Meg and Mog, Magic and Specific Gravity

posted in: Helen Nicoll, Jan Pieńkowski | 8

If like me you grew up (mostly) in the UK in the 70s and 80s and you’re asked to think of a famous witch from the canon of children’s literature, I’m fairly confident the name Meg would be one of the first to trip off your tongue.

Back in 1972 Meg and Mog arrived on the scene (in a flash of lightning, out of a cauldron, the wonderful result of a spell gone not quite according to plan, I like to think), the creation of Helen Nicoll and Jan Pieńkowski and they’ve been delighting children ever since. I loved their books when I was little and now my children share my laughter when we read the stories of crazy japes and spells gone wrong which come together to form the Meg and Mog series.

With Halloween not far off the timing couldn’t have been better for the release of the first new Meg and Mog book in four years. Meg Goes to Bed is a worthy addition to the collection. Although the story is perhaps not quite as satisfying as Meg at Sea, Mog’s Missing or Meg’s Car, many features that you would want to find in a quintessential Meg and Mog story are here to delight in.

There is an apparently simple scenario – Meg, Mog and Owl are hungry – but yet disaster still manages to strike. There’s a classically illustrated recipe for a spell, followed by the inevitably unintended results when the magic words are incanted. Meg’s catch phrase (“Oh dear, oh dear“), Mog and Owl’s nigh on obligatory crash landing and the idea that hard work and perseverance rather than the swish of a magic wand will get you what you need all add up to making this a book that my children were thrilled to read and that I was very pleased to add to our collection.

Pieńkowski’s bold, graphic design influenced illustrations, with their bright, sheer palette and tone are dramatic and exciting. In Meg Goes to Bed the articulation of the familiar characters, Meg, Mog and Owl is slightly less smooth than in earlier Meg and Mog books, but then I would not expect characters which have been drawn for almost 40 years to be identical today with their first incarnations. Indeed when I asked Jan about this as part of an interview I held with him (which will be published on Monday) he had this to say: “Change is inevitable… The Great Masters have “an Old Style”, perhaps humble illustrators are allowed to have one too!“.

An additional joy of reading Meg Goes to Bed was that it made a great early reader for M – in fact she has taken great pride in reading it to J. As M said, it’s a “real” book (rather than one written as an early reader), with engaging, familiar illustrations. Seeing M’s happiness at being able to read a brand new story from a series I had previously read to her when she was younger doubled my delight in this book. I’ll certainly be encouraging M to read more Meg and Mog books to me and J in the next few weeks 🙂

Although Meg isn’t very successful when it comes to making potions, she clearly enjoys throwing all sorts of ingredients into her cauldron. The same could be said of me and my girls, and so, with inspiration from this recent post from A Bit of This and A Bit of That, we spent an afternoon making up spooky spells and potent potions.

Into clear glass jars the girls poured (vegetable) oil, water and Golden Syrup (US friends could substitute corn syrup I believe). We used a little food colouring to give the water and syrup distinct colours – blue for water and red for syrup.

Not only were the girls able to create an essential feature of the perfect potion – bubbles

…they also learned about specific gravity: the three liquids differ in density and so when they are left to settle distinct layers can be seen in the jars. Oil is less dense than water, so it floats about the blue layer, whilst syrup is more dense than water and so sinks below to form a red layer at the bottom.

We checked this out by changing the order in which we added the liquids to the jars – sure enough whatever the order we added them, they always layered themselves the same way.

After all the hard work of making multicoloured potions, the girls relaxed with “magic milk” – regular milk dyed again with food colouring, which I allowed them (as a rare treat!) to blow bubbles in.

Nothing beats green milk with bubbles in, I can tell you!

Meg Goes to Bed: ** (2 stars)

Whilst brewing our potions we listened to:

  • I put a spell on you, sung by Nina Simone, and another version we like by CCR
  • Love Potion Number 9 by The Clovers
  • A Kind of Magic by Queen

  • There’s also a terrific listing of Halloween related songs (mostly) for kids at Zoogobble – loads of wonderful music that I definitely recommend you check out.

    Other activities which would work well with this book include:

  • Halloween pancakes – Filth Wizardry comes up trumps again! In Meg Goes to Bed Meg ends up making pancakes for Mog and Owl so this couldn’t fit better as an after-book activity.
  • Edible witches hats or the ghastly looking witch’s brew from Little Nummies
  • Another take on spooky potions, this one from Paper Dolls for Boys

  • Do make sure you’re back on Monday when my interview with Jan Pieńkowski will go live, followed by a chance on Tuesday to win your own copy of Meg Goes to Bed!

    Disclosure: I received my copy of Meg Goes to Bed gratis from the publisher, Puffin Books and my thanks go to them. This review, however, reflects my own and honest opinion.

    … And Dad – this one’s for you and Grandpa and all the wonderful tools and strange bits of equipment you’ve shared with us – if only having a fragile glass tube with mercury in it wasn’t a hazard in our house 😉

    8 Responses

    1. maggy, red ted art

      I have to say, we haven’t really “done” Meg yet (at all), which is rather surprising.. maybe I should!!! 😉

      Love your crafts and experiments as always. You are my inspiration for the years to come with Red Ted!

      Thank you for linking up too! Much appreciated!

      • Zoe

        Hi Maggy, My kids got to read Meg and Mog early on as we had several books from my own childhood on our shelves before the girls even arrived. And then when M was late 2/early 3 she got completely hooked on the Meg and Mog DVDs, which are rather well done I think.

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