his sister. (Here is the picture with the image blurred.) Some libraries have refused to stock the book because of this and Hedderwick’s editors were really skittish to want to leave it unedited. She has since said that she makes sure mother’s breast is now covered completely just to avoid the struggle with editors. I haven’t seen all the books so I’ll just take her word for it.
Still, if you are looking for something a little bit different and a little bit fun… Katie Morag might be just the ticket.