Margaret Mahy – New Zealand Children’s writer extraordinaire

When it comes to children’s writing in New Zealand, Margaret Mahy has made an incredible contribution over her lifetime. She was a children’s librarian in Christchurch until 1980 when she resigned to write fulltime.  Her work has been translated into 15 different languages and has won many awards.

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Margaret Mahy. Photo was taken from article

The Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal and Lecture Award began in 1991when it was presented to Margaret Mahy.  After this, the medal presentation has been given annually to a person for their lifetime achievement and significant contribution to the broad field of children’s literature and literacy. This includes writing, illustration, publishing and academic fields.

Margaret Mahy’s works are listed on her Storylines bio page and as you can see there are many to choose from. One that was published posthumously was called “Mr Whistler”. Illustrated by Gavin Bishop, the story is about Mr Whistler who loves to dance. As he rushes to catch a train he absentmindedly misplaces his ticket (can you see it in the illustration?) and the fun begins as he searches through his pockets to try to find it while keeping in time with the music only he can hear as he is remembering it. Spencer Levine has a few pages on his website for readers to preview. This book won the best picture book at the New Zealand Post Children’s Book awards in 2013.

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Screenshot from the blogpost

My personal Mahy favourite is “A busy day for a good grandmother”, perhaps because Mrs Oberon is the quintessential modern Grandmother, something I hope to be in the future. For a better glimpse through this book take a look at the blog post from Lucy Mitchell’s blog “On the stripey couch on a Saturday morning”

Mahy has written books for Young Adult readers as well. “The Changeover”, first published in 1984, is still a favourite. It is described as a “low fantasy” novel and portrays a devoted sister who, in order to save the life of her brother, changeover to become a witch. Mt favourite of her Young Adult novels is “Memory” first published in 1988. It is the story of a troubled young man, Johnny, who one night stumbles upon Sophie West, an elderly lady who has Alzheimer’s disease. Together they assist each other; Johnny, by defending Sophie from people who want to take advantage of her and Sophie in her mistaken belief that Johnny is her beloved nephew helps him to heal the wounds of his past.

In 2006 Mahy won the Hans Christian Anderson Award, the world’s most illustrious award for children’s writing. As the New Zealand Herald article reported, “Often called the “Little Nobel”, the award is given biennially by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) to honour an author who has made a lasting contribution to international children’s literature”.

After her death in 2012, Christchurch city council decided to create a children’s playground in Mahy’s honour. The Margaret Mahy Family Playground is a favourite for locals and tourists alikeIn this article by Vicki Anderson, her daughter enjoys the playground and makes the wonderful ink between her experience and one of Mahy’s most-loved books “The Lion in the meadow”.

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Amanda Bond is a New Zealand ex-pat currently working as Teacher Librarian in an international school in Istanbul, Turkey. Her twitter handle is @kiwionthego

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