by John Marsden illustrated by Sally Rippin - Pan Macmillan Australia, 2003
ages 4 to 9 years / funny, heartwarmers
There's one particular book that I've read and re-read to my class this term. The first time it was my idea, since then it has been requested over and over: "Could we please read that Millie book again Jesse?"
Millie is a book of less words, more thinking. It begins with the line:
'Everybody loved Millie. She was so good.'
The reader is led to believe that everybody’s love of Millie is BECAUSE she is so good.
'Millie ate her broccoli and cauliflower, peas and pumpkin.'
But there is something not right, as the next page reveals… an illustration of Millie feeding her food to the dog! My class would cry with laughter "Oh no, she didn’t! 'How come her parent’s didn't see her doing that?" as each statement of Millie's good behaviour was contradicted by its following illustration.
'Then one day, everything went wrong.'
Millie’s Parents find her doing things she clearly shouldn’t, like painting the baby or singing rude songs in the bath. Millie looks surprised and embarrassed. And the reader’s judgment of behaviour that the story provokes becomes crucial to its climax - as this question is asked:
'What do you think they said to Millie then?'
The question reveals a lot about how the reader views rule-violation and punishment; in my class there were answers such as 'We all don’t like Millie' (pretty harsh - and strange, since our classroom is reward and punishment free). So you can imagine their surprise when it ends:
'We all love Millie.'
The reactions to this book can be shock and disbelief at the parents’ behaviour—at first. However as it sinks in that no matter what Millie does she is loved and that love is not contingent on our actions, it becomes an incredibly comforting book. And so I gladly read it—again and again and again.
Millie is a great book to read when a child:
Comes home from school distressed by the teacher’s ‘behaviour management’;
Is judging another’s behaviour;
Is feeling a bit lonely or isolated; or
Just wants or needs a good laugh.
The unconditional love in its pages reassures and comforts. At the time of writing, Millie wasn't available from booksellers so it might take some hunting down—or borrow from the library.