Old Mother West Wind Tales Book Review & Author Interview

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Old Mother West Wind Tales Book Review

Old Mother West Wind Tales by Muz Murray is a rewriting of Thornton Burgess's Old Mother West Wind, which contains animal tales designed to teach children a lesson. I felt it was similar to Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit tales, which we have read a few, but much more lighthearted and a lot less dark. Old Mother West Wind Tales is more whimsical and the morals in the story are great!

I have never read Thornton Burgess's Old Mother West Wind, so I cannot compare the works, but I do love Muz Murray's revised version of the tales. Murray includes an Endword in his book where he explains some of his changes. I loved that he chose to add female characters! The original apparently only had boys, so he made it more inclusive. I also found it interesting how he switched some of the animals so kids would be more familiar with the animals in the story. After each story, there is a blurb about some of the animals featured in the story. It's a great book for animal lovers! Our daughter loved it! Her favorite stories are the ones with the otters.

This is not a picture book but there are a few illustrations (which are very beautifully drawn). It is meant for parents to read to their children or for older kids to read on their own. The tales are the perfect length for bedtime reading. Our five-year-old sometimes even talks me into reading two stories before bed. 

Where Can I Find Old Mother West Wind Tales?

Old Mother West Wind Tales by Muz Murray is currently available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and your local book shop or library, (using the ISBN 978-1-9996327-4-8)

Or, www.muzmurray.com (for those in the UK) 

An Interview With Author Muz Murray

Q. What was it that prompted you to rewrite a 110-year-old book? 

Basically, a fond memory from the past. When I was six years old, the first book that took my fancy was called Old Mother West Wind. It was quirky and unusual and captured my interest sufficiently so that I remembered the title even when I was in my thirties.

And later in life, when I became an author myself, I often wondered what it was that I enjoyed as a six-year-old, so that I could write something similar for young children. So I searched in vain for a copy of the book in all the old bookstores and charity shops without success. And no one I spoke to in the UK had ever heard of this book. 

So it wasn’t until in my 80’s that I thought of typing in the name of the book in Google. And lo and behold! I discovered that it was an old American children’s classic by Thornton Burgess written in 1910. It was a huge thrill for me to find it again. However, on re-reading the book with a more critical adult eye, I now found the narrative quite old-fashioned in style, a touch too moralistic for my taste, and with a number of plot-holes in the stories, some of which just petered-out with rather feeble endings.

And when I read the reviews of the old book by present-day moms I saw quite a few complaints about the awkward style of writing that made for difficulty in reading aloud and a few out-of-date attitudes that put them off from reading it to their children. 

So when I discovered it was out of copyright, I decided to rewrite the whole book and redress all the issues that bugged modern moms, in order to make it a pleasure to read and more compatible with the attitudes of parents and children of today. 
And from the delighted new reviews coming in, it seems I have succeeded in that.   
So I just added the word “Tales” onto “Old Mother West Wind” to distinguish it from the original book. 

Q. Which story from Old Mother West Wind Tales was the most fun to rewrite and why?

Oh, that’s not an easy one to answer, because they were all quite fun to write.
One of the most pleasurable for me was “Billy Brock’s Swimming Competition”, because I was able to change the plot by introducing the heroic Little Zoëy Otter, who saves Old Grandfather Frog from drowning. Thornton Burgess originally wrote the stories for his young son, so there were no females in the book—only a couple of old mothers—no girls at all!  
That put off some present-day mothers from reading the book to their daughters. So I made some of Old Mother West Wind’s children into boys and girls. And invented Little Zoëy Otter and her friend Betty Beaver, to bring some balance back into the tales and make them more ‘daughter-friendly’.

Another one that was most satisfying was, “Little Zoëy Otter’s Slippery Slide” because it gave me the chance to explain why Pee-Tee Rabbit—the pesky prankster—got his come-uppance by being booted into the pond by Billy Brock the badger. 

And again, after reading the reviews of the original book by today’s parents, I saw that some mothers were not happy with this rather unkindly act.  But I was able to put the event into context, as the tedious rabbit was always playing tricks on the other animals and causing them problems. So finally, the prankster himself got pranked, with a well-deserved boot in the butt by Billy Brock—which was welcomed with a round of applause by the other woodland creatures who had been victims of the rabbit’s pranks. 

