March 21 is the 78th anniversary of the birth of Margaret Mahy. Although it has been nearly two years since she passed away on July 23 2012, her name is still in the news.Book Cover of Magical Margaret Mahy

Plans are full steam ahead for the Margaret Mahy Family Playground. Billed as ‘the most amazing playground’ the city has ever seen, it promises activity zones aimed at different ages, comfortable places for adults to supervise and relax, and challenging play equipment, all inspired by the stories of Margaret Mahy.

It’s almost time for the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards to begin. The finalists will be announced on Tuesday 8 April, and the winners will be announced on Monday 23 June. The supreme winner wins the title of New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, and an additional $7500 prize. The award was re-named in honour of Margaret Mahy in 2013 and Into the River by Ted Dawe won the inaugural award.

If you are itching for some Margaret Mahy screen goodness, you can check out full episodes of her award-winning TV adaptions and scripts on NZ On Screen:

The Haunting of Barney PalmerCover of The Haunting
Which ’80s kid wasn’t totally freaked out by this spooky film?

This thriller inspired many a secret gang and clubhouse in the playground.

Cuckoo Land
If you haven’t seen this psychedelic, video-effect laden show, narrated by Paul Holmes, you should stop reading this and check it out immediately. I don’t remember seeing it as a kid, possibly because my parents thought it was some sort of medication-induced hallucination.

For the full list of Margaret Mahy media, head over to the NZ On Screen site.

If watching these makes you want to get back into some the source material, check out our full list of Margaret Mahy titles  on our catalogue and revisit some childhood favourites.

Then get onto our Margaret Mahy pages and check out the latest, and sadly last, titles published by this Kiwi taonga.

Cover of Footsteps through the FogCover of The Man from the Land of FandangoCover of The Green Bath

cover of Dashing DogMargaret Mahy was a spell caster no doubt of it. Not just children and parents, but illustrators fell under her spell. The other night I was watching A tall long faced tale , the very creative documentary about Margaret and her work which recently screened on television. Happily we have a lot of copies of the DVD in our libraries but if you want a taster it is here on NZ On Screen. Some very famous illustrators talk about the magic of working with Margaret.

The very next day what should I see but a wonderful account from New Zealand author and  illustrator Donovan Bixley about how he worked on illustrating  Margaret’s book  Dashing Dog. Donovan has been our November Star author on our Christchurch Kids blog. The Kids blog is something anyone interested in children’s books should read. The monthly star authors are a particular treat with writers from New Zealand and overseas. Amongst Donovan’s posts from November are The Art of Hybrid Novels, Part One and The Art of Hybrid Novels, Part Two which make very interesting reading, especially if you are interested in graphic novels.

Margaret Mahy displays23 July 2012 was a big big day. Central Library Tuam opened, South Library closed. And that night, news filtered through Twitter and other sources that Margaret Mahy had died.

People were stunned and sad for her family and friends. And we felt the loss of someone with a heart as big and free as her imagination.

We paid tribute in as many ways:

This year, we are having some more Mahy funtimes at our libraries.

Experience the awesomeness of Margaret Mahy through her books and DVDs and have a delve in our collection of Mahy stuff:

  • “When I have an idea properly established I think of it all the time . . . driving, gardening, shopping . . . sometimes the story becomes so interesting to me that real life becomes rather shadowy for a while” and more Margaret in her own words
  • The Word-eater: Our very own library Margaret Mahy story with pics of Central Library on Gloucester Street

An illustration of Margaret Mahy’s The Word-Eater by Bob Kerr.

Here is an omnium gatherum of some of our favourite tributes:

RIP M.M. Much missed.

Margaret Mahy storytime at Central Library Peterborough

Margaret Mahy storytime, 2012

23 July marks the first anniversary of Margaret Mahy’s passing. Margaret was a “word witch”, a master of children’s literature and also a former Christchurch Children’s Librarian.

To celebrate Margaret’s life we are presenting storytime sessions at various libraries throughout KidsFest. “Margaret Mahy Mayhem and more!” will be a colourful, energetic tribute to one of New Zealands most highly acclaimed and loved children’s author – and to our former colleague.

Children’s Network Specialist

Margaret Mahy book signing Margaret Mahy displays

Angus Tait Margaret Mahy Elsie Locke

Angus Tait, Margaret Mahy and Elsie Locke: Canterbury Heroes.

