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Summary Article: Mahy, Margaret
From Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature

M. is the author of many acclaimed works with life-important themes and rich language including PICTURE BOOKS, short stories, fiction and non-fiction, POETRY, and scripts. She was born the daughter of Francis George, a builder, and May, a teacher. She obtained a B.A. degree from the University of New Zealand in 1958 and then attended the New Zealand Library School to become a librarian. The importance of reading and its connection to writing has been integral throughout M.'s life as a writer. As long as M. can remember she was read to and in response to that reading, loved making up rhymes, stories, and dramas in her mind. She always knew that she wanted to write a book, even before she was old enough to write. First, as an ardent young reader, she had to rely on books written by her fellow native New Zealanders, too young to realize her future contribution to NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE. Although pleased and eager to read these volumes, the numbers were limited since commercial trading with the United States was not widespread. Then, as she became the reader of books for her children, there existed a wider realm of authors from which to choose. The numbers and myriad genres of books continued to increase. More recently, reading to her grandchildren causes her to reflect on the act of reading. While reading her childhood favorites to them, she has realized the “accumulated power” of a book. She feels the bond with the books she read as a young reader: a well loved, many-times read, “favorite” takes on the power of all the voices of the people who shared the piece; therefore, creating experiences of individual consciousness.

M. began writing as a seven-year-old girl, but her recognition as a published writer came unexpectedly when Helen Hoke Watts of the Franklin Watts publishing house purchased virtually all of her existing works in 1968. M.'s first book, published in the United States by Watts, was A Lion in the Meadow (1969). This fable about learning and knowing the difference between FANTASY and reality was the beginning of M.'s writing trek that successfully captivates her readers. Her themes are valued by critics for their base in family relationships and coming-of-age issues. The themes are then woven with language that is both whimsical and earnest, exact and imaginative, and engaging and thought provoking. M. has shared with audiences the process she uses while writing: she says the words aloud that she is thinking in her head until they sound right, then she writes them down. Although a seemingly confident, obviously successful writer, M. has to combat many ups and downs in her writing. She periodically feels a lack of confidence and writer's block. She continues to write throughout these hesitancies until she has completed the piece. This determination has helped M. as a prolific writer of award-winning literature for children. In 1989 she was chosen by the AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION's Association of Library Service to Children as the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecturer.

M.'s enticing HUMOR is evident in The Great White Man-eating Shark: A Cautionary Tale (1990) as she spins the story of a greedy young man's consequences in trying selfishly to keep a cove to himself. The Haunting (1982), a middle-grade novel, reveals M.'s ability to intertwine everyday life situations, suspense, and the unexpected. Other examples of the combination of realism and supernatural of fantasy are found in the plots of The Trickster (1987) and The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance (1984). Both stories convince their readers of reality while surprising them with the unexpected. M.'s writings exemplify her belief about books and their owners: “Books are the signs, not only of their own power and content, but of the true reader's receptivity. It is a great partnership.” Once a story has become a book, it belongs to the reader.


New Zealand Library Association's Esther Glen Award (1970) for A Lion in the Meadow (1973) and for The First Margaret M. Story Book: Stories and Poems. CARNEGIE MEDAL, British Library Association (1982) for The Haunting (1986), for The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance (1987), and for Memory. INTERNATIONAL BOARD ON BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE (1986) for The Changeover; ALA Notable Children's Book (1984) for The Changeover. ALA Best Books for YOUNG ADULTS (1986) for The Changeover (1987), for The Tricksters (1989), and for Memory

Further Works The Dragon of an Ordinary Family, 1969 Mrs. Discombobulous, 1969 The Little Witch, 1970 17 Kings and 42 Elephants, 1972 The Boy with Two Shadows, 1972 The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate, 1972 The Great Millionaire Kidnap, 1975 The Boy Who Was Followed Home, 1976 Trouble on the Bus, 1986 The Catalogue of the Universe, 1986 The Door in the Air and Other Stories, 1988 The Blood-and-Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak, 1989 Seven Chinese Brothers, 1990 Dangerous Spaces, 1991 The Pumpkin Man and the Crafty Creeper, 1991 The Other Side of Silence, 1995 A Summery Saturday Morning, 1998 A Horribly Haunted School, 1998 Simply Delicious, 1999
Bibliography Children's Literature Review, vol. 7 M., “Accumulated Power,” the Horn Book magazine, Mar./Apr. 1997, vol. 73, issue 2, p. 148 M., Margaret, “The Mysteries of Book Ownership,” the Horn Book magazine, Nov./ Dec. 1994, vol. 70, issue 6, p. 688 Something about the Author, vol. 69, 1992

Nancy Horton

© 2005 The Continuum International Publishing Group, Ltd

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