Category Archives: Literary Ramblings

Barbara Pym Reading Week

Pym Logo  Multi

Like all things Pym, I learned about this from Kerry over at Pickle Me This. Kerry could very well be having a baby right at this moment and yet she is still much more of a committed blogger than I am these days. (That last sentence has nothing to do with Pym and everything to do with my awe of Kerry.)

Anyway, the Barbara Pym reading week is in honour of Pym’s centenary and is hosted by Thomas at My Porch and Amanda at Fig and Thistle. I’m already late to the game but obviously anyone can play along if I’m naive enough to think that I could read a novel within the next week or so. These days all of my reading is done on my phone and in the dark while either nursing and/or settling a baby. Any other attempts to have a book in my hand are looked at with scorn by the other girls who seem to take it as a personal affront when I try to do anything for myself (they are learning though, I’ve even been showering by myself lately).

In a fit of optimism on Saturday we walked over to the nearest used books store and I picked up Some Tame Gazelle and Quartet in August. I will be happy with myself if I can read the first couple chapters of Quartet in August this week – I managed to get a couple of pages in this morning but it seems as though my book has been stolen and is now in hiding somewhere. I won’t find it before going to bed tonight which is going to happen in the next 10 minutes even though it isn’t quite 8 p.m. yet. Maybe tomorrow I will have more reading luck.

However, if you are interested do go and check out all that is going on for the Barbara Pym Reading Week because if you are a fan it is a lot of fun and if you are not – well, maybe it is time you were.


Reading: Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison

The full title is Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry and, while it came highly recommended from a number of sources, I almost didn’t read it because of the word God in the title. I have a fear of being preached at and being told that God is the answer for everything – although I have no problem reading about people finding comfort or inspiration in their faith. (I also have an irrational fear of moths but make of that what you will.)

This book moved me so much that I am now on the look out for my own second-hand copy so I can re-read it whenever I want. I’ve even thought of breaking it down and writing my own reflections based on her one-word chapter titles (Dailiness, Morning, Peace, Play etc.) so I have my own reflections to look back on. Once again it was a bit of preaching to the converted but it is still nice to hear someone else talk about their version of motherhood and how they came to find a path that works for them. It is also nice to hear about other people who say no to birthday parties, signing their kids up for every available activity and TV.

Choices was one of the chapters I found most thought provoking in which Kenison talks about how nothing really prepared her for being a mother.

When I was a student at Smith College in the 1970s, the theme of my education was how we women would make our mark in the workplace. Although most of my friends and I assumed that we would eventually marry and bear children, I cannot remember a single conversation from those days in which we discussed the role children might play in our lives, or even how we might balance the responsibilities of motherhood with our careers. I suppose that if we thought about it at all, we imagined family life as some kind of adjunct to real life – that is, the lives we would create for ourselves through our careers, travels, continued education, and other worldly adventures. Our role models were out on the front lines, in business, science, and the arts – not at home with the kids. When Jane Pauley visited our campus, we packed the room to hear her speak about her first year on the Today show. Another successful graduate, then the editor of a top women’s magazine, counseled us about the high-stakes world of publishing. There were lectures nearly every week, and they were all by women who were making it in a man’s world. Jill Kerr Conway, our college president, was living proof of what was possible. Although we counted Sylvia Plath and Anne Morrow Lindbergh among our alums, we were proudest of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

Once upon a time – I suppose – Smith College assumed you would get your education, get married and stay home and raise children. Then the waves of feminism hit and the new goal was to make it in a man’s world. But somewhere between those two things there is a disconnect and it is that disconnect that worries me. There was no point in bringing in speakers to talk to the women about careers and children – the children were just a byproduct of getting married and were somehow supposed to fit into your career but no one really thought about it until after the fact. I think things are changing bit by bit – I suspect some of the speakers who go to Smith College these days talk about how they balance careers and family but it still seems as though the word career always comes first. Do they have speakers who come in and admit to taking 10 years off to stay home and raise the children? Women who don’t have nannies and are doing it themselves? Would anyone go and listen? I know I wouldn’t have when I was in university.