The word-eater by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Bob KerrThe word-eater written by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Bob Kerr. This story and illustrations were first displayed as a ‘big book’ in the children’s section of the Central Library during Christchurch’s Books and Beyond Festival in 1998. Margaret Mahy set the story in and around the library. Bob Kerr painted the pictures during the time the book was on display.

Christchurch Writers Festival 2012 logoIn the city of memories it’s hard to resist looking back. When was the first Christchurch Writers Festival I attended? I used to have a full collection of programmes so I could have checked, but not any more.

It was certainly held in the Arts Centre in the winter, because I remember the fire burning in the Great Hall. There have been so many great writers over the years; who stands out? In a quietly powerful  New Zealand way Noel Virtue and Beryl Fletcher. In a “hairs standing up on the back of your neck I can’t believe what I’m seeing here” sort of way Tusiata Avia. In a “this guy wrote a book that was made into a movie by Steven Spielberg” way Tom Keneally.

Margaret Mahy, mesmerising on the stage and asking the most amazing questions from the floor.  And Don McGlashan with the Seven Sisters in the Town Hall.

Cover: GoldEnough looking back, it’s time for some new memories and not long to wait for The Press Christchurch Writers Festival 2012. On my most likely to be memorable list are Emily Perkins, John Lanchester, Chris Cleave, Michael Smythe, Joanne Drayton.

Who am I kidding? I’m looking forward to all the writers. I’ll be at every session humanly possible. I won’t be in a Great or a Town Hall, but in two years’ time I might be blogging about how the Geo Dome was the most memorable of all.

What memories do you have of past writers festivals? And who are you looking forward to this time?

On Saturday 11 August, New Zealand will be doing a Margaret Mahy nationwide read. The storytimes will take place at 11am. Come along and listen to librarians read Margaret’s stories at:

In Barbadoes Street the Christchurch Youth Market will be launched. You can check out the stalls, be entertained, and also have a look at the new 298 Youth Health Centre in the Barbadoes Youth Hub.

Wander down then to the NG Gallery on Madras Street, recently home to Michael Parekowhai’s Steinway and Bulls. Now it is hosting Christchurch Art Gallery’s Out of Place:

Tilting a panoramic view until it dissolves, constructing furnishings with which to tackle the new normal, turning a room inside out and revealing a city that is reinventing itself before our eyes – four artists start with structure and examine what is possible when the rules no longer apply. Featuring works by Katharina Jaeger, Chris Pole, Tim J. Veling and Charlotte Watson.

Your Saturday could be sorted.

Being a reluctant learner at school, I never had a lot of time for reading. I definitely wasn’t a fan of books with chapters. My parents were probably disgusted, especially as Dad was a librarian and Mum a primary school teacher. I hated reading with a passion, and once even tried sending my brother up to the teacher to do mine for me.

However, a fond memory I do have is one day I was sitting in my primary school classroom when a sparkly, spirited Margaret Mahy arrived wearing a rainbow coloured wig. This wonderful appearance naturally made me interested. Mahy’s fantastic, bubbly, character and amazing narrative won me over. Unlike most adults, she knew how to enter the world of children which made her truly unique.

A great picture book is multifaceted, complemented by illustrations and appeals to adults as much as they do children. Mahy’s books such as A Lion in the Meadow, The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate and The Spider in the Shower illustrate her wonderful imagination. Children can put themselves in the shoes of the characters in these stories.

Children's choirSitting at Margaret’s farewell, in Hagley Park Geo Dome, it did occur to me how important it is that teachers, parents and caregivers try to understand what is going on in the world of children. Sometimes, the story itself isn’t enough, it is how it is told. As the service went on with renowned New Zealand literary greats, such as Tessa Duder, Rosie Belton, Gavin Bishop and Kate De Goldi paying homage to this wonderful New Zealander, I loved the fact a little girl came back and forth to pat the guide dog of an attendee, you could hear children playing and birds chirping in Hagley Park and oddly enough I had a ladybird fly into the Dome and settle on me. I think Margaret would love knowing this occurred.

Mahy’s books will continue to be cherished by future generations of children nationally and internationally and no doubt reprinted. Check out her wonderful collection at Christchurch City Libraries. Interestingly, this reluctant reader is now a trained librarian.

Rest in peace Margaret, you will never be forgotten.


The memorial bookletThe audience reflected in the screen

Yesterday we joined the hundreds-strong crowd in the Hagley Park Geo Dome to celebrate the life and work of author Margaret Mahy.

The order of service
The audience

Louise Deans hosted the occasion.

