In Praise of The Maggie B by Irene Haas

I have always loved children’s books and recently started an in-line course on writing for children. Apart from creating your own stories the course introduces lots of new reading material. I thought that having had four children of my own and now grandchildren and worked as a teacher and as an educational psychologist with children of all ages, that I might struggle to discover new authors and illustrators but I am glad to say this is not the case.

One of the picture books I have read and enjoyed for the first time is ‘The Maggie B’, a story about a little girl names Margaret who makes a wish on the North Star one night to be able to sail away on a ship all of her own with “someone nice for company”. The wish comes true and in the exquisitely illustrated pages that follow she and her baby brother James go on a voyage together in a ship that comes complete with a small farm and everything else they need. Margaret cares for the animals and her brother, cooks, cleans and tidies, fishes, sings, dances and plays and when a storm blows up she does everything to keep them all safe.

Apart from the quality of the prose and the pictures I loved what I thought was the message running through this tale, i.e. the importance of love and care and of home-making and daily domestic rituals and the way these things keep us safe, both physically and mentally. It was only after I’d finished the story that I read inside the cover the words of the publisher stating what they thought the story was about. I was surprised to read that it was about a little girl doing “exactly what she wants, glorying in her independence” and then I began to wonder if I’d missed something.

I’ve decided this isn’t the case as there is a world of difference in the meaning with which I attributed the story and that of the publisher and like most of the important things in life it boils down to values or what we hold dear and of importance. I’m fascinated by and convinced that relationships are what keep us well and what give meaning to existence. These are hard to measure and quantify and the holy grail of ‘hard data’ cannot easily be achieved in this field but it does not follow that they are of no importance and have no influence. The publisher, on the other hand is a business that is driven by making money and presumably this links with the importance of agency and choice. If you follow my thread of thought here you might perhaps see other social phenomena playing out at the moment that are operating from the same values-base.

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