To Meg and Mog (and Owl), with love

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Megan Dunn puts all her eggs in one basket with Meg and Mog.

OWhen my daughter Fearne was almost three years old, I found a copy of Meg’s Eggs in Pegasus Books. I slid off the bright red spine and knelt on the floor, flipping through the pages. I felt a thrill of gratitude and joy. These funkadelic color schemes! You can tell Meg and Mog were born in the 1970s, like me – that decade of bottoming out, and Abigail’s party, and hallucinogenic drugs.

I took it home in a brown paper bag and read it to Fearne that evening. For those not in the know, Meg is a staff-shaped witch with a broomstick, lumpy hooves, a white and black striped cat called Mog – with yellow eyes and a twirling tail, her entire barrel body covered in hairs – and a pet Owl, white and wary.

The first Meg and Mog was published in 1972. The “violently colored” stick figure drawings are by genius illustrator Jan Pieńkowski, and the stories by Helen Nicoll. They met at the BBC in the early 1970s while working on the TV show Watch! She wanted to write children’s books and asked him to illustrate. He said yes, but on one condition: the witch’s spells couldn’t work.

For years they met at the Membury petrol station cafe, equidistant between their homes on the M4. There they highlighted the comic’s layout, the ratio of words – around 10 – to each page, the stunning double-page spreads, and the fantastic use of negative space. Pieńkowski always brought flowers to put on the table; Nicoll brought salmon. And, out of several cups of tea, a classic was born.

Meg’s Eggs does what it says on the box, and what’s for dinner really matters.

Meg casts a spell and three giant eggs burst from her cauldron. But the eggs are too hard, so the trio must go to bed without supper. They climb the stairs in droves – those black-outlined steps, so simple, so right. In the middle of the night, crack! crack! From the first egg hatches a long-necked diplodocus! Next, a Stegosaurus! Faucet! Faucet! Owl is sitting on the last dotted egg. Suddenly, a bright red T-rex appears. Chaos ensues.

Meg has to concoct another spell: “Bacon and eggs, jump over their legs.”

Meg inspects the diplodocus under a mirror. “I must have put on too much bacon,” I read aloud to Fearne.

Then I turned the page and, in a circle, Meg, Mog and Owl waved at us.

“Goodbye,” I read.

“Goodbye,” repeated Fearne.

Hello and goodbye are essential words in all languages.

I read Meg’s eggs to death, or until a piece ripped off the page of the stegosaurus in the garden eating all the cabbage.

JThe joy of our life together back then was phonetic, the alphabet exploding into onomatopoeia, Fearne’s footsteps didn’t match mine, bedtime stories every night, and her fingers tangled in my long witchy hair. Meg is always cooking something in her cauldron: “Double trouble, rock and rubble, boiling oil and cauldron bubble”, sings Meg in Meg’s castle (Pieńkowski’s favorite spell in the series). Speech bubbles pop in the dark, eyes open, and things tumble, like a toddler falling and learning to get back up. And there’s always time for tea.

I bought every copy of Meg and Mog I could find at Pegasus. Then I got serious and ordered everything from Book Depository. Yes, I know it belongs to Amazon, but my principles are not always solid. Once upon a time, I was a freewheeling young woman doing lines on toilet seats. But, as an older mother – I had Fearne at 40 through IVF – I take my thrills where I can.

Looking back, Meg’s Eggs stuck with me.

I also loved that epic purple sky and bubbling green ocean in Meg at Sea. Especially the page where Mog catches a giant orange fish.

“It’s a phew!” I read.

“He’s a whopper,” repeated Fearne.

“Mine is bigger!” said Owl, wrapped in the tentacles of a giant green octopus. Poor Owl. Even now, all these years later, I sometimes hear Fearne say “He’s a whopper”, and I recognize the pure joy in his voice, the joy in the sound.

At the time, I was about to go to America for important research for my book on mermaids. Oh, to write a spell as catchy as Meg at Sea’s: “Mermaid’s Tail, lobster’s toe, octopus twists, blow wind blow!”

Before my trip, I bought Fearne a pink Meg and Mog t-shirt for her third birthday. I ordered him from a website and asked for his name to be embroidered above the circle of Meg, Mog and Owl waving.

I didn’t want to say goodbye to Fearne. I was afraid to leave. What if I never come back?

Somehow we made it through this fortnight apart, even though Fearne cried “Mom!” at the cat flap every evening. And later my mermaid book turned against me. And the embroidery on the t-shirt had crosshatch on the back, so it was “too irritating” to wear.

Megan Dunn and Fearne with the scratchy T-shirt (Picture: Supplied)

BWhen I was first pregnant with Fearne, I saw a chart of Meg and Mog’s numbers in a store on Cuba Street. I jumped on it, like Owl swooping down on the vole in Meg’s bed.

Early in his life, when I was barely sleeping and my mind was growing sour, I hung this painting alongside his bed. Pieńkowski’s vibrant color palette stems from his own childhood growing up in Poland. He only used 16 colors in the Meg and Mog books, always picking the brightest shade. These shades gave me comfort as I learned to be the face of comfort for my daughter. As I learned who I was as a mom. MOM. Now there is a word with a cushion, these M feel warm, like the armrests of a sofa, snuggled up.