I remember being in grade eight and making a cake for a science project – we had to create a model of a cell out of food. My cell was a flat slab cake with different colour icing for the nucleus, licorice whips for the flagella and other various bits of candy standing in for the cell parts (Smarties were definitely involved). I also brought a knife and napkins so the cake could be eaten after it was marked. My science teacher was shocked and said, “I didn’t know you were so domesticated!” (Apparently that was the first time anyone had made their project edible.) Then it was my turn to be shocked – I baked a cake from a box and she thought I was domesticated? She told me she always thought I was more likely to be a CEO than someone who stays home and bakes cakes. So, did that mean it was wrong to stay home and bake cakes? For a long time I thought I wasn’t meant to have children because that would be domesticated and that was wrong. (However baking cakes for oneself and ones friends always seemed right.) It was all very confusing at the time and the point is that I didn’t grow up in a culture where people talked about having children and what life would be like when I had children. In our house we didn’t even talk about whether or not to go to university – we only talked about which university we would choose. Now my own daughter yells at me when I won’t let her reprimand her little sister because she’s “LEARNING TO BE THE MUMMY!” And sometimes I wonder if she has a point – somewhere she has to “learn to be the mummy” if that is one of the things she wants to do with her life. I think that there were so few role models teaching us (so-called) modern women “how to be the mummy” when we were younger that we are now all over-thinking it – and blogging about it. But at least we are thinking about it which hopefully means that the next generation of mothers are giving it some thought.

Our favourite library book this week: Mabel Murple

There is only one reason why we don’t own Sheree Fitch‘s classic Canadian children’s book Mabel Murple and that is because people kept telling me they were going to buy it for Moira. Or, Moira Murple as I sometimes call her now. She has a purple room you know. If you had been to our house at any point during the first six months we lived in it you would have been met at the door with her telling you to come and see her purr-pull roum! It wouldn’t matter if you had been here the day before or not – you got to see it Every Time.

But I digress. Mable Murple isn’t about Moira – it’s about Mabel. (Although maybe a little about Moira too.)

Mabel Murple’s house was purple
So was Mabel’s hair
Mabel Murple’s dog was purple
A purple poodle named Pierre

We like rhymes and tongue twisters at our house and so this book fits in perfectly. It’s so much fun I can’t stop reading it.

Mabel Murple motored merrily
Through muddy purple puddles
She sang: “I’m a purple person!
I’ll roarrrr away my troubles!”

However, Moira wants to know what exactly “purple trouble” is and if it is the kind of trouble she gets into. (Answer: most definitely.)

I love when I catch Fionnuala "reading" to herself on the sofa.

Somehow this is the first Sheree Fitch book I have come across but I’m going to have to remedy that – there is a reason her books have become classics.

Our favourite library book this week: Farmyard Beat

I’m quite the snob when it comes to reading to children. I like to get into the story and add voices and sing (when neccessary) and I can’t stand listening to people read in a monotone voice. I know, I know, some people just aren’t good readers and reading to a child is never a waste. However, I’m grateful that the Mister can get into a book just as much as I can so listening to him read Barnyard Beat repeatedly (by request of course) on Sunday was a lot of fun.

We may have missed this book too if the Mister hadn’t made a rare Saturday trip to the library with us. The illustrations are colourful and fun but really it is the toe-tapping story that had us dancing for the rest of the day.

Chicks can’t sleep/Chicks can’t sleep/Chicks can’t sleep ’cause they got that beat!

And so do we.


Where the Wild Things are – and aren’t.

There is was an interesting Maurice Sendak interview in The Gaurdian paper yesterday. We all know Sendak as the author & illustration of Where The Wild Things Are. Although Moira, if she knew who he was, would know him as the illustrator of the Little Bear stories because she finds Where The Wild Things Are too scary.

“I refuse to lie to children,” says Sendak. “I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.”

