Review Blog

May 17 2013

Meet Mary MacKillop by Sally Murphy

cover image

Meet series. Ill. by Sonia Martinez. Random House, 2013. ISBN 9781742757216.
(Age: 8+) Picture book. Saints. Education. Australian History. Non Fiction. The Meet series, from Random House promises to introduce younger readers to significant people within Australia's history, thus satisfying several parts of the national curriculum which promotes understanding of our shared past and the role of groups and individuals within it.
The first in the series, Meet Ned Kelly, written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Matt Adams looked at the image of Ned Kelly within Australian history, showcasing some of the more significant ties within his short life.
So it is with Mary MacKillop. Born in 1842 in Melbourne, from poor circumstances herself, she devoted her life to teaching children no matter what background they had, starting her first school in Penola, South Australia, and beginning a new order of nuns, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, which today is very much involved in education.
Sally Murphy has written in simple language about the early years of Mary MacKillop when she and her sisters were invited by Father Woods to start a school at Penola. The young reader will discover how an old stable was converted into a school and how anyone, no matter how poor, was welcome at the school. They will learn how Mary decided to move on and found other schools once the first school in Penola became successful.
A useful timeline at the back of the book gives the interested reader brief information about the struggles that Mary had with the Church's hierarchy about control of the growing order of Josephites. A thoughtful reader or teacher may be able to give children some notion of the strength and tenacity that Mary must have possessed to continue with her dedication to provide education for the poor in face of such opposition.
Rather sentimental illustrations portray in tones of brown what the early school and countryside were like but failed for me to give a real picture of the poverty that Mary faced or the strength of character that she displayed.
Pat Pledger

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