Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Man whose Mother was a Pirate by Margaret Mahy illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain

The little man could only stare. He hadn’t dreamed of the BIGNESS of the sea. He hadn’t dreamed of the blueness of it. He hadn’t thought it would roll like kettledrums, and swish itself on to the beach. He opened his mouth and the drift and the dream of it, the weave and the wave of it, the fume and foam of it never left him again. At his feet the sea stroked the sand with soft little paws. Farther out, the great, graceful breakers moved like kings into court, trailing the peacock-patterned sea behind them.”

These lines continue to ring through my ears years after the first time I read The Man whose Mother was a pirate by Margaret Mahy to a class of Grade One children. The imagery and alliteration are perfect. I always include this book in my story bag when we explore this talented writer from New Zealand.

Margaret Mahy is a true master of language. This is one of the reasons I often ponder our good fortune of speaking English in Australia and sharing this with so many countries in the world. This gives us enormous quantities of quality children’s books from which to find our favorites.

The little man in this story has never seen the sea even though is mother is a pirate. One day he decides to dispense with his sensible brown suit and shoes, his books of figures and routines and along with his mother travel to see the sea. His boss gives him two weeks leave with the threat that if he fails to return he will be replaced by a computer! This is especially funny when you realize this book was first published in 1985.

Loading his mother into a wheelbarrow they set off for the sea. His mother tries to tell the little man about the sea but her words cannot fully prepare him for the wonder of it. There are of course some obstacles along the way. At one point they need to use a kite to fly over a river. Then they meet a pessimist who warns “The wonderful things are never as wonderful as you hope they’ll be. The sea is less warm, the joke less funny, the taste is never as good as the smell.” But they are determined to travel on. Suddenly as they come over the hill the little man sees the sea.

They join a rosy sea captain and the little man finally discovers his true destiny and his real name – Sailor Sam. Needless to say he does not go back to the office. In the final scene Sam sends a letter to his boss in a green glass bottle. “Having a wonderful time … Why don’t you run off to sea, too?” We have a huge collection of books by Margaret Mahy in our school library - why not borrow one today?

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