An interesting sentiment coming from a children’s book author although he has something to say about that too:

The term “children’s illustrator” annoys him, since it seems to belittle his talent. “I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can’t do that. I’m in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person.”

Of course this brings to mind a lot of the crap books I find at the library that are just a little too sicky-sweet for my tastes. On the other side of that coin are books that are now full of jokes for parents to enjoy and in doing so sacrifice a story-line that children can really get behind because they are too hip to ‘just’ cater to children. Pixar and Disney movies are guilty of that too. I’m constantly trying to find the balance between books that have a decent message, aren’t going to scare the sleep out of my child, and still be interesting enough for the both of us to want to read again and again. Still, I think there is nothing wrong with preserving a certain amount of innocence in childhood – especially since the onslaught of marketing to children seems to be taking it away and making our children more adult-issue aware at an earlier and earlier age.

If you read the Sendak interview you can see that the issues that coloured his world were a lot heavier than what is touching our children these days and that is reflected in his work which I think makes him a good “kiddie book person.”

It’s the Waldorf philosophy that you read your children fairytales because everything they need to know is in a fairytale. Even Einstein agreed:

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Albert Einstein

Fairytales – if they haven’t been altered like this gawd-awful Golden Book version of Red Riding Hood we have – can be scary. But so is the world and while I don’t want make my children afraid of the world I do want to prepare them for it. I remember my sister having a beautifully illustrated copy of The Little Mermaid when I was little and yes, the mermaid died at the end and while I remember thinking about her dying a lot it was more the decisions she made that fascinated me. In my sister’s version the little mermaid turned to sea foam and as I child I always thought that seaweed was the spirit of mermaids washed up on the shore. I think the child’s brain will often take information and process in a way that makes it acceptable and understandable – you just have to be careful what kind of information you are giving them.

Exciting literary news!

I’ve been wanting to start up Roughing It In The Books again for a while but was waiting for the right time – and the time is now! I’m very excited so check it out at It used to be a .com but it is a .ca now because I let the domain expire and some robot snapped it up thinking I would pay the big bucks to get it back (I won’t). So if you had it bookmarked before you need to change your bookmark – and if you didn’t but want to read me be all snarky about Canadian literature then come on over.

Katie Morag and the Censor Struggle

As I mentioned in my last Katie Morag post, there is so much to look at in Hedderwick’s art that I read Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted numerous times before I noticed that Mrs McColl was nursing her baby – and since this has been my life for the past year I didn’t give it much thought.

Katie Morag’s mum is occasionally depicted breastfeeding in several of the books, without any comment in the text. According to Hedderwick for her this merely reflects “the cosiness of the home and family, … drawing her own experience of life with a growing family in a small island community”.[32] Nevertheless, one American library felt compelled to apply marker pen to an illustration in one of the earlier books, in which one of Katie Morag’s mother’s breasts is completely exposed.[30]

From Wikipedia

Katie Morag books are aimed at children aged three to eight. Katie Morag is a red-haired heroine who lives on the fictional Island of Struay with her family. An element of realism has contributed to the books’ popularity but not everyone is accepting of this bold approach to the creation of children’s stories.

Hedderwick’s editor at the time was uncomfortable with images of Katie Morag’s mother, Mrs McColl, breastfeeding her new baby. Hedderwick explains: “The editor was sympathetic because she had just had children but she was a little bit nervous about the picture and she wandered if she should let it go through because it’s actually a naked breast: it’s not just the child latched on.

“Mrs McColl’s breast is exposed because the baby is looking back at her big sister Katie Morag.” The editor’s fears were not unfounded. Two libraries in Scotland refused to stock the books. A library in the city of Saginaw, Michigan, was forced to cover one illustration with marker pen.

Twenty years on, Katie Morag is enjoying enduring, iconic status and two of the titles are required reading in English primary schools. What is interesting, and shocking to some, is that Hedderwick still has to fight her corner in order to include natural images of a mother suckling her child.

