Monday, November 19, 2012

My Favourite Children's Author: Mem Fox {plus a Giveaway}

After three months and eleven guest posts where mummies shared their favourite children's authors such as Julia Donaldson, Lea Lionni, Enid Blyton and Hans Christian Anderson, this week marks the last post of this guest post series.

I admit. I have more than one favourite children’s author. And today, I will share about another author whose picture books are always on our reading list.

I only discovered Mem Fox this year, and I must say she is a brilliant writer of children’s picture books. She has written over 40 titles for young minds and five adult books on reading, teaching and learning, of which Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Changes Their Lives Forever is the most popular. She is also sought after as an international literacy consultant.

Born in 1946 in Melbourne, Australia, Mem Fox grew up in Africa, at Hope Fountain, which is a few miles from the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She went to drama school in London and married an Englishman in 1969. They returned in Australia the following year and in 1971, she gave birth to her only child Chloe Fox, who is now Minister for Transport Services of the South Australian Parliament. She is also grandmother to Theo, born in January this year.

Mem Fox switched her focus to literacy studies in 1981 to find out how children best learn to read and write. She eventually became Associate Professor of Literacy Studies at Flinders University, South Australia. She retired in 1996, after twenty four years of teaching, to focus on her second passion – writing and reading aloud to children.

Mem Fox wrote her first children’s title Possum Magic, which is dedicated to Chloe, in 1978 during a course in children’s literature at Flinders University. It was rejected nine times over five years, before finally being published in 1983. Today, Possum Magic is one of the most recognised picture books in Australia and has sold over four million copies worldwide. 

Since then, Mem Fox has continued to pen bestsellers that are well-loved by children and parents alike. These include wonderful tales such as Koala Lou and Hattie and the Fox. In 1993, she was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia, for ‘services to children’s literature’. 

Becky and I have been reading several of her books, and we absolutely love them! Here, I will share several of these wonderful picture books.

Possum Magic
This is a delightful picture book tale about two possums (small marsupial species native to Australia). Baby Hush is made invisible by her Grandma Poss to protect her from the dangers of the Australian bush, but unfortunately, Hush cannot regain her visibility. So the duo takes an adventure tour around Australia to search for the secret to Hush’s visibility. 

Not only is this tale a rhythmical story of Australia’s landscapes and the animals that live in them, it also includes some very Aussie food as part of its plot, such as pumpkin pie, ANZAC biscuits, lamingtons, pavlovas and yes, to my horror, vegemite sandwich! After being in Perth for so long, I still do not like the taste of this very Aussie food. And you know, neither do my siblings who are currently residing there.

Possum Magic is so incredibly Aussie, that I can’t help have a soft spot for it. For those of you who have spent time in Australia, you will know what I mean. And for those who are planning a trip down under, this is a great book to introduce Australia to your kids.

Even though it was written nearly thirty years ago, Possum Magic still appeals to many children. It won the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards Ethel Turner Price for young people’s literature in 1984, as well as the Canberra’s Own Outstanding List (COOL) in 1994. The latter is an annual children’s choice award where children are encouraged to read and vote for their favourite books.

Possum Magic has also been performed three times by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. There is even a highly successful musical that made its premiere in 1990. 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the book and over 20 years on stage, and Possum Magic The Musical will be having a farewell tour. Becky and I will be sure to keep a lookout for that. Maybe if we visit her cousin, my nephew in Melbourne next year, we can go watch it.

Koala Lou
This is a very special book for Becky and I. It was through this that I discovered that Becky was in her pre-reading stage. You can read more about that and what I'm doing to develop her literacy here.

Koala Lou is about this little koala who used to have the full attention of her mother, but gradually felt neglected with the birth of brothers and sisters. She thought that her mother no longer loved her, and longed to be hugged and hear her mother say 'Koala Lou I do love you.' So she decided to take part in a tree climbing competition, believing that only if she won, her mother would love her again. 

