Monday 28 March 2016

Naomi Mitchison: Women in World History - A Multicultural Kids Blog Series

For the second series of the brilliant Women in World History, we decided to focus on a woman close to home, or rather, close to our new adopted home, and capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Naomi Mitchison was born in Edinburgh in 1897 and during her lifetime penned over 90 books ranging from travel books to novels to science fiction to historical novels to children's books.  I came across her whilst studying for a MA in Glasgow University and of course one of the remarkable things about Naomi's body of fiction was that it was largely disregarded at the time in favor of  her male contemporaries.

Initially Naomi started her career as a scientist and wrote a significant paper on genetics, highlighting genetic linkage in animals.  However following World War One she decided to train as a nurse.

In 1916, Naomi married a friend of her brother, who like her was from a well-connected and wealthy family.  He became a QC, a Labour MP and then a life peer and while Naomi could have taken on the title, Lady Mitchison, she strongly objected to this.  She did however assist him hugely with his constituency duties and political career.

The marriage was not wholly satisfactory so both Naomi and Dick (her husband) agreed to enter into an open marriage with both parties entering into other relationships.  However Dick and Naomi still had seven children together whilst Naomi dreamed of a time when women could have children with more than one father if they wished.

Her most famed fictional work was The Corn Queen and the Spring King is regarded by many critics as one of the best historical novels of the twentieth century.  She was also a famed feminist and campaigned openly for birth control.  

Naomi was a prolific traveller and penned a book called Mucking Around about her travels in five continents over 50 years.  She also travelled frequently to Africa over her lifetime and was made a kind of tribal mother of the Bakgatla people from Botswana.  (Her Botswana name is at the top pf her portrait - MaBakgatla).

She wrote a number of memoirs in her lifetime and was also a close friend of JR Tolkien as well as being one of the proof readers of Lord of the Rings. 

Naomi was politically active throughout her life and a committed Socialist.  She visited the Soviet Union in 1932 with the Fabian Society and spoke out against the direction of Soviet Society.  She also smuggled refugees out of Austria as well as smuggling documents out.  After she unsuccessfully stood for the Labour Party, Naomi became interested in Scottish Nationalism and themes and wrote increasingly on such issues, while advocating for many local issues in Argyll and the Highlands and Islands.

Naomi continued to write until well into her nineties and was made CBE in 1981.She died at 101 in her beloved Argyll and was survived by her three sons, two daughters and nineteen grandchildren.

Initially I brought my daughter Malika on a "treasure hunt," to the National Portrait Gallery,  Edinburgh, to see if she could find the portrait of Naomi.  En-route, I told Malika snippets about the life and times and stories of Naomi.  This portrait was painted by the Australian artist, Clifton Pugh.

Malika and Naomi.

Travel Light is one of Naomi's few children's books and critics compare it to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.  Its the story of Halla, a girl born to a King but raised by bears while living amongst dragons.  The book weaves its tales in Constantinople and medieval forests and centres around Halla's youth amongst dragons, unicorns and other mythical creatures.  In the second half of the book Halla is taken under the wing of a hero, who asks her to discard her worldly things and travel light.  
Halla is regarded as a saint, an angel, a god, a witch or a friend by all those she comes across and she can speak all languages including bird and animal languages.  

This is such a wonderful fantastical book and while Malika enjoyed it I think it is more age appropriate for children of ten years old and above.

Buy a new pad, fresh felt-tip pens or pencils and ask your child to write a book called "Travel Light."  Fun, creative and easy....
Malika enjoyed drawing lots of bears and authoring a wonderful tale of travelling bears....

Naomi and Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown

Naomi was a huge vocal campaigner for women's rights and was regarded as a bohemian free thinker and feminist before the term was even coined.

You could ask your child how girls are expected to behave and how boys are expected to behave....You could then ask them whether or not boys and girls should be treated in the same way or differently and why this is.....

If you would like to learn more about Naomi, tune in to this quintessentially British Radio Show, Desert Island Discs, which features Naomi in discussion about her chosen records, book and possessions for a Desert Island....Great stuff from a true original x

Women's History Month Series on Multicultural Kid Blogs

Join us for our second annual Women's History Month series, celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of women around the world. Follow along all month plus link up your own posts below! Don't miss our series from last year, and find even more posts on our Women's History board on Pinterest: Follow Multicultural Kid Blogs's board Women's History on Pinterest.
March 1 A Crafty Arab on Multicultural Kid Blogs: 7 Women Artists Who Changed History
March 3 The Art Curator for Kids: Songs We Can See - The Art of Peggy Lipschutz
March 4 Kid World Citizen: Children's Books about Women Scientists
March 7 Mama Smiles: Picture Books about Great Women in History Your Kids Need to Know
March 8 Hispanic Mama: 4 Latina Women Who Made It Happen
March 9 Discovering the World Through My Son's Eyes: Spanish Children's Book on the Life of Felisa Rincón de Gautier, First Female Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico
March 10 Witty Hoots: Some Awesome Women in My Life
March 11 MommyMaestra: Women in World History Trading Card Template
March 14 Crafty Moms Share
March 15 The Jenny Evolution
March 16 Discovering the World Through My Son's Eyes
March 17 Living Ideas
March 18 La Cité des Vents
March 21 A Crafty Arab
March 22 La Cité des Vents
March 23 Peakle Pie
March 24 All Done Monkey
March 25 The Art Curator for Kids on Multicultural Kid Blogs
March 28 Creative World of Varya
March 29 Family in Finland
March 30 The Jenny Evolution
March 31 For The Love of Spanish

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