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Katie Morag is a red haired little girl created by Scottish author and illustrator, Mairi Hedderwick. Katie Morag lives on the fictional Isle of Struay off the west coast of Scotland, a setting inspired by the author's life on the inner Hebridean island of Cull. She is a strong willed, independent and sometimes mischievous little girl and there are several stories in the series, aimed at children aged 3 to 8 years of age.
In this book, Katie Morag's mum has just had a new baby and Katie Morag is feeling a little left out. She begins to resort to attention-seeking behaviour and one day, in a fit of temper, she goes down to the jetty and throws her teddy bear into the sea. Katie Morag quickly regrets her behaviour and is sent off to stay with Grannie Island - a wonderfully colourful character - where she begins to calm down and think that perhaps things aren't so bad after all, especially when she finds something astonishing washed up on the beach in front of Grannie's house.
I always loved reading this book to my daughter when she was little, mainly because of the stunning pictures of the island where Katie Morag and her family live, which reminded me of the many happy holidays on the west coast of Scotland that I have enjoyed over the years. The flavour of life in an island community is portrayed in such a way that even a very young child can appreciate what it must be like.
Children who live in towns and cities can be encouraged to think about the differences between Katie Morag's lifestyle and their own, which may lead to some interesting discussions. We read about the stormy weather, which lasts for two whole days and nights and means that Grannie Island can't get on with the washing. We read about Katie Morag collecting driftwood for her Grannie's stove and we see what a close knit, supportive community this is, with everyone on the island celebrating the arrival of the new baby and bringing gifts.
In many of the illustrations, you get a real sense of spaciousness. We see Katie Morag out on the beach and there are hardly any other people in sight, although you can see a variety of creatures in the pictures, such as otters, seals and seabirds. At the start of the book there is a picture of the Isle of Struay with all the different places marked on it, such as the shop and post office, the jetty, the village and the mainland. This could help children to learn some very basic geography in terms of understanding what an island is and to introduce them to the concept of maps and plans to represent locations.
The artwork is very atmospheric. In one of my favourite pictures we see Katie Morag trudging to Grannie's house on the other side of the bay. She is wearing her cagoule, her head is down and the sky is dark with storm clouds. We can almost hear the choppy waves crashing against the rocks and feel the cold rain lashing down. The desolate weather captures Katie Morag's despondent mood perfectly. Later, when the storm passes, the pictures become more colourful and bright again as Katie Morag's mood lifts.
This is a simple story but one that many children will relate to, particularly when there is a new baby in the family and the child feels a bit excluded. Even children who haven't experienced sibling rivalry will understand Katie Morag's temper tantrums, her attention-seeking behaviour and her need for some time out. As Katie Morag makes her way to her granny's house, she reflects: "Having bad moods is very tiring." That is so true. Children reading this book will learn how sometimes it takes up a lot of energy to keep being negative about things. Sometimes it is better to try to adapt and see the good in a new situation.
After the storm has passed and the sun has come out, Katie Morag decides to stop being grumpy and goes down to the beach. One of the things she finds washed up by the storm is a beautiful conch shell. Katie Morag decides to give this to the new baby, "and show her how to hear the sea." It is a lovely moment. Katie Morag starts to think about what she, as an older child, can teach her younger sister. Suddenly she feels included again.
Grannie Island is a delightful character. A dungaree clad, tractor-driving granny is not the type of granny most children will be familiar with, but this is a welcome contrast to the gender stereotyping we often see in books. Grannie Island is a strong female role model. She is very practical and grounded, something of a rock for the whole family, and she has a calming influence on young Katie Morag.
All the illustrations in this book are very detailed and there is so much for children to spot, which is a great way to build observational skills. I love the picture on the first page, which shows all the people coming to visit the new baby, each bearing a different type of gift. Amongst all the mayhem there is a cat curled up on a chair with its four kittens.
One of the illustrations which caused a lot of controversy shows Katie Morag's mum breastfeeding the new baby. Mairi Hedderwick is an outspoken supporter of breastfeeding, so much so that she has been approached by NHS Highland with a view to using her picture as part of a poster campaign to promote breastfeeding. When this book was presented to the publisher back in the late 1980s, Mairi had a struggle to persuade them to include this particular illustration. Apparently some libraries have refused to stock the book on the grounds that the illustration is in bad taste! Personally, I don't have a problem with it at all. I applaud the author for portraying breastfeeding as part of normal, domestic life with a new baby and it could be said that it provides an educational opportunity for a young child. Perhaps there are parents/carers who wouldn't be happy about their children seeing something like this though.
This is a charming book with a positive message. Katie Morag is a very believable child, refreshingly feisty and ungirly in this story but rather cute, clad in her kilt, jumper and wellies. She has a temper, but when she is calm she shows herself to be very resourceful and thoughtful. Katie Morag's story shows children how easy it is to do things in the heat of the moment that we later regret and how nothing seems so bad when you've had the time to calm down and think things over.
There are no clichés about the gentler pace of island life here because Katie Morag's mother has to juggle running the Post Office with looking after the children. It is a hard working community. Dad gets involved in the childcare too, which is encouraging to see.
I would recommend this as an enjoyable addition to a child's book collection, a great bedtime story for younger ones, or something that children aged 6 to 8 could probably read independently.
You can buy this book new from Amazon sellers from £1.68 plus £2.80 for delivery.