Thursday, July 26, 2012

Margaret Mahy 1936-2012

This week we mourn the loss of Margaret Mahy.

Tributes have flowed in from around the world with obituaries appearing in the The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Herald Sun, The Huffington Post...and are still flowing in.

The world mourns the loss of THE STORYTELLER.

Margaret Mahy published over two hundred books for children and was the recipient of The Hans Christian Andersen Medal (commonly called The Little Nobel) for her world wide impact on children’s literature.
She won the Carnegie Medal twice for two young adult stories.
She was inducted into The Order of New Zealand, our highest civilian honour retricted to only 20 living people.

She was THE children’s writer.

Her awards are many...from her first ever published book, The Lion In The Meadow...discovered by chance in 1969, on an open page of our (famous) School Journal (in a glass case) as a book fair trade exhibit, by a New York editor,  through to her NZ Book of the year in 2011 with The Moon and Famer McPhee which was also named as an IBBY Honour Book this year.

A fact only lightly touched on in the media, but for me goes above the awards so richly deserved was that her little stories and poems made up a significant portion of the expanded Ready to Read series which introduced children to reading. She brought bounce and rhythm and fun into the challenging process of interpreting squiggles on the page as words and made reading time in the classroom a joy. This series was sold around the world...and so the world's children learned to read and laugh and understand that language could be playful and reading could be the best activity you could ever do.

Beautiful tributes have appeared in the last few days from this poignant personal poem from a close friend of Margaret’s, to the Pundits Of Literature trying to compare her with other well known New Zealand writers.

As the tributes and tears flow throughout the land (and now, as I write this) I am reflecting on the loss to the Children’s Literature community here in New Zealand.

In the children’s writing community you couldn’t and didn’t compare her. She was and is a colossus and a genius, as her friend and fellow children’s writer, Jack Lasenby said on National Television. 

On Facebook today I read this comment from John McIntyre owner of The Children’s Bookshop and National Reviewer of children’s books.
We have a growing, and perhaps irrational frustration at the comparisons of Margaret Mahy as "up there" with our finest authors, Katherine Mansfield and Janet Frame.
Hell, she wasn't up there, she was streets ahead. 
We like some of Mansfield's stories, but her's was a slight cannon of work over a short time span, most of it written in the many years she spent overseas whinging about how restrictive New Zealand was.
Janet Frame lead a reclusive life, and wrote for a small literary audience. She wrote brilliantly, and has had some international recognition, but could walk down the street without being recognised.
Margaret Mahy is the greatest writer we have ever produced, in any way you measure greatness. International recognition, generosity of spirit, quality of output, length of career, range of genre, awards won, languages translated into, critical acclaim, markets conquered.
Is it because she was a "children's" author that they need to qualify her greatness, or a we just being unreasonably insensitive. (and feel free to tell us if you think we are.)
This has roused a hearty cheer amongst the children’s writers and illustrators here....Margaret’s words helped children form an appreciation of reading so they could go on to appreciate the work of other writers.

I had to stand up and deliver a speech at our Children’s Book Association Annual General Meeting less than 24 hours after the news filtered through. How do you encapsulate her impact, personally and professionally and profoundly to people for whom children’s literature is why they are on this earth? You don’t. You leave it to the Storyteller herself to provide the words.

The Fairy Child
by Margaret Mahy

The very hour that I was born

I rode upon the unicorn.

When boys put tadpoles in their jars 

I overflowed my tin with stars.

Because I sing to see the sun

The little children point and run.

Because I set the caged birds free

The people close their doors to me.

Goodbye, goodbye, you world of men -
I shall not visit you again.

Margaret Mahy
1936 - July 23, 2012
Not R.I.P but...Dancing Among The Stars

Margaret Mahy’s last book, The Man From The Land of Fandango, illustrated by Polly Dunbar, published by Clarion will be out in October.

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