As I mentioned in my last Katie Morag post, physician 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, drug without any comment in the text. According to Hedderwick for her this merely reflects “the cosiness of the home and family, cystitis … drawing her own experience of life with a growing family in a small island community”. 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.
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.
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.)