Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Top 5 Margaret Mahy… with memories

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted! But, I have spent the morning running around, putting up displays and organising a condolence book.

I've been in shock since I heard the news of Margaret’s death yesterday. Today, I am wearing a limited-edition t-shirt put out by Storylines (www.storylines.org.nz) emblazoned with Margaret's lion drawing – and purple accents (her favourite colour).

So... my Margaret books and memories… in order of the memory.

The lion in the meadow
What would you do if you knew there was a lion in the meadow, but your mother wouldn't believe you and gave you a matchbox with a dragon it to scare the away the lion . . . and in fact the dragon was there too?

Annie: How appropriate that my first Margaret Mahy memory is also my first library memory. And my first real book memory... My mother bought me a withdrawn library copy of this book when I was about 3 or 4. I still have it. Although Margaret supposedly wasn't that well known in New Zealand in the early days – this book was trashed. Considering it was first published in 1969, and it would have been '74 or '75 when I got the book – it was definitely loved among the reading children of Te Atatu South Library.

On the fifth anniversary of his older sister's death, nineteen-year-old Jonny Dart, troubled by feelings of guilt and an imperfect memory of the event, goes in search of the only other witness to the fatal accident and, through a chance meeting with a senile old woman, finds a way to free himself of the past.

Annie: I think I was actually a teenager when I read this one! It was published in 1987, so it must have been around then that I read it. This is one of those very-rare Mahy books without an element of fantasy. Instead, it is the portrayal of a friendship between a young boy and an older woman, who is suffering from dementia – which does make the story seem surreal, as Johnny connects with Sophie.

The changeover
Laura Chant knew that the face in the mirror was a sign of something dreadful coming. The evil Carmody Braque branded her young brother, and Jacko was ill, getting worse. The only way to save him was to change over-releasing her supernatural powers, joining forces with the mysterious Sorenson Carlisle.

Annie: I couldn’t believe it when this wee number turned up on my required reading list for a Masters’ paper! Score! So, my copy of this, The Tricksters, and The Catalogue of the Universe all have post-it notes sticking out of them, with comments, as I wrote my essays... That said, I had read and loved it for years before then.

Down the back of the chair
When Dad loses his car keys, toddler Mary suspects that they have ended up down the back of the chair, so Dad begins to search. But, what an odd assortment of objects is living down the back of the chair! This lively, eccentric poem is a visual explosion of fun and imagination, featuring dragons, pirates, treasure, lions, elephants and many more. But, what will a troubled father win from down the back of the chair?

Annie: A few years ago, Storylines hosted its annual Margaret Mahy Day in Christchurch. A close friend had just announced that he and his partner were expecting their first baby. He is renowned for losing keys (phones / everything really...), so I bought a copy of Down the Back of the Bhair for his future baby… and asked Margaret to sign it. As it was too early to find out the sex of the baby – it is signed 'Happy reading, Dear Whoever You Turn Out to Be.' The baby is now 2½ - and I think that Margaret's words were more a directive than a wish, as little Monkey (as we call her) LOVES books and wants to be able to read for herself NOW… none of this waiting around for school business.

The librarian and the robbers
Wild and wonderful, these stories will appeal to all readers of fine children's literature, and Blake's illustrations, full of spirit and exuberance, are the perfect accompaniment of Mahy's vigorous tales. The Great Piratical Rumbustification introduces us to Alpha, Oliver, and Omega Terrapin, alone for an evening of devilish fun and none other than Orpheus Clinker, a reformed pirate cleverly transformed into a respectable babysitter. Or has he reformed? Before you can say "Yo Ho Ho" the Terrapin household has become headquarters of the century's biggest pirate party. The Librarian and the Robbers is an equally tickling tale of a band of wicked robbers who one day carry off Serena Leburnum, a beautiful librarian. Follow what happens as the lovely and learned Miss L. not only outwits the robbers, turning them into outstanding citizens, but also teaches them the everlasting pleasures of the Dewey Decimal System. Two books worth of story crammed into 63 magical pages, full of robbers tricked by librarians and retired pirates who know how to party and revive the joys of boyhood (while paying the bills). No impossibly articulate child protagonists with clearly defined goals or desires, no rhyme or reason, just a pair of stories cut from the same cloth as books by Willaim Stieg and Roald Dahl.

Annie: Today I have entertained myself, and others, by reading extracts of this story. It’s is definitely a story written by a librarian, with lots of in-jokes only librarians would fully appreciate. First published in 1978, it’s poignant that it is an earthquake which prompts the Robber Chief to propose to the librarian, Miss Serena Laburmum. I also wonder if Margaret loved Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse as much as I do... Serena is the name of Maria's pet hare in this book, and Loveday (the surname of the Robber Chief) is the name of Maria's mother-of-her-heart.

~ Annie, Central City Library

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