To begin with, story time was something she shared with her mum and dad. They moaned when she demanded to be read Porky Pig’s Counting Book for the umpteenth time. She knew all the words. She could ‘read’ it herself. She was three. If she was staying with grandma, it was Scuffy the Tugboat and The Saggy Baggy Elephant that had to be read before sleep could be contemplated. Later, her father read her Wind in the Willows, The Water Babies, Tales of the Arabian Nights, The Just So Stories, Winnie the Pooh, Alice and Wonderland and Grimm’s Fairy Tales from old, battered books, with the quaint, handwritten inscriptions by relatives too far back for a little girl to fathom.
When she started school, library classes were her favourite. She sat on her bottom, with her legs crossed, listening to Mrs Wilson read the stories, while following the pictures and learning about covers and end pages, rhymes and nonsense, writers and illustrators. Each year, she picked favourites from the nominations for the Children’s Book Awards, and was disappointed when they missed out on the honours. She was eager for recommendations and was competing to have the longest borrowing history on the new library computer, racing through adventure series and Anne of Green Gables but scorning the Goosebumps books.
Today the little girl is not so little. In fact, she is oh so slightly younger than Spot. A little corner of her bookshelf is dedicated to the childhood books she could not part with. And she has not forgotten the lessons learned on the library floor. She takes comfort in knowing that The Story of Ping (the duck) is still in circulation.
So it is with sadness that the now grown up, but ever-little, girl joins the world in mourning the death of Margaret Mahy.
Margaret Mahy was a prolific writer for children and young adults who has been entertaining children sitting on their bottoms in libraries, or tucked under the covers in the glow of the bedside lamp long before I was small and for much longer after that. I remember being read A Lion in the Meadow and The Witch in the Cherry Tree as a child and I remember being pestered for Down the Back of the Chair as a young adult, running the children’s section of a bookstore, the day it was released. She was a lady who always knew what to say, and how to say it to her audience. When I well and truly grow up, I hope I can maintain such an ability to entertain and empathise with children of any age. Whether teaching dance, reading stories, selling books or studying paediatrics, it has always been something I have strived for. I know exactly where that ambition, that admiration, stems from.
There are many published eulogies and feature articles covering the story, but this is my favourite.
- Do you have a special Margaret Mahy story you would like to share?
- Have you thought about your childhood stories recently?