The Katie Morag Treasury / Books with a strong sense of location

posted in: Mairi Hedderwick | 6

Over the last couple of year’s I’ve read quite a lot about how children’s books with a very specific cultural setting are not favoured by publishers because it is hard to sell rights widely; publishers are keen for “universal” stories which translate (literally and figuratively) well across borders and languages.

Whilst I understand publishers’ drive to maximise sales, I think a great deal is lost if we ignore stories boldly and vividly set in specific and identifiable locations and cultures. Indeed, considering the current drive for increasing diversity in children’s books, I would argue that books which are culture specific have a vital role to play.

And of course, a great book will be “universal” whether or not it is set in a specific time, location or country; enduring stories speak to that which we share whatever our differences.

I have been a fan of Mairi Hedderwick’s books for as long as I can remember. She writes and illustrates rural Scottish island life in a magical way. She captures truths like poetry can in her watercolours of Hebridean life, whilst her stories are full of acute observations about family life that’s more or less the same wherever you are in the world, exploring issues such as sibling rivalry and intergenerational relationships.

katiemoragetreasuryThe Katie Morag Treasury by Mairi Hedderwick is a glorious book, bringing together a mix of the most popular previously published Katie Morag books and new stories and illustrations first heard and seen on episodes of the highly acclaimed BBC Katie Morag TV show. It really is a treasury, with a range of witty and poignant stories, illustrated in ink and watercolour in a way that invisibly and movingly marries romance and realism.

For kids listening to these stories Katie Morag’s tales act as mirrors; yes she may live in a community vastly unlike the one the young reader or listener lives in, but that only makes it more interesting and reassuring to read that Katie Morag has the same sort of worries, plays the same sorts of games and quarrels with her parents just like they do. Thoughtfulness is a consistent thread in all these stories, and Katie Morag herself is a terrific role model; full of strength and imagination she is not afraid to explore, to try new things, or to be kind.

katiemorag

This is a keeper of a book, one which works well both as a read-aloud, or for children who can read themselves. Indeed the lovely hardback binding makes this ideal for older readers who might not want to be seen reading picture books any more.

Last year when we were holiday in Scotland we collected a stash of shells and sea glass and re-reading these fabulous Katie Morag stories inspired us to get our jars of them out of our natural history museum, and play with them using a home-made light box.

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I borrowed one of our large plastic boxes which we normally store lego in, lined it with white tissue paper, and then put a load of fairy lights inside it. With the fairy lights turned on, and all the other lights turned off and curtains drawn we entered something of a soothing world where the girls could then make patterns with the shells and sea glass, with soft light shining through.

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If you don’t have any sea glass, you could do this activity with florists’ glass (vase) pebbles instead, making light imbued mosaics.

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Music which goes really well with Katie Morag stories (though maybe not with the light box activity as much of it will get you up and dancing) includes:

  • My favourite radio programme – available worldwide online – Travelling Folk. This is BBC Radio Scotland’s flagship folk programme and it’s full of treats each week.
  • Arrangements of songs like you’ve never heard before from Billy McIntyre and his All Star Ceilidh Band, who I’d love to hear live because they are just WAY out there…. Pop! goes the Ceilidh is a hysterical album with covers of lots of pop classics (eg Living on a Prayer, Robbie William’s Angels, Billy Idol’s White Wedding) redone with fiddle, accordion and more. It will put a crazy smile on your face.
  • Anything by Skippinish but especially Land below the Waves that always gives me goosebumps:


  • Other activities which you could try out alongside reading The Katie Morag Treasury include:

  • Creating a sand imprint roller (!) like we did when I reviewed audiobook versions of the Katie Morag stories.
  • Making stone soup, as per one of the six folk tales told at Grannie Island’s Ceilidh, and reproduced in The Katie Morag Treasury. If you’ve never made stone soup here’s a recipe to get you started.
  • Adapting a pair of shoes to make your own tap shoes; Katie Morag learns to tap dance but uses her wellies and a little bit of ingenuity. Here are some ways you can turn your regular shoes into tap shoes.

  • What are your favourite children’s books which have a very strong sense of location?

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of The Katie Morag Treasury by the publisher

    6 Responses

    1. I found this an interesting read as the book in my current blogpost, Imani’s Moon’, is set in Africa. Reading this story has given us a glimpse into a completely different country and culture which is not only fascinating for my daughter but for me as well. We also love the Anna Hibiscus books, the fact that they are set in a country that we aren’t familiar with enriches and extends our knowledge and reading experience.

      We love the Katie Morag books and I agree with you that regardless of the setting they introduce experiences that are familiar to many children and have a strong emphasis on family life. This looks like a beautiful treasury for a Christmas present 🙂
      Catherine recently posted..Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood & Hazel Mitchell (plus giveaway)

    2. Catherine – yes it would make a very special Christmas present 🙂
      Zoe recently posted..The Katie Morag Treasury / Books with a strong sense of location

    3. Oh we love and adore Katie Morag… Love… all the way from sunny South Africa. I think we relate to it so well because we also live in a seaside town… so there is lots in common. But a big part of Katie’s appeal is that she does live on a far side of the world in a distant and remote place, everything is so very different. So much the same, we have very similar grannies (!!!) and yet so much is different – my kids have never worn gumboots… and Katie almost always does. I could write all day, we love and adore Katie and hope this collection comes to a publisher near us really soon!!!
      se7en recently posted..Se7en Tips to Rescue our Kids from Drowning in Stuff…

    4. Katie Morag is a huge favourite in our house!

      Somehow makes me think of Baaalaaamoreeee..!

    5. […] little blog post on the wonderful Katie Morag stories; the post is well worth a read, and linked here. Zoe Toft challenges the reader/reviewer (and perhaps most of all a prospective publisher) to look […]

    6. I’m definitely going to do the light box with Bagl in the next few weeks, that’s right up his street (very excited that this will be our first Playing by the Book activity), he went through a phase a few months ago of wanting to look at the map of Struay in one of my Katie Morag books (I have a few since meeting Mairi Hedderwick when I was 9) but I might see if he would be into the stories a bit more now. Incidentally the daughter of the man who plays Neilly Beag in the TV series played the harp at our wedding!
      Katherine recently posted..#10in2014 – Birthday lunch at Jamie’s Italian

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