*Picture book/Story book for kindergartners to third graders, contemporary fantasy
*Young girl as main character
*Rating: Magical Mea is a very cute story with a powerful message. When you have a gift, you need to use it for good! As a parent, the only part of this book that had some concern for me (although the adventure is great and kids will love the fact Mea’s so independent) is when Mea, who is a very small girl, gets on a bus with a nice Red Hat Society lady and eats her crackers. Penelope DOES address this and even Mea thinks: I should not be talking to this lady or taking her crackers!, but I still wished that she didn’t even get on the bus! Again, that’s just the parent in me (and see my activities below where you can use this to discuss an important point!). As a reader and writer, I loved the adventure Mea took us on and how she realized that being good and helpful is also fun.
The author, Penelope Anne Cole, shared this with me: “Yes, I wanted to show how everyone but Mea knew she shouldn’t be out on her own. I had the adults that Matt and Lily met while chasing after Mea say that she shouldn’t be out on her own — the mother with the baby and the P.E. teacher. I wanted it emphasized! Mea’s too young to be out alone and too young to get on the bus. I wanted it clear that Mea knew she shouldn’t get on the bus — but she did it without thinking — and that’s what a lot of kids do. They don’t think when they should be thinking of safety. I wanted it to be a topic for discussion. I ran away when I was little, in my new housing development. I went all the way around the block by myself and then back home — no one knew I was gone! I don’t know if it was as dangerous then as we think it is now, but the point is, kids will do things like that. Parents turn their backs for an instant, and their kid is gone! Like running off and hiding in the department store or the mall — like my daughter did. They don’t think ‘Safety First’ and they even get lost, so we all have to be vigilant all the time, and drill it into them.”
Short, short summary: Mea is magical like her brother, Matthew. (This is book two of Penelope Cole’s series.) However, unlike Matthew, Mea likes to use her magic to play pranks on her loved ones, like hiding her mom’s keys or taking her dad’s pen. Matthew realizes what Mea is up to and wants to convince her to stop. He is also worried she’ll use her magic in front of people! Mea, being a very resourceful and naughty little girl, is one step ahead of him and out the door on to her own adventure, where she plays pranks on the neighbors. Finally, when Matthew and his friend catch up to his sister, she is on a bus that won’t stop because of a brake problem. Mea realizes that she can use her magic to help fix the bus and save all the people.
So what do I do with this book?
1. This is a great book to read to your child or to a group of children and have it as a starting point for a discussion on using a gift for good, instead of mischief. This is a hard concept for children to understand, and so what better way to show them than a book with a cute main character (thanks to illustrator Kevin Collier!) who figures this out for herself. You can ask children questions, such as: Why did Mea think playing pranks was fun? Why did it hurt the people she loved? Is this what she meant to do? Why did she decide to be helpful in the end?
2. As I mentioned earlier, another big point you can discuss with children is getting on the bus alone and talking to strangers. This happens to Mea in the book, and you can ask readers: Why should Mea NOT talk to the red hat lady? How could she be polite but refuse the crackers? Why does Mea think she shouldn’t be talking to the lady when she is on the bus, even though the lady is very nice? And so on. This will open a powerful and important discussion with your child–and again, the characters and even Mea herself realize that she shouldn’t be doing this, so Penelope does address this important issue in the text.
3. Children can use a sentence starter like this: If I had a magical power, I would. . . Each child can finish the sentence and draw a picture to go with it. If it’s an older student (such as 3rd grade), he or she can write a paragraph about the magic power.