This and that: A winner! And a bit more about The Kitchen Madonna.

{The winner of the giveaway of the book is announced at the end of this post! Thanks for leaving your sweet comments!}




I was so excited about the ideas of the prayer corner and the Liturgy of the Hours in a couple of Rumer Godden’s books that I lightly skipped over The Kitchen Madonna’s themes. But there are two things in the book that might strike you as needing discussion.

It’s a moving story and it wouldn’t be so unless there was an essential reason why the boy, Gregory, feels motivated to make something for Marta, the new housekeeper, that will address her sadness, and of course, he must encounter significant obstacles or there would be no book! To us, the readers, Marta seems unlikely to leave the family, but to him, an emotionally needy little boy, she does seem likely to leave. He has an intense need to keep her there, because with her presence, the home has gone from cold to warm.

We are told multiple times that his family finds him difficult because he doesn’t communicate. He is taciturn. An important moment in the book features his disobedience to a direct order from his father not to leave the neighborhood again. His disobedience arises from his determination to get Marta her icon, but it’s related to his sense of survival. He feels that he will be lost if she leaves.

For us parents, this is difficult, because we don’t want our children to get the impression from books we read them that we are tacitly approving of naughtiness or sinful behavior. Yet we see his predicament — he feels that his well being is at stake.

You could say that Gregory’s disobedience arises directly from his inability to relate to his family, in that he won’t discuss his plans with anyone. You could also say that they have created a situation in which he does not trust them, emotionally. They have maneuvered him into that position. It’s a cautionary tale for parents, you know?

I do think that there comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to act. Sometimes disobedience is a sign of a healthy willingness to take responsibility, and it’s a sign of maturity.
Where the “common good”  is at stake, disobedience can be justifiable. I’m thinking about civil disobedience, but in a way, maybe this principle is applicable here in the sense of the common good of the family, which apparently — in the context of the story — only Gregory fully apprehends. Disobedience can also be justifiable when you think that, if the authority were in possession of all the facts, he would remove the proscription or provide the means for the desired action. For instance, if the father has told the child never to pick up his baby sister, but the baby is in danger of crawling into the fire, we all think the boy is justified in doing his best to save his sister, even if it means disobeying. That is because we know that if the father knew what was at stake, he would allow the action.
Whether all this applies here, I am not sure. Gregory is willing to take the consequences of his actions, and that is one of the requirements of justifiable “civil disobedience.”
I can’t help thinking that it shows good spirit on Gregory’s part to disobey this way. His parents are distressed by his lack of communication and by the danger he places himself and his sister in by going far away, but they don’t try to find out why he needed to go where he went. Given that he perceives that his happiness depends on his accomplishment of the goal, it seems like a justifiable action. (Of course, we have to be careful to convey — and live by — the truth that one can never do wrong, intentionally, to bring about a good goal.) He does confide in others — presumably he would confide in his parents if they were trustworthy.
I don’t see obedience to an earthly authority as an absolute. I think it’s healthy to let children know that they ought to exercise their own judgement if they are willing to accept the consequences.
I tend to think that it’s a defect in the book that Rumer Godden creates a borderline “do evil that good may come” sort of scenario, with no resolution. But then on the other hand, nothing succeeds like success, and the success of the icon and Marta’s happiness cover the few literary sins (including Gregory’s breaking of the promise not to tell his parents that Marta needed a “good place”!).

Maybe more troubling to me is the ending, and that is my second discussion point. I think the book lets itself down when it closes with Gregory fantasizing about what he would spend his riches on — riches that he will gain by his artistic talent! That seems crass to me, and not fitting at all to the spirit of the book, which is precisely about making do, making sacrifices, and doing “all” for beauty!

So maybe my final thought is that it’s not a perfect book — it might have been good for someone to go over it with her and make her fix it. But it’s a good read-aloud book, with room for gentle discussion, for its sympathy for the child’s point of view and for the generosity that the children exemplify. What do you think?
And, the winner of the giveaway of our book, The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home is — 
Margaret Mumford! An email is on its way to you! Congratulations! 




  1. Donna L. says

    I really liked the story “Kitchen Madonna” and thought it was just a lovely story…although I felt the same way as you did about the less-than-stellar ending…

    I decided I wanted a Kitchen Madonna, too, and have been looking for one for a long time. I will put her by my window, so I can remember to be more like Mary as I do dishes…

    I am just beginning to treat myself to reading some of your book–and that is really saying something, because I have been tired–and by reading instead of sleeping —WELL! That is truly a compliment to you, Auntie Leila!

  2. Margaret Thom says

    Here in Scotland, Kitchen Madonna’s
    are very difficult to get hold of. I managed to get one, I think the last one in the country!!! I keep it on my kitchen window sill to remind me of Our Lady’s love. I have read all of Rumer Godden’s books many years ago, my favourite is her life story.

  3. says

    My mom read the story to me when I was younger, maybe in fifth grade? I loved it! But I most remember is Marta’s is Joy at receiving her gift from Gregory, and Gregorys perseverance and working for somebody you love. I read it as an adult and I see the other pieces. I think perhaps in terms of a child’s imagination, the defects you mentioned are less noticed because they are outweighed by the emotion surrounding Gregory’s efforts and Marta’s joy.

    • says

      Moira, maybe this is the virtue of reading a not-quite-perfect story aloud to one’s child. I think the parent will have a feel for what the child is getting out of the story, and what needs to be discussed. Often, as you say, the main theme gets through and the little imperfections do not.

  4. Patty says

    Yes! Thank you for this defense of an amount of disobedience in children’s books! I often hear this criticism of the Harry Potter novels for just this reason. That he breaks the rules all the time. But if only the adults had all the facts! (And as an aside, during one if the books, it is actually Harry who doesn’t have all the facts and should be trusting Dumbledore, but that is one of the later ones, as he is growing up.) I don’t want to get into a full blown criticism of that series or anything—I know there are opinions on all sides. But that particular criticism has always seemed odd to me.

    • says

      Yes, Patty — much MUCH more serious — more serious than the red herring of magic — is the lying that goes on in HP — the lying simply to get out of difficult situations. I have never really heard anyone criticize the books for that!

      • says

        Lying is very, very common. But those I know who will tell a lie now and then don’t think of themselves as liars or see it as anything wrong at. all. Which is why it appears in HP and so many other stories and other media.

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