My favorite story is Meg’s mom. Meg and Mog fly to Egypt – “Salaam!” Mog falls off the side of the pyramid and is bandaged up by Meg – “Oh my God, oh my God” – then mistaken for a mummy. On the Nile, Meg is almost eaten by a crocodile. INSTANTANEOUS! The whole story reeks of Eurocentrism now, but I enjoyed its range of adventures, and Nicoll and Pieńkowski apparently argued over details at the British Museum to make sure everything was accurate.

I also like Meg’s Mummy because in our rented apartment in Wellington on the bump of Hankey Street is an old three-seater sofa, patterned with Egyptian pyramids and hieroglyphs. I’ve written two books on that couch, even though according to my business partner Rich, “it’s the worst couch in the world.”

Helen Nicoll died in 2012, then David Pelser – Pieńkowski’s life partner – took over the storylines. The quality has gone down, but let’s not go there. I’d rather let Meg and the Dragon lie. I’ve never enjoyed Meg’s car much either, but I don’t drive.

In 2018, after my first book came out, I took the Auckland airport shuttle to the Writers Festival. I was seated next to author and film critic David Larsen, a good-natured backseat companion. I wanted to be seen as a writer, rather than just a bedtime story reader and hot milk maker. I remember saying, impetuously, “Meg is a feminist icon.”

I had whipped my intellect like the broomstick my mind flies on at night while my daughter twirls her hands through my hair. David said, “That wasn’t what I expected to hear.”

And I sat in the backseat feeling smug. Yes, I’m a children’s book snob. I’m an egg too, as Meg and Mog has sold over three million copies in the UK alone. It’s not my secret.

OWhy do we read before going to bed? If you’re still around, chances are you were read to when you were a kid, books entered your mind and tuned into your circadian rhythm. Meg and Mog’s genius is evident. It’s a great bedtime story – which is why the series is still in print after nearly 50 years. In 2003, the characters were also animated for television.

But listen to the Puritan of Clouds Goodreads Review from the first book: “I expected more character development, more emotional angst – but there’s nothing at stake here, nothing building up the tension… It’s just the story of ‘a witch who lives with her cat and an owl.’

Um, I think that’s what I like about it, thank you very much. Being a parent is all the emotional turbulence I need, my heart is already served on a plate, everyday, like a bunch of Wattie peas, and I know that financially my life as a writer is a comeback of flame, which could later put my daughter in hell, in a world already riddled with climate change. Occasionally, even steaming koalas would sprout from my cauldron.

“Mom, did the koalas die in the bushfires,” Fearne once asked.

“Some koalas are dead,” I say.

“Are the baby koalas dead? she asked. Pienkowski

“Some baby koalas have died.”

And more recently, in a news shot, showing a bloodstained pram. “Why did they kill the four-year-old child?” Where is his mom? Why would they bomb a child?

“Putt putt. Man on the moon, we’ll see you soon!”

JThe only story we have left is the little yellow hardback book, Meg on the Moon. Fearne and I are always counting down together, 10, 9, 8, 7… Meg and Mog bounce off a pair of astronauts, seeing how high they can jump to the moon. Splashdown is in the garden pond and Owl is waiting to greet them.

Pieńkowski has won the Kate Greenaway Medal for Illustration twice. Her use of paper cutouts and silhouettes stems from her childhood during World War II. In Warsaw, a soldier in an anti-aircraft bunker had entertained young Pieńkowski with shapes made from newspapers. And it was a neighbor in Poland who first told her stories of the witch Baba Yaga, but she always stopped at a cliffhanger. “I used to have terrible dreams, nightmares, of this witch, always chasing me and trying to put me in a pot,” he told an interviewer, “I think one Somehow she gave birth to Meg, because I think Meg was really sublime, isn’t that the word?Take this terrible monster from my childhood and make it a harmless toy.

Pieńkowski died in February of this year, with over 140 books to his name.

On Desert Island Discshe said, “If you’re in bed and your dad or mom is reading you a story, you can be as petrified as you want because you know you’re safe.”

Today Fearne and I walked to school, down the bump of Hankey Street, past the building site, and Fearne said, “Meg and Mog are the best books ever.

She’s seven now, but recently started wearing her t-shirt again, with a diaper underneath, so she’s not too itchy.

“What do you like about Meg and Mog?” »

“The details and at the end they always say goodbye.”

She lifted her chin in a satisfied smile.

“I should never have given away our Meg and Mog books, what was I thinking?” Silly mom, I said.

Something my own mum used to say, “stupid mum” bounced into the communal cauldron.

We stepped over the cracks in the sidewalk.

“What is the best story? ” I asked.

“The one with the eggs.

“What did you like about it?”

“Well, I don’t really remember it, but I do remember it was good.”

“Yes,” I said, and lifted my chin in a satisfied smile.

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