Maggie Chases Hector… 27 years on

Hector and Maggie Cover

We received a lovely message this week about our book Hector and Maggie which was
published in 1990.

“Hector & Maggie – My 29 year husband has a very well loved copy of Hector & Maggie that his late mum gifted him as a child. He is a farmer & kelpie working dog breeder & says this book was always his standout favourite & he has lovely memories of his mum repetitively reading it to him. Now our 3.5 year old also loves it, I just wanted to say thankyou & let you know that this beautiful book is still delivering lots of joy to the next generation :)”

We were thrilled to hear that Hector and Maggie are still running around the farm after all of these years. The idea for this story came from a family holiday we had with our children, Alex, Angus and Catriona at Auntie Heather and Uncle Kev’s farm at Glenroy (near Penola/Coonawarra) in south-east South Australia.

It was in 1988, the year of the Bicentennial. We were staying at their farm while they went to Sydney to join in the celebrations. As soon as we stepped out of the car we came face to face with the main characters in the book, Hector, Maggie and Old Tom. Auntie Heather told later that she called Hector, Sid Vicious. Maggie’s farm name was Bluey, and Old Tom was called Tom. 

Here are some photos we took at the time. We managed to capture Hector and Maggie in full flight, and the hens fussing around Hector, and his “beautiful tail was gone – except for on last feather.” Andrew did a few sketches too, in case we wanted to turn the story into a picture book later on. 

The girl collecting the eggs is our (then) seven-year-old daughter, Cat. Here, she’s been bailed up by Hector. She’s calling for help, “MU-U-U_UM’. Auntie Heather told us that she had to take a rake with her when she went to hang out the washing – Hector would chase anyone and anything.

Andrew & Janet 4


By chance, while I was writing this post, Andrew found this sketch of Old Tom, tucked into one of his art  books.Old Tom 



You can say “You Can’t Play”

I introduced this concept, to Yarralea, after hearing Vivian Paley speak at a conference in Brisbane in the early 1990s. I found that it gave teachers and children a phrase to begin thinking about the complexities of ‘belonging’.

As Vivian Paley states: We must be told, when we are young, what rules to live by … [teachers should] prepare our children to live and work comfortably with the stranger that sojourneth among them. And should it happen that one day our children themselves are strangers, let them know that a full share of the sun is rightfully theirs.'”

“New friendships were forged as children got to know other children. Children felt relieved (even the ones who did most of the excluding). Teachers could handle issues of exclusion simply (You forgot the rule) rather than approaching each instance as a moral puzzle to be solved.” (Laurie Levy)

A mountain of stories

“We know of course that there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”

-Arundhati Roy, Sydney Peace Prize 2004[1]

everything out of home copy

I am currently sifting through a mountain of children’s paintings, drawings, collages and writing, transcripts of dictated stories, play-scripts, conversations, anecdotes and photographs of children’s play. I accumulated this collection when I was teaching at Yarralea Children’s Centre in Alphington, Victoria, on and off, between 1984 and 2006.

For the past nine years I have also been encircled in the life stories of my grandchildren, Rory, Otto and Fraser – ‘the brothers’.

Packing for the Journey – a spaciousness for sharing children’s voices over a timespan of thirty years.


Book Week visit – a week early

Yesterday Andrew and I visited Delta Road Pre-School to talk about our booksP1010591

We read The Riverboat Crew, our very first picture book, published so long ago, in 1978. The big book was published in 1988. Here, I have just read the first page: The Alice was a paddle steamer on the Murray River, and a little voice piped up, My name’s Alice – there’s always someone – or they know someone with that name – a brother or sister, a cat or dog, a mum or dad, or a mouse. Andrew told the children that the riverboat was named after his Mum, whose name was …Alice. 


I also read three of the ‘Josh’ books. They had already read Josh and the Monster, but hadn’t read Josh, Josh and the Ducks, and Josh and Thumper. Behind me is the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Short-List Poster. Fabish, illustrated by Andrew, and written by Neridah McMullin, has been short-listed in the Eve Pownall Information Book Category.  The children were excited to point out to us that they had seen the picture of the book on the poster.


Andrew drew some pictures with sticks of thin charcoal. He says that one of the best things about using charcoal is, if you want to change something you can rub it out with  kneadable rubber – by rubbing, pressing or dabbing. On this paper he drew a picture of our white Skye terrier, Danny. (We didn’t get a photo of the final drawing).


He also drew a picture of our cat, Norah, who got herself into a pickle one day when she found herself spreadeagled on top to the clothes horse. It took her a while to work out how to get back down, but it didn’t stop her trying again, and again… 

Who is the mother?

Poem, after Vivian Paley –  ‘You can’t say you can’t play’

Can I play?
      I ‘m the mother.
But, I want to play.
      I’m playing with the baby.
You can’t say I’m not allowed to play.
      Yes I can – You’re not allowed.
You can’t say I can play.
      Yes I can – you can play.
Yes – I can play.

You can play.

      But I’m the mother.

© Janet McLean, 8 August 2017
(Edited version of previous poem with the same name)

Phrases as play objects: Reflections on Vivian Paley and the Story Pirates (Part 2)

In Part 2 Meryl Alper draws some connections between Vivian Paley’s, and the Story Pirates’ innovative approaches to “honoring children’s agency as playwrights, and the ways that those approaches are underscored by sensitivity to each child’s evolving developmental, physical, behavioral and cognitive needs.”

Meryl Alper

In my previous post, I wrote about the associations between the social and cultural context in which children learn about storytelling, and children’s individual and collective relationships with objects that become props for their stories (e.g. physical objects for trading and sharing; sounds and words as objects with a social currency or cultural cache).

As a follow up, I’d like to highlight the work of University of Chicago Laboratory School kindergarten teacher and MacArthur Genius Grant winner Vivian Paley, as well as non-profit arts and literacy organization the Story Pirates (currently partnered with the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles).  These teacher-artist-researchers support children’s storytelling and playwriting as a form of object play with words and other literacy materials.

In highlighting sections of Paley’s book The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter (1991) and my own observations from recent Story Pirates performances, I hope to draw some connections…

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Phrases as play objects: Reflections on Vivian Paley and the Story Pirates (Part 1)

Like Meryl Alper in this piece from her blog,, I too, like the way that Vivian Paley places the children, and their personal and shared stories, at the centre of their learning. After hearing Vivian Paley speak at a conference in Brisbane, Australia, in the early 1990’s I began to use her model of shared storytelling/storyacting, and story playing (with each other, and objects) to underpin my early education program. I quickly came to realise that allowing children to create their own stories (and there are many ways they can do this) established a holistic underpinning for individual and shared learning. As Meryl Alper says, “community building/destruction/re-building and socialization… underscored by sensitivity to each child’s developmental and cognitive needs.”

Meryl Alper

Who am I?  And what is this “I” capable of?

Who are WE?  And what is this “WE” capable of?

The process by which a child becomes conscious of her or himself and the limits on what she or he can do is deeply tied to that child’s growing understanding of where he or she stands within a social context, as well as what that child can or cannot accomplish in the presence or absence of other people.  For example, a three year-old can build a block tower, and can also knock it down when she wants to.  A three year-old and a four year-old can build a block tower together, and while the three year-old can knock it down when she wants to, that action might incite the opposite emotion in her play partner.  This development is culturally specific, heavily influenced by the value placed on individualistic or collectivistic…

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