But then I had Billy Brock feeling ashamed, whispering, “I know what I did was really uncool.  You should never, ever, push anyone into a pool,” said he with his head hanging down. Although he still couldn’t manage to hide the tiniest grin, “But Pee-Tee rabbit really had it coming to him.”
So it was actually a good lesson in karma coming around, teaching that whatever you do has consequences that will always come back on you. See? I’m slipping into the rhyming language of the book that both parents and children appreciate. 

Q. Which story from Old Mother West Wind Tales was the most challenging to revise and why?

Hoo-boy! That would be “Toby-Cockles and the Acorn Race”. This chapter was originally called, “SPOTTY THE TURTLE WINS A RACE”—by which title, Burgess had already given away the plot. 
The story was a take on the famous Hare and the Tortoise fable. But in his version, the competitors in the race had to pick up a hickory nut from a distant tree, and bring it back to Grandfather Frog who would then judge the winner. When the race starts off, the Turtle snaps his beak onto the tail of Reddy Fox and hangs on for the rest of the race (which is quite absurd that a fox would not notice the heavy weight of a turtle hanging on his tail). So this ploy wasn’t plausible. Then the turtle drops off at a pond, swims across and finds the last three hickory nuts, two of which he buries in the mud and then swims back to win the race. And he gets applauded by the other animals for his trickery and cleverness. But on reading the reviews, I saw that many readers were not happy about teaching children that it’s good to cheat.
So this chapter seemed so difficult for me to re-write that I decided to leave it out of the book altogether.
And as I also wanted to introduce these tales to British children, who had never heard of them, the story posed a number of problems. For a start, there are no hickory nuts in England—nor are there any turtles. Turtles are sea-going creatures with flippers. They don’t live in freshwater rivers where the story is set. 

Although a naturalist, Burgess wasn’t always correct in his portrayal of animals and their characteristic natures. So I wanted to make the stories as authentic as possible, according to the way the animals actually behave. And some of the animals are completely unknown to British children, so I had to change them to better-known creatures of the English countryside. 
For example, in this chapter, one of the central characters was Billy Mink, which means nothing to English children. So I was at a complete loss to know how to rework the plot. 
It took me three months of brain-storming before I came up with Toby-Cockles the terrapin—which is a freshwater amphibian in Britain, with four legs like a tortoise, not flippers. Then I chose an oak tree with the last acorn of the season as the prize. And I changed Billy Mink to Billy Brock the badger. But I still had a really difficult time devising reasons why the other competitors in the race, Billy Brock, Pee-Tee Rabbit and Reddy Fox, were prevented from getting to the acorn first, so that Toby-Cockles could win the race without cheating. Only my readers can say if I came up with a satisfactory conclusion.


Q. Which Old Mother West Wind Tales character is your favorite and why?

Ah, well now, I may be considered biased if I say Little Zoëy Otter, because I created her. But she stands out as always being thoughtful, resourceful, brave, and considerate of others. So she’s quite a role model I think.
But otherwise, of the original characters, I go for Johnny Chuck the groundhog, because he‘s an easy-going, fun character, (except when he gets riled) and he has a philosophical outlook similar to my own. 
And of course, Grandfather Frog, the oldest and wisest of all the animals of the meadow and wood, who gives out sage advice about vanity and pride, but is still susceptible to flattery himself, much to his undoing.

Q. When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Oh, I think it crept into my consciousness from the time I started reading without being aware of it. I remember making my own books from a very young age. I copied how real books were designed, cutting up paper for pages and making little facsimiles, adding the metadata and everything. I can recall writing my first full story at the age of eight, in a lined English exercise book, about the birth, life, and death of a jaguar in the Amazonian jungle. I don’t know what happened to it. 
But at that age I was crazy about animals, birds, trees, and wild flowers and for several years I wanted to be a naturalist. I even learned the Latin names of a host of animals, birds and wild flowers by the time I was thirteen. But at that age I passed an exam for Art College and I later developed a career as a surrealist painter. However, when I set off in my early twenties to hitch-hike around the world, I couldn’t carry painting gear with me, so I got stuck back into writing as I travelled.

Q. What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

Honesty, authenticity, enticing imagery, openings that grab the reader from the get-go, pacing, and a writing style that makes it easy to read aloud, even if it is non-fiction.  