She says: “I always try to make sure that if there is a domestic scene and if Mrs McColl is sitting and comfy then she has the baby at her breast but I don’t show exposed nipples any more because it just makes the publishers too jittery. They don’t like anything that might interfere with book sales.”

At a time when provocative images of breasts proliferate, positive images of mothers breastfeeding their children are rarely included in the wider media. This may be one of the factors contributing to a downward trend in the numbers of women choosing to feed their babies naturally.

Katie Morag and the Censor Struggle

I do believe this is the first children’s book I have read where the mum is nursing a baby. Mostly I was enamoured with the whole scene and Katie’s Father in his apron and the mismatch tea service with the Highland Cow & Loch Ness mugs and the warm feeling one gets after reading a really good story.

(Or maybe the warm feeling is because Hedderwick obviously shares my belief that all children should be red-headed.)

(Click on the images to make them larger.)

Katie Morag’s Island Stories by Mairi Hedderwick

Why am I only hearing about Katie Morag now? The author, Mairi Hedderwick is extremely famous in the UK but I have to wonder how well she is known over here. Still, at least we have now been introduced to Katie Morag though it was only luck that I stumbled upon it at the library. Even my Scottish friend had never heard of her.

Katie Morag is a red headed little imp who lives on the fictional Island of Struay and is always dressed in her white jumper, green kilt and black wellies. Her parents run the Shop & Post Office. I think the Mister and I are enjoying these stories more than Moira as there is always so much to look at in the illustrations. I think it was on my third reading of Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted that I realized her Mum was sitting there with her breast exposed having just finished nursing the new baby (Flora Ann).

The stories beg to be read in a Scottish accent which the Mister is quite good at. Unfortunately every accent I try to do comes out Irish. Scottish = Irish. British = Irish. Even Indian = Irish. So far Moira hasn’t complained.

There are four stories in this collection: Continue reading

Last day of filming


Deathly Hallows cast.

Found through Pinterest via Tiny White Daisies

I haven’t watched a lot of Harry Potter promotion videos – I mostly stick to the books and the movies and don’t worry about anything behind the scenes. (Why ruin the magic?) But if you are a fan try watching this video about the last days of filming without crying.

You ruined Hagrid

Rubeus Hagrid and Fang

I read this article about the first Harry Potter movie years ago and the opening always stayed with me:

Robbie Coltrane is anxious. “I’ve had visions of being chased by millions of children who thought I got it wrong,” says Coltrane, the Scottish comic who plays the giant groundskeeper, Hagrid, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “They’re chasing me up Fifth Avenue. ‘There’s the guy who ruined Hagrid! Let’s get him!'”

Read the full article here.

It’s been almost 10-years since I read that article and I still throw a “you ruined Hagrid!” into my conversations from time to time. I don’t know why it stuck with me – I guess I could just imagine the pressure he was under to take a beloved character and not royally screw it up. But he didn’t did he? I can’t imagine Hagrid any other way – Coltrane was perfect.

Robbie Coltrane at the London premiere July 7th, 2011

For my own part, I thought a lot of the actors were spot-on. Of course, the movies started coming out before Rowling finished writing the books. It was a cycle: wait for a book, wait for a movie. A decade of anticipation. After a while it was hard to separate the movie characters from the book characters. I don’t remember how I first imagined the characters because they quickly turned into the characters portrayed on the screen.

The actors never knew what was coming for their character in future books either. I read an article recently where David Thewlis – who plays the werewolf Remus Lupin – decided to play his character gay in his first movie appearance only to find out later that he gets married to a woman. Oops.

And imagine being Alan Rickman/Snape and not knowing if you are going to turn out to be good or evil in the end but that the whole thing rests on his shoulders? Have you read his letter to J.K. Rowling?

I’m not sure I have an absolute favourite character – it seems to be fluid for me although I am fond of Dumbledore’s wisdom and everything about McGonagall (I still think Minerva would have been a good name for Moira). Do you have a favourite Harry Potter character? Does you favourite book character change when translated to the big screen?