Margaret Mahy: A great of children's literature

Last updated 23:05 23/07/2012

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Margaret Mahy was one of the New Zealand's most prolific and best-loved children’s writers.

She wrote more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collections of short stories.

‘‘I don't think I prefer writing for one age group above another. I am just as pleased with a story which I feel works well for very small children as I do with a story for young adults,’’ she once said.

Her writing concentrated for the most part on human relationships and growing up, often delving into the supernatural.

The eldest of five children, she was raised in Whakatane.

Her first published story was called Harry Is Bad, written when she was just 7.

She studied for a Bachelor of Arts at Auckland University College and then Canterbury University College, graduating in 1955.

She then trained as a librarian.

Her first book, A Lion in the Meadow, was published in 1969. It and two later books, The Seven Chinese Brothers and The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate, are considered by many to be national treasures.

She became a fulltime writer in 1980 and her books have been translated into numerous languages.

She won numerous awards and honours, many of them international ones.

They include the Hans Christian Andersen Award, for her lasting contribution to children's literature, which was a career highlight.

‘‘I felt absolutely thrilled. It somehow seems impossible to think of winning it,’’ she told TVNZ.

She also won the Carnegie Medal in Literature from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject, twice - for The Haunting (1982) and for The Changeover (1984).

She was made a Doctor of Letters by the University of Canterbury and in 1985 she set up the Margaret Mahy Fees Scholarship at the university.

Mahy was made a member of the Order of New Zealand - the highest of the country’s honours and open to only 20 living people at one time - in 1993.

The Margaret Mahy Medal Award was established by the New Zealand Children's Book Foundation in 1991 to provide recognition of excellence in children's literature.

In March 2009, Mahy was commemorated as one of the Twelve Local Heroes, and a bronze bust of her was unveiled outside the Christchurch Arts Centre.

In 2010 a television series of her book Kaitangata Twitch aired on Maori Television. It included a cameo appearance by her in a library scene.

She was a member of prominent authors who campaigned to keep MMP in the electoral referendum held in tandem with last year’s general election.

Last year The Moon & Farmer McPhee, won her and illustrator David Elliot, the New Zealand Post children’s book of the year. Judging convener Ruth McIntyre said it was an "absolute treasure".

"The sheer poetry of the language and the gorgeous luminous illustrations each magnificently complements the other, " she said.

Mahy once said that her ‘‘fairly relentless'' writing was inspired by a love of reading.

"I enjoyed reading and being read to, and I thought at some point that I'd better give it a go.''

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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