Marie and Mr. Bee by M. Welwood
Welwood, Margaret. Marie and Mr. Bee. Illustrated by Coralie Rycroft. Bomars Ventures, 2016.
Very few children in Canada’s towns and smaller cities can buy a “locally” published picture book of reasonable quality. Happily for them, young children living in tiny Beaverlodge, Alberta (population, 2,327 as of 2016) can do just that.
Marie and Mr. Bee is locally produced. Its author, Margaret Welwood, has teamed with Beaverlodge artist, Coralie Rycroft, to produce an enjoyable work for young children. Its publisher, Bomars Ventures, (also known as “Grandma’s Bookshelf”) appears to operate from Welwood’s address. The book is printed in Canada. It is a paperback, its sturdy, glossy pages stapled to its soft cover along the central fold (technically, “saddle bound”).
Because this appears to be a self-published book, Welwood’s professional credentials should be noted. She holds a BA in Psychology and a Diploma in Adult Education, both from the University of Alberta. She is a member of the Writer’s Guild of Alberta, and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. For twenty years she has taught English as a second language at Grande Prairie Regional College. She edited Northwest Business Magazine; has contributed nonfiction articles to a variety of journals, e.g., The Alberta Report, New Trail, Christian Woman; and has reviewed books ranging from children’s picture books to Bible study materials. This experience culminates in a writing style well suited to engaging, entertaining, and instructing her intended audience.
Her book is admittedly didactic in intent, but not in style. A “Note to Parents” [Inside front cover] identifies one of its themes, “…get your work done first, and then it’s time to play.” While this theme evokes the Protestant work ethic (and, indeed, the back cover of the book features an endorsement by the Christian Fellowship Assembly) Albertans of every faith would embrace it.
Welwood’s storyline is simple but charming. Marie, like her small forest friends—the Squirrels, Little Bear, and Fox—is a model of industry until Mr. Bee corrupts her with his own carefree attitude to life:
“I don’t have to make honey. The workers make the honey and I eat it!” [p.6]
Ultimately, however, indolence proves painful for Mr. Bee, and tedious to Marie.
A secondary theme is much more subtly explored. Marie is wheelchair-bound. No words allude to her situation; it is simply conveyed by the exquisite artwork of Coralie Rycroft. With ink and colour, Rycroft depicts Marie’s lifestyle in an idyllic log cabin surrounded by beautiful woodlands. Marie is independent, self-sustaining, and fully functioning; the concept is powerfully communicated.
Beyond its intended messages, the book conveys a third by its very existence. Given a few individuals with gifts and initiative, a small community can develop its own “literary oeuvre”, enrich the lives of its citizens, and communicate its cultural norms in ways that the wider world can appreciate.
Reviewer: Leslie Aitken
Recommended: 3 stars out of 4
Leslie Aitken’s long career in librarianship involved selection of children’s literature for school, public, special, and university collections. She is a former Curriculum Librarian at the University of Alberta.
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