Me and Mister P, Maya’s Storm 

We think the entire series of Mister P chapter books is worthy of a mention as each story is fun and engaging with a reader friendly layout and wonderful illustrations.  Each book stands alone with Mister P being the only character to move between the stories.  Author Maria Farrer was kind enough to be interviewed about the inspiration behind this lovable polar bear and here is what she had to say…

All of the Mister P stories feature characters and families with diverse backgrounds or situations.  What was your motivation for this? 

All my stories have a basis in reality - real life challenges faced by real life people in real life situations. I have lived and worked in different countries, predominantly working in the field of language and learning difficulties (I started life as a speech and language therapist).  I like to explore challenges from different viewpoints to help build empathy and understanding.  I want to make hidden challenges more visible and give characters a voice that might not otherwise be heard.  

What are some of the key messages you would hope a Beanstalk reading helper or other adult would explore with a child when reading Maya's Storm?

Above all, I would like readers to engage with the story and experience a wide range of emotions. Different readers will bring their own experiences to any story and will take different messages away.  

I think discussions about change are helpful - that we can't control everything that happens and sometimes we have to accept and adapt, however hard that may be. Negative change can bring conflict and stress and in stressful situations, even people we know well can behave in uncharacteristic ways which can unsettle and upset us.  This is the story about a young girl coming to terms with her grandmother's (or adoptive grandmother's) dementia

Maya hates change. She is still settling into her new life and is very vulnerable. Vulnerability is not the same as being weak. Polar bears are an excellent example of this. We don't know where Maya came from, but we know she is now part of a loving family. She still experiences some anxiety around trust, acceptance and belonging (her box of memories is one thing that is her own and she values it very highly - it helps give her a sense of belonging, of putting down roots and building her new life). Maya's anxiety increases as Granny Anne becomes unreliable and unpredictable and the family tensions ramp up. It is as if the sands are shifting beneath her feet and it makes her feel uncertain and confused. Everyone in the family is affected by Granny Anne's decline. Maya is no different. She needs to become confident that she is truly valued as a member of her new family and that she can stand strong, trusting in their lasting love and support through good times and bad.  

Another key message is the importance of non-verbal communication - the amount of information we communicate without using the spoken or written word. Our body-language and expressions tell someone far more about what we are thinking and feeling than words ever can. Learning to use and 'read' non-verbal cues is a key life skill and worth exploring in detail. 

Maya’s relationship with Granny Anne is very strong. Granny Anne had all the time in the world to dedicate to Maya. Perhaps she was lonely having lost her husband and Maya (and then Mister P) provided a new focus for her love, creativity, fun and energy. I sense Granny Anne was a naturally giving person - much loved by everyone in the small seaside community. She was a person who truly felt at home in her environment. She was a great role model.

Why is the story set by the sea? 

I wanted a small and relatively isolated community where people knew each other and everyone had an opinion!  In Maya's Storm, the setting actually became quite a driver. The sea is ever-changing, ever moving.  It is a power we have no control over. There are tides and currents, cliffs and rocks below the surface and warning signs (in the shape of lighthouses). There is also sand and sea and fun. All this resonates deeply with the story of Maya, Granny Anne and a larger-than-life polar bear.  I enjoy working with various settings and I do a great deal of research. The difference between the high-rise flat in "Ruby's Star" and the seaside village of "Maya's Storm" could not be greater. Each comes with a unique set of possibilities and limitations, particularly when a polar bear is involved. I have had some fun discussions about where readers would like a future Mister P story to be set ... the most popular being "in space"!

Why does Mister P arrive and why does he leave? 

We can all do with a helping hand from time to time - someone we can turn to when times are tough. Mister P knows where he is needed and knows when his job is done. The relationship characters form with Mister P is not one way. He doesn't always get things right either. He is very human in that respect.  He learns from others and others learn from him.  He and Maya and all the family navigate troubled waters together.  His polar bear hugs are magical and they bring people together - literally and metaphorically.

In Maya’s Storm, the title of each chapter is very cleverly an idiom, which makes it even more perfect for our Top 40 as they’re great discussion points.  When you were writing the book, which came first, the chapter or the title?! (P.S. our resource developer’s six year old son loved finding out what each one meant!).

Idioms are brilliant, aren't they?  I never intended to have idioms as chapter headings - they just kind of appeared!  I think Granny Anne was definitely a user of idioms. The chapter usually came first and the chapter headings later.  Often idioms are used within the dialogue and they cause Maya some difficulty. For her, English is a second language and it takes her a while to understand that you can't take them at face value (there we go, another idiom!). They are fun talking points and are very succinct! They tend to 'hit the nail on the head'!

How did you decide that the wonderful Mister P would be a polar bear?  Do you have an affinity with polar bears?

There is something about polar bears - they are so huge, so majestic and yet so vulnerable. I love them! All the main characters in the Mister P series are existing well outside their comfort zone. I know Mister P, as a polar bear, would have great empathy for the challenge of survival in difficult circumstances - just look at what polar bears are having to go through in their natural environment. Polar bears are also resourceful and lead quite a lonely existence. Mister P arrives with no preconceptions about the way things should happen. He also doesn't SPEAK and this is absolutely key (I have already talked about non-verbal communication). Unlike Paddington or other popular animal friends ... I do not give him the benefit of being able to talk or understand human language. 

I also love the potential for humour that a polar bear brings - especially a bear with the size and character of Mister P. When I go on school visits I have a life-size cut out of a real polar bear and that quickly makes the 'size' of the problem quite obvious. I love laughing and humour is a wonderful way of diffusing tension. Mister P is a wonderful, big-hearted bear but is far from perfect. He makes mistakes, gets into trouble and has to deal with the fact that not everyone wants to be his friend.  He makes me laugh and he makes me cry. He allowed me to bring a “light touch” to some quite sad situations. While I was writing the series, he became a very present part of my life!  He is definitely my favourite character out of all the characters I have created. 

I would love to see polar bears in the wild ... but time is running out and that makes me very sad.

All the best