Q. What is the most difficult part of the writing process?

For me, I think it’s editing. Knowing what to cut out, after you have spent all that time painstakingly crafting your paragraphs—“killing your darlings” as we say in the author trade. Finding what slows up a story or what readers might find boring. But thank heavens we have beta readers to help with that.
My biggest struggle is with finding plots. I never have one to begin with. So that’s why it was easier for me to fill out Thornton’s somewhat sketchy plots and bring them into fuller life. In another book, I had some funny characters I wanted to write about but no story. So I just start writing and carried on until something emerged and I eventually I found out what the book was supposed to be about.    

Q. What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Oh! Is there a time without writing? I don’t recall. But if I ever find the keys to unlock the manacles from my key board and allow myself such luxury, I like gardening and doing artwork, reading fantasy books, or watching fantasy movies.

Q. What were some of your other favorite Childhood books?

Without doubt my all-time favorite is The Hobbit. I can remember the moment—at 7 or 8 years old—when I pulled the book off the shelf in the children’s library and read the first few pages. It was a revelation! “At last!” I said to myself, “here’s a real book!”  It captured my soul’s longing like no other story I had ever read. And that coloured my literary imagination from then on.
I always preferred whimsical and unusual stories that took me to a timeless world, away from the dreary life and mean streets that I grew up in after World War II. Of course, I read all the classic folk tales, Hans Anderson, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the like, but nothing captivated me like The Hobbit. I also loved Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, and Tove Jansen’s delightful Moomintroll books, the Narnia Chronicles, The Jungle Book, Tarka the Otter, and The Borrowers.

Q. What age group is your book intended for? 

Well, there are moms telling me they are reading it to three-year olds who can happily follow the plots. And grannies are saying that any of their grandchildren up to ten, or even twelve, love these wholesome stories and they are especially delighted with the Nature Notes and fun facts about the animals, birds and reptiles following each chapter. 
So you can hardly go wrong with any age. 

Q. What do you hope your readers take away from Old Mother West Wind Tales?

I hope they will come away with a heart full of comfort and satisfaction and a wish to read the stories all over again. The latest reviewers are saying that this book is a new classic itself and likely to be passed down from generation to generation. So that’s very heart-warming to hear. Above all, because of the easy to learn Nature Notes, I hope I will have instilled a love of wildlife in the young readers, so that they will want to learn more about it and explore the world of nature for themselves.

What Other Readers Are Saying:

An engrossing and charming read.  *****

What an absolute delight to read! This book has it all for children and adults that are still in touch with their inner child. I read it to my grandchildren, and they were really upset when it was finished, they wanted it to go on, they loved it so much. They loved the pictures, and learning all about the different animals, and creatures. It really brought the book alive for them, they are 3,5,9 respectively. A book for children of all ages. 
— Gilda Jayne Huntley

A delightful 21st-century reworking of this classic collection of animal stories for children.   *****          
 “Each of these imaginatively written, beautifully illustrated stories is accompanied by nature notes describing the habits and habitats of the denizens of Windily Wood. The tales are the perfect length for bedtime reading. This really is a classic to pass down through the generations.”       
—Jan Bishop

What a wonderful book!  *****

What a beautiful mixture of glorious childhood, and educational information about flora and fauna. It awakens blissful childhood memories. Muz Murray has ‘renovated’ an ancient children's book in the best possible way and also introduces the real-life creatures who were the godfathers of the ‘contributors’, one after the other, with all kinds of facts. Reading—or even reading aloud—is a great pleasure.

A book not only for the little ones, but also for the grown-ups. These are wonderful bedtime stories. Bet you love it? Dear Mr. Murray: THANK YOU!!!  You've done a great job in updating this rather old book!

Enchanting and Masterfully Illustrated Stories  *****

Old Mother West Wind Tales is a beautiful collection of enchanting and masterfully illustrated stories. I could not help but smile while reading these delightful tales. The "Nature Notes" at the conclusion of each chapter are a wonderful addition to these whimsical little gems to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
—Michelle Elliott

The next children’s classic?  *****

Fabulous descriptions of animals and characters, with bits that made my grandchildren and I laugh out loud. It really brings them all to life. We found the nature notes very interesting and informative, a great learning tool, with photos of the animals written about. So facts, and amusing stories, what’s not to like? The chapters are just the right length for a bedtime story.

I loved the illustrations. Muz Murray is not only a talented writer but an artist as well. 

Could this become the next children's classic, after the original classic?
—Chris Hurst

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