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Katie Morag is a feisty, red haired little girl created by Scottish author and illustrator, Mairi Hedderwick. Always to be found dressed in a kilt, jumper and wellies, Katie Morag is not a particularly 'girly' girl and I think the stories could be enjoyed by both girls and boys. The stories are suitable for children aged 3 to 8 and are set on the fictional Isle of Struay off the west coast of Scotland, inspired by the author's life on the inner Hebridean island of Cull. In this book, Katie Morag is sent on an errand to deliver five parcels to each of the houses across the bay. Unfortunately she stops for a paddle on the way and drops her mailbag into the water, which means soggy parcels with the labels so smudged that she cannot read them. As a result, the residents receive the wrong parcels and Katie Morag is certain she'll get into trouble. Can the ever-practical Grannie Island and her trusty tractor come to the rescue and help sort the muddle out?
I always loved reading this book to my daughter when she was little, because of the wonderful illustrations. The stunning, watercolours portray the atmosphere of the island perfectly. The Isle of Struay is almost a character in the book in its own right, because we see it in its many different moods. I particularly love the way the sky is painted with such variety to reflect the fluctuating weather conditions and the changes in the light at different times of the day. It reminded us of our own happy holidays on the west coast of Scotland when it seemed to be raining one minute then gloriously sunny the next and where we watched some spectacular sunsets, just like the one Katie Morag and her Grannie see when they are travelling back home on the tractor. In many of the illustrations, you get a lovely sense of spaciousness. When we see Katie Morag paddling in the pool beneath the bridge, there are no other people in sight, although there are sheep and seabirds looking on.
The flavour of life in an island community is portrayed without sentimentality. It is a happy community but island existence is not too idealised. There are no clichés about the gentler pace of island life. On the contrary, the islanders have to work very hard to maintain their seemingly idyllic lifestyle. At the start of the book we get a glimpse into how hectic Wednesdays are when the boat from the mainland brings mail and provisions to the island. We then meet Katie Morag's parents who are especially busy running the post office and general store whilst at the same time having to cope with Katie Morag's baby brother, Liam, who is cutting his first tooth and being particularly hard work. 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. Would they like to live on the Isle of Struay? Would it be fun, boring, hard work or relaxing?
As with all the Katie Morag stories, at the start of the book there is a picture of the Isle of Struay with all the different places marked on it. It is particularly useful in this book because children can follow Katie Morag's route as she delivers the mail. They can spot the Redburn Bridge where she drops her mailbag into the water and can point to the five houses across the bay, noticing how close to each other they are and how far Katie Morag has to run, sobbing, to her Grannie's house after the mix-up with delivering the parcels. The plan is a great way to introduce children to some very basic geography. For instance, they can become familiar with terms like 'jetty', 'mainland', 'village', 'bay' etc. and understand what an island is. Being able to interpret information from maps and plans is a useful skill to develop.
This is a simple story but one that many children will relate to if they have ever made a mistake, panicked and, as a result, got into an even bigger muddle. When Katie Morag has an accident with the mailbag and the labels become smudged, she feels so frightened of getting into trouble and so ashamed that she does a silly thing. She throws a parcel - any parcel - onto the doorstep of each of the houses. Fortunately, Grannie Island is on hand to help Katie Morag to sort things out. The story teaches children that often, if you keep calm, you can find a solution. Children can be asked what they would do if they were in the same situation? How could they put things right? The story encourages the development of problem solving skills. My daughter used to enjoy the reactions of the various characters as they open their parcels and find they haven't received the things they were expecting. It is fun to try and work out who each parcel should have gone to. For example, the Lady Artist has been expecting to receive some tiny paintbrushes for her miniature paintings, but she actually receives two huge brushes. We later realise that these should have gone to Mr MacMaster who was hoping to whitewash the walls of his barn.
Grannie Island is such a wonderful, strong character. It is refreshing to see such a positive female role model that defies gender stereotyping. Grannie Island has a calming influence on young Katie Morag. Her house with its Rayburn stove and assorted cats and kittens looks such a cosy and welcoming haven, but in Grannie Island we see another example of how hard the islanders have to work and that life on the beautiful Struay isn't one long holiday. In this book we find Grannie with her head under the bonnet of her tractor, fitting a spare part. My daughter used to enjoy spotting and counting the cats in the pictures of Grannie Island's home. 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 their observational skills. I love the picture of the general store on boat day as it is a buzz of activity. People are busy unpacking boxes and filling shelves but meanwhile a couple of mischievous kittens are playing in the corner and the dog seems to be up to no good as well. In fact, in virtually every illustration you see animals as well as people and it's quite amusing how the animals either observe the human's behaviour with curiosity or seem totally oblivious to whatever drama is going on. One of Grannie Island's cats, for instance, is napping serenely on the back of an armchair while poor Katie Morag is changing out of her soaked clothes and trying to work out what to do about the mail catastrophe. My daughter loved the presence of the animals. I think it's quite healthy for children to realise that life keeps going on all around them, as normal, and that the world doesn't just stop because they have a little crisis of their own.
I would recommend this as an enjoyable addition to a child's book collection, a great story for younger ones, or something that children aged 6 to 8 could probably read independently. It's fairly gentle as stories go, so perhaps not suitable for those children who like a faster pace to their stories, but it's just right for when you want to wind down at the end of the day, ideal bedtime story material. Adults with a fondness for unspoilt, brooding Scottish landscapes will love it too.
You can buy this book new from Amazon for £1.50 plus delivery.