This tale about sibling rivalry and not winning an important competition is really heartwarming, and is good for teachin emotional intelligence. Couple that with beautiful pictures by Pamela Lofts and Koala Lou is just amazing. At the heart of it is this very crucial message - that no matter what happens, Koala Lou's mother will always love her. And you know, though Becky is still quite young, she gets that message. Probably that's why we both love the story so much. Every now and then, I would say 'I do love you. I always do and I always will.' Just like Koala Lou's mother.

Tough Boris
When I first read this to Becky, the moment she saw the first few pages, she was asking me to keep the book. And I can understand why. The story is about a pirate named Boris, and the illustrations show a fierce looking one. But I asked her to just listen to the story till the end. Again, I'm surprised by her ability to understand the message behind the story. When I finished reading, she was quiet and since that time, she was always happy to have me read it over and over again.

Tough Boris is a very simple tale, about a tough, massive, scruffy, greedy, fearless and scary pirate, who always had his pet parrot by his side. And when his parrot died, Boris cried. The key message is in the last sentence – 

All pirates cry. And so do I.

A touching tale indeed, to tell young ones that it is alright to feel upset and cry. This is good for sharing about feelings and emotional intelligence.

Hattie and the Fox
This brings to mind many other books, such as the traditional hen-and-fox tales from Aesop, The Little Red Hen, and even Pat Hutchins' famous book Rosie's Walk. Mem Fox's Hattie and the Fox remains a classic favourite, with its sing song, rhythmic and changing style. 

I also like the repetitive style as the fox is being revealed, and in the responses of the various farm animals. I get Becky to guess what comes next. It is also good in teaching about the different body parts of the fox. But I think her favourite must be the final part when the fox appears in full, and the other animals run away except for the cow. I ask her what the cow said and she would respond gleefully 'Moooo....!'

The Magic Hat

This is great for reading aloud, with its rollicking and rhyming phrases about a hat that lands on the heads of resident after residents in the town and instantly transforms them into different animals. 'Oh, the magic hat, the magic hat! It moved like this, it moved like that! It spun through the air!'

Here, varying descriptive lines and rhymes allow listeners to predict and guess what will follow as the page turns.

And over a road
And sat on the head of a warty old ... (turn page)

Like a bouncing balloon 
And sat on the head of a hairy ... (turn page)

A large but impish wizard appears to restore the characters to their former selves. Then the wizard himself dons the hat and becomes a little boy, high spirited and surrounded by starlight and sparkles – a hint to his magical ability.

Whimsical ink and watercolour illustrations by Tricia Tusa dance with life, just like the way the magic hat bounces around. And I like her humorous details too, such as a fruit-stand seller who juggles bananas as he is transformed into a baboon, and the animated children who witness each transformation with glee.

Mem Fox has many other wonderful books which we will hunt down and read, such as Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, Whoever You Are, Wombat Divine and Hello Baby!

Want to win a Mem Fox classic?
To mark the end of the My Favourite Children's Author Guest Post series, I am having a giveaway of two of Mem Fox's books. They are: Possum Magic and Koala Lou.

All you have to do is:
1. Like the Facebook page.
2. Leave a comment and indicate which book you would love to win.

This giveaway will end on 26 November 2012, 11.59pm. This giveaway is for Singapore residents only.

Winners will be determined by and will receive their prize by normal mail.


  1. thanks for sharing! liked. would love Possum Magic. :)

  2. Thanks for the post! Would love to win Koala Lou.

  3. Thanks for hosting the giveaway. Liked and would like to win Possum Magic.
    Linda Wong

  4. We LOVE Mem Fox! Some time ago, our friend gave the boys "Where is the Green Sheep?" which they love, and our first book we read by her was Possum Magic. We would really love to win/read Koala Lou, since it covers sibling rivalry. Any book that reassures a child that they are loved even when they have to share that love with siblings is a great book in my opinion!

    Thanks for organizing the giveaway and this series. Have enjoyed it! :)

  5. Thanks for sharing! :)
    At 8 months he was tearing out the pages of Green Sheep and at 10 months we read him Possum Magic every night before bed.
    By 12 months he was stuck on Koala Lou
    Now we do a mix of Koala & Possum and would LOVE to win the Magic Hat! :)



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