Louise DeansTessa Duder

Author and longtime friend Tessa Duder gave a lovely speech about Margaret Mahy, her family and origins, her life and career, and the magic of her writing. She ended with a poem that Margaret dashed off on an airplane sick bag on her way to a speaking engagement. It was a beautiful piece about growing old and seizing the light out of life (and she was only 37 when she wrote it).

Margaret's grandchildrenOne of the most moving parts of the tribute was hearing Margaret’s lovely granddaughters speak, sharing memories as well as snippets of Margaret’s words. Imagine having  a Nana like that, outdoing all the kids in her partying prowess, dancing the can can in the school car park.

Friend, neighbour and author Rosie Belton conveyed beautifully Margaret’s love of her environment in Governors Bay. She spoke of how the earthquakes affected the community. Apparently none of Margaret’s books fell off her bookshelf as they were so tightly packed. Rosie also mentioned the prescience of Kaitangata Twitch with its allusion to the harbour twitching and shrugging the people off its back. Margaret thought it required a certain fatalism to manage in the quaking times.

Lorain Day, Margaret’s editor for ten years, spoke of her work with Margaret. The words that were most important to Margaret were “real” and “true”. She was delighted with hearing a child say “That was a very Margaret Mahy word”. Lorain finished with the lines:

Do you know about the Word Witch? Has she cast her spell over you? She can lasso with a limerick, haunt with a haiku and wrap you tight in a rhyme, quick as lightning. Her cauldron is a dictionary, her wand a mighty pen, and she stirs her words at midnight, making tempting treats for children, to please and tease and tantalise them with imaginary treasures and delectable dreams. She weaves words into adventures, sets verses wildly dancing, makes similes sing and stamp their feet and poems purr like pussycats who’ve eaten all the cream. Her name is Margaret Mahy. These are her spells.

Gavin BishopGavin Bishop, who has illustrated Margaret’s upcoming book Mr Whistler, was dubbed by Margaret “A Sicilian in a Savile Row suit”. He read a piece from The Pirates’ Mixed-Up Voyage and had the crowd roaring. The idea of a pirate teashop suddenly loose on the seven seas, and the crew having to learn to read at a literary academy was silly. Brilliantly silly.

Children's choirWe got to see a neat video version of Down the back of the chair with Margaret reading to her twin granddaughters.

A children’s choir sang a medley of Margaret’s words.

Our own librarians Sue Colyer and Louise Easter spoke of working with Margaret. Sue said:

and the mother never ever made up a story again – This last line of A lion in the meadow  – must be one of the most ironic endings in children’s literature  for Margaret was a mother who made up stories for the rest of her life …  However today we want to talk briefly about her library career. I worked with Margaret at the School Library Service office in Christchurch, in the 1970s where she was in charge of services to primary schools throughout Canterbury …

During this time Margaret was becoming established as a published author, writing by night, shooting over the hills from Governors Bay in her mini to work at the library by day and bringing up Bridget and  Penny, who were always welcome visitors to the library.  Despite this she was always fun, immensely cheerful and greatly loved by her colleagues; morning and afternoon tea conversations were a delight.

Sue Colyer and Louise EasterLouise said:

I discovered this wonderful librarian who would take it as part of her duties to enliven that first hour of the day which was spent shelving the returned books. Margaret would sing sea shanties often with a little sailor’s hornpipe to set the scene and recite long ballads and poems – the Rime of the Ancient Mariner being one of the shorter ones.

She would encourage us to talk about the books we were reading and to develop a critical analysis of children’s literature and it was really through her that I developed my own passion for children’s literature.

Talking to colleagues, who worked with her over the years, all remember with great fondness her sense of fun and mischievousness, her generosity with her time and advice as well as her encyclopaedic knowledge of all manner of things. She would often surprise one with discussions on scientific topics she had read about in the New Scientist. She continued to enliven staff morning and afternoon teas and a colleague remembers her leaping onto a table and reciting Chaucer in Old English to illustrate a point.

Margaret left the Library in 1980 to write full time but continued to come back to the Library for special events generously sharing her time always interested in what was happening to people and especially what we were reading.

In all the lovely tributes were common threads:

  • Margaret was humble, always had time for people. And kids and dogs were always her special friends.
  • She loved to read, and had an insatiable need to write. Margaret would often be up to dawn writing.
  • Her imagination and flair with language were boundless.
  • She had a strong enduring love for her family.
  • We were so lucky to have had her. Really lucky.

Haere ra Margaret.


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