A celebration of Australian picture books #2 – Mem Fox

I own and have given away more picture books by Mem Fox than by any other author. To say I appreciate Mem’s work would be an understatement. I currently have on my shelves twelve of her more than thirty picture book titles and two of her eight nonfiction titles.

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Her first picture book Possum Magic was published in 1983. I love the story behind this book, as much as the story itself. Mem wrote the first draft in 1978 and over the next five years it was rejected by nine publishers. When it was finally picked up by Omnibus Books she was asked to reduce it in length by two-thirds and to change the characters from mice to possums. The book is now one of Australia’s most popular with more than 3 million copies sold around the world.

You can listen to Mem read Possum Magic or some of her other books here.

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In the ten years after the publication of Possum Magic Mem published almost twenty other books. I read her autobiography Mem’s the Word (released in the US as Dear Mem Fox) not long after it was published. At the time I was in my late thirties and was thrilled to find that Mem had also been in her late thirties when her first book was published. I thought there was still hope for me. I’d certainly had enough rejections by that time to fill a rather large shoebox, so maybe I just needed a few more!

Since then Mem’s output has hardly lessened and she has another new book coming out next month. In the meantime, I’m still hoping there’s time for me!

Mem is an author, not an illustrator. The twelve picture books I own were illustrated by eight different artists. Four illustrators did two of these books each. A quick glance at the list of Mem’s books confirms the number of artists who have been engaged to illustrate her work and the variety of artistic styles used. How wonderful for the artists to have that experience, and for teachers and parents the opportunity for discussing artistic styles with children.

My reason for raising this issue of author and illustrator is that I also am not an illustrator. A number of years ago when discussing picture book authors, an acquaintance scoffed at  my praise for Mem’s work: how could she possibly consider herself a picture book author if she didn’t do the illustrations? This acquaintance, in the process of having her first picture book published, was author and illustrator. In the intervening years Mem has gone on to publish a number of books, and this acquaintance none. Okay, neither have I. Yet!

Reading magic

Another thing that Mem and I have in common is our passion for literacy and our advocacy of reading to children every day. Mem’s book Reading Magic should be placed in the hands of every new parent along with a collection of picture books. I practice what I preach by giving a bundle of these as gifts to friends with newborns. I have written about that here. As well as Reading Magic, the bundle generally includes Where is the Green Sheep? and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, among others. Nurturing a love of books and reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.

The love of reading is gift

Below is a list of the Mem Fox books on my shelves at the moment (a few have mysteriously disappeared!) but the best way to check out Mem’s books is on her website here. While you are exploring her website, there is much else of value to discover, including suggestions for writers, teachers, parents, and children as well as other interesting information. Exploring Mem’s site is the best way of finding out about her wonderful books.

Here are the ones I own, in addition to the three mentioned above (in no particular order), with links to further information about each title on Mem’s site and to information about the illustrator where possible:

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Night Noises illustrated by Terry Denton

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Just like that (Now published as Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!) illustrated by Kilmeny Niland

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Shoes from Grandpa illustrated by Patricia Mullins

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Hattie and the Fox illustrated by Patricia Mullins

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Guess What? illustrated by Vivienne Goodman

Whoever you are.

Whoever You Are illustrated by Leslie Staub

Wombat Divine

Wombat Divine illustrated by Kerry Argent

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Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge illustrated by Julie Vivas

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Koala Lou illustrated by Pamela Lofts

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Sail Away illustrated by Pamela Lofts

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A Particular Cow illustrated by Terry Denton

 

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I hope you have found something of interest. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

29 thoughts on “A celebration of Australian picture books #2 – Mem Fox

  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Some day I will tell you how much I adore Mem Fox’s work. I recognized greatness when I first started hanging out in our elementary school and being exposed to her picture books. Then, when in graduate school to become a teacher, I made a great friend (childhood in Australia, I forget where just now)) who used Mem a lot in her own work. When my friend died a couple of years ago I dug through a pile of stuff and found the final project that she had shared with me. I shared with her children (grown) who had no idea but since Koala Lou has been a touchstone for all of us in our grieving and in our healing. I am so glad that I still have that paper of my friend’s. It is brilliant and shows such understanding of early reading learning and instruction. Her format was as an exchange of letters to Mem Fox about language and literacy. (We went to a creative school) When I left elementary school for middle school math I gave away most of my library, but up here where I rest and recharge in the summer I have my Mem Fox collection close at hand, (as well as William Steig). I read to the grown nieces and the grand nieces and nephews, and to myself.
    In addition to Mem’s picture books, Radical Reflections is recommended reading for educators.
    And, in relation to the post that led me here, of course one doesn’t have to illustrate their own stories, but there does need to be a good match.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m delighted to find another admirer of Mem Fox and her wonderful work in literacy development and writing picture books. I have to confess, though, and I can’t believe it when I now find the information on her website, that I was unaware of Radical Reflections. Thank you for drawing it to my attention. I am familiar with Mem’s recommendations on teaching literacy. I wish the powers that be would give teachers more freedom to implement them.
      I am sorry for the loss of your friend, but am pleased that you and she shared a love of Mem’s work, which you also shared with her young ones. How wonderful for her to have exchanged letters with Mem. Koala Lou is one of my (many) favourites (how could I choose just one!). I can’t read it without getting emotional. The children always sat almost transfixed when I read it. The words and the message are just beautiful.

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      1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

        You can’t have a favorite. They are all so good and have their own message. For the record, letters weren’t exchanged. My friend’s paper was in the format of letters written to Mem based on Mem’s writings and stories. Ms. Fox has no idea.

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  2. Bec

    So many of these I remember and love! And such an interesting story behind Possum Magic as you say. It’s hard to imagine it with mice rather than possums – it is such a classic it would be strange if it were different!

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    1. Norah Post author

      I agree with you about “Possum Magic”. Mice Magic doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? I don’t know how many times we read that book to each other. It was definitely a favourite, though “Just Like That” needed many readings too!

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    1. Norah Post author

      It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy reading it aloud. Children love it. I remember reading it to a class one day, adding different voices for the various animals. One child was extremely amused at the voice I used for the cow, saying, “That cow is so funny!” as if it was really the cow talking and not me reading. Moments like that I treasure. They are priceless. 🙂

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  3. Charli Mills

    It’s so good for us to find a mentor to look up to, even if they mentor us indirectly (through their books and writing their own story). It’s interesting to note that in the US, publishers do not want picture book writers to provide illustrations. They prefer to work with their own set of illustrators. Hold onto to you “yet.” There is yet time for you!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Charli. I’ve got to get this website up and running first! 🙂
      The situation with publishers wanting the unillustrated text of picture books is the same here. Suits me! And Mem is a wonderful mentor. I find great support through her story, her work and her passion.

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        1. Norah Post author

          What a great choice! I wasn’t familiar with Two Little Monkeys so I had to check out the information on her site. It looks delightful too. I was interested to see her honour writers whose work influenced the writing of the book, including Bill Martin Jr., whose work I also love.

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