What do you do when your children are naughty and all your hired help has run off in despair? You hope and pray that Nurse Matilda shows up on your doorstep!
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The recent movie, Nanny McPhee is very loosely based on the Nurse Matilda books. Nurse Matilda is the first of the three books, written in the 1960’s by Christianna Brand. It is similar in feel to Walt Disney’s movie, “Mary Poppins” (which, by the way, was nothing like the Mary Poppins books). The children are all horrible and have scared off countless nannies and governesses. Nurse Matilda arrives and magically teaches the children seven lessons in obedience. By the end of the book, the children have learned to behave and to love Nurse Matilda, and she must go to help other children.
If your kids liked E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It (which I reviewed here), they would probably enjoy Nurse Matilda. It isn’t great literature. It reads like a fairy tale (i.e. not much character development) but it teaches clear lessons about quickly obeying and not being destructive. It may be a little heavy-handed for some parents, but it was a fun, easy read, and I think it would work best as a read-aloud, so you can discuss each of Nurse Matilda’s lessons. The book I have has all three Nurse Matilda books in it, and I have started reading the second book, Nurse Matilda Goes to Town. It appears that the children forget their lessons, and Nurse Matilda has to come back, which might be a bit monotonous for some children, but I think my seven-year-old would still enjoy it.
Parents should be aware that Nurse Matilda is magical. She isn’t an obvious witch, casting spells and such, but when she thumps her big black cane on the floor, strange things happen that might be scary for some children. Also, this book uses old-fashioned words, and you may have quite the vocabulary list to work on.
The message of this book is that being naughty is not very fun if you cannot stop.
My Mom-Meter gives Nurse Matilda an overall safety rating of 1 (Safe) for ages 8 and up.
Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):
There is a summary of the plot of Nurse Matilda here.
- You might want to talk with your child about the seven lessons Nurse Matilda teaches: Go to bed when you’re told. Not to gobble. Do your school lessons. Get up when you’re called. Close doors after you. Wear your best clothes when you have to. Do not run away. All of these lessons really deal with the issue of who is in charge. The children have to learn that it is much more pleasant to obey than to disobey.
- The story really emphasizes how very ugly Nurse Matilda is. She grows more beautiful as the children learn their lessons. If you are a Christian, you could use this example as an opportunity to talk with your children about how the law of the Lord is burdensome when you are disobeying, but how it is delightful when you are obedient.
- The children tie up Podge, hide him, and then tell everyone that they ate him. You might need to talk to your kids about cannibalism.
- The day that the children learn to close the doors behind them, the servants attack the children (because the children had broken the rules and gone down to the servants’ quarters and made a complete mess of everything) with pots and pans, rolling pins, a carving fork, brooms, mops, “curling tongs,” and “flat irons.” They throw porridge at the children, and the children throw mud back. The servants also throw food that the children had destroyed. Did the servants behave as adults should behave in that situation? Do you think Nurse Matilda’s magic changed their behavior?
- The children dream that they are all running away from home, even though they do not want to run away from home, they cannot stay home until they ask Nurse Matilda to please let them stay home. You might want to talk with your kids about why it is more fun to disobey when you have a choice. What if they had to keep disobeying once they started?
- The children are all disobedient, but learn by the end to behave.
- One little girl dresses up like “ugly” Nurse Matilda to mock her.
- It is mentioned that the Baby’s diaper is always falling down.
- One misbehaving child “filled the loo with sticks and coal and lit a fire in it.”
“Plaits” meaning braids.
“Stout” as in fat.
“Perambulator” as in a baby carriage.
“Loo” as in bathroom.
“Nappy” is used, which is short for napkin: what they called diapers.
“Curling tongs” as in a primitive curling iron
“Flat irons” as in a solid cast iron tool for ironing clothes.
“Cannibalism” is used at least once.
“Red Indian” is used once, as in Native American.
- “Ass” is used once, as a joke referring to a donkey marrying a man who would have to be an “ass.”
- Nurse Matilda is magical. She only shows up when she is needed, stays as long as the children do not want her to stay, and she leaves as soon as the children do not want her to go. She starts out looking very ugly, but she grows more beautiful as the children learn their lessons. She carries a black stick, and when she thumps it on the floor, bad things happen.
Potentially Offensive Behavior:
- There are several references to the obligatory “fat nurse.” The baby is also referred to many times as “fat.” There is a boy called “Podge” that get “podgier,” implying he gains weight. He is referred to as “fat and greedy.”
- Evangeline, one of the maids, is referred to as a “cheerful little lump,” and looks at her “plump form” and decides to not eat so much.
- The story really emphasizes how very ugly Nurse Matilda is. She grows more beautiful as the children learn their lessons.
- There is once reference to a boy dressing up as a “Red Indian.”
- The Catechism is mentioned once as something the children would rather not recite.
- Every time the children refuse to obey, Nurse Matilda thumps her black cane and things get out of hand. When the children refuse to stop playing and go to bed, suddenly they find that they cannot stop playing no matter how much they want to. They can’t stop being naughty until they ask Nurse Matilda (with a please) to let them go to bed. Another time, they refuse to stop gobbling their food, so Nurse Matilda Thumps her black stick, and the children cannot stop gobbling. Their mouths are so stuffed with food that they have to force their hands to write in the porridge, asking Nurse Matilda if they can please stop. In the last lesson, the children have a dream that they are running away from home, even thought they do not want to run away, they cannot make themselves stay at home. It cures them of wanting to run away, but that dream could be disturbing for some children.
- The children pretend that they are “mad” and have rabies a few times.
- One of the boys, Nicolas, stages an execution and chops off the heads of a bunch of toys. When Nurse Matilda tells the children to stop playing, they refuse. Nurse Matilda then thumps her black cane, and the children cannot stop what they are doing. Nicolas ends up chopping off more heads than he wants to because he cannot stop until they ask Nurse Matilda if they can stop (and say please).
- The day that the children learn to close the doors behind them, the servants attack the children (because the children had broken the rules and gone down to the servants’ quarters and made a complete mess of everything) with pots and pans, rolling pins, a carving fork, brooms, mops, “curling tongs,” and “flat irons.” They throw porridge at the children, and the children throw mud back. The servants also throw food that the children had destroyed.
- The children tie up Podge Green, hide him, and then tell everyone that they ate him. They are cries of “Murder! Cannibalism!” The police are called, and the children innocently tell the police that their nurse told them to eat “greens.”
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