Title: The Kitchen Madonna
Author: Rumer Godden
Major Themes: England, London, Icons, Art
Synopsis: When they realize that their house help, Marta, is unhappy, Gregory and Janet set to work to make her happy again.
I should have known we would really enjoy The Kitchen Madonna; it is published by Bethlehem Books. Their books are excellent! I was surprised by the plot of this book, but really liked it for the most part. There were two aspects of the story I didn’t care for, but the motive was good.
Gregory and Janet saw that Marta, the lady who cared for them and the house, was unhappy. They loved her, and did not want her to leave, so they set to work to make her happy so she wouldn’t leave them like all their other help had. What did she want and need to be happy? A “good place” in the kitchen! The children set off to various parts of London, trying to find an icon like Marta would have known in the Polish Ukraine when she was young.
None of the icons in the British Museum seemed to be what Marta had described. Gregory took Janet to the jewelers—but they didn’t have enough money to buy what was there. Then, they found what Marta had been talking about, in a church. Now Gregory knew what she meant, and he set about to make one for her! What adventures he had along the way. And, he learned to talk to people, astounding Janet to no end.
There were two things I didn’t like so well. One was pretty glaring; I marked it when we were reading, as something I wanted to mention in the review; the other is something I thought about later as I was mulling over the story. The first is the disobedience. The children were told not to go out of a specific area of London around their house, and Gregory decided to anyway, because his project was so important to him. The second is the fact that both parents were working, and were not involved much in the children’s lives. That is why Marta was in their life—she was the housekeeper and cared for the children more than their mother did.
On the other hand, The Kitchen Madonna shows how love for another person can transform someone. Gregory had been a withdrawn, shy, lonely boy, but through the project he undertook for Marta, he learned how to talk to people and made friends. Even with the aspects I don’t like very well, I can recommend this book—just make sure to discuss it with your child!
WARNING: See second-to-last paragraph. Also, on page 39, Gregory calls Janet, “Idiot. Silly idiot.”
Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9, 8 – 12