Margaret Mahy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Margaret Mahy

Mahy, with her characteristic rainbow wig, at the Kaiapoi Club, July 2011
Mahy, with her characteristic rainbow wig,
at the Kaiapoi Club, July 2011
Born(1936-03-21)21 March 1936
Whakatāne, New Zealand
Died23 July 2012(2012-07-23) (aged 76)
Christchurch, New Zealand
OccupationWriter, librarian
GenreChildren's picture books, supernatural fiction
Notable works
Notable awardsCarnegie Medal
1982, 1984
Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing

Margaret Mahy ONZ (21 March 1936 – 23 July 2012) was a New Zealand author of children's and young adult books. Many of her story plots have strong supernatural elements but her writing concentrates on the themes of human relationships and growing up. She wrote more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collections of short stories. At her death she was one of thirty writers to win the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Medal for her "lasting contribution to children's literature".[1][2]

Mahy won the annual Carnegie Medal twice. It recognises the year's best children's book by a British subject, and she won for both The Haunting (1982) and The Changeover (1984).[3][4] (As of 2012 just seven writers have won two Carnegies, none three.) She was also a highly commended runner up for Memory (1987).[5][a]

Among her children's books, A Lion in the Meadow and The Seven Chinese Brothers and The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate are considered national classics.[6] Her novels have been translated into Te Reo Māori, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Italian, Japanese, Catalan and Afrikaans. In addition, some stories have been translated into Russian, Chinese and Icelandic.[7]

The Margaret Mahy Playground in the Christchurch Central City is named in her honour.[8]

Early life[edit]

Mahy was born in 1936, the eldest of five children.[9] She was raised in her birthplace of Whakatāne. Her father, Francis George Mahy, was a bridge builder and often told his children adventure stories which later influenced Mahy's writing.[10] Mahy's mother Helen Penlington was a teacher. She was regarded as a 'slow learner',[11] and particularly hated mathematics.[12] Her first published story was "Harry is Bad", written at age seven (published in the children's page of the Bay of Plenty Beacon). Later she showed it to children when she visited schools, to let them know that they could write stories at any age.

She went to the local high school, where she was acknowledged as a talented swimmer.[13]


Mahy completed her B.A. at Auckland University College (1952–1954) and Canterbury University College, graduating in 1955.[14] In 1956 she trained at the New Zealand Library School, Wellington as a librarian.[15]

Personal life[edit]

From around 1965, Mahy lived at Governors Bay on the Banks Peninsula, Canterbury, in the South Island of New Zealand.[7] She was a solo mother and raised two daughters there.[16] At age 62, Mahy had her right shoulder tattooed with the picture of a skull with a rose in its teeth.[17] She was writing about a person being tattooed and considered the tattoo research to enable her to describe the experience convincingly.[18]

In 2007, Mahy adopted a cavoodle puppy she named Honey, because of her colour.[19] Mahy died at the Nurse Maude Hospice in St Albans, Christchurch on 23 July 2012, aged 76.[9][15][16][20][21][22][23] She had been diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous jaw tumour in April 2012 and had been moved to a hospice about nine days before her death.[22]

Her final book Tale of a Tail, published posthumously in 2014, was commissioned by Polish photographer Tomasz Gudzowaty.[24]


Bronze bust of Margaret Mahy, part of the Twelve Local Heroes sculpture

She worked as a librarian in Petone, the School Library Service in Christchurch, and in 1976 was appointed Children's Librarian at Canterbury Public Library.[25] During this time many of her stories were published in the New Zealand School Journal and her first book saw her become known internationally.[9] A Lion in the Meadow was a School Journal story from 1965. It was published in 1969 by J.M. Dent in the U.K. and Franklin Watts in the U.S., as a large-format picture book illustrated by Jenny Williams.[26] Also in 1969, William Heinemann Ltd and Watts published another large-format picture book, The Dragon of an Ordinary Family with illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, who won the Greenaway Medal from the British librarians recognising the year's best illustrated children's book. There were three others in that same year.[b]

Mahy wrote several fantasy novels, including The Haunting and The Changeover.[27]

Mahy became a full-time writer in 1980.[28] She went on to win numerous book awards and honours for her contributions to New Zealand and to children's literature. One was an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Canterbury.[29] In 1985 she established the Margaret Mahy Fees Scholarship at the University of Canterbury.[30]

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, publishing and literacy in New Zealand.

On 6 February 1993, Mahy was appointed a Member of the Order of New Zealand, for her contributions to children's literature. In March 2009 she was commemorated as one of the Twelve Local Heroes and a bronze bust of her was unveiled outside the Christchurch Arts Centre.[31]

In 2010 her book Kaitangata Twitch was adapted for television and aired on Māori Television. Directed by Yvonne Mackay and produced by The Production Shed.TV, the series includes a cameo appearance by Margaret Mahy in a library scene.[32]


Mahy and her winning book The Moon & Farmer McPhee at the 2011 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards

The biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award conferred by the International Board on Books for Young People is the highest recognition available to a writer or illustrator of children's books. Mahy received the writing award in 2006.[1][2] Jury president Jeffrey Garrett wrote in the press release:

In awarding the 2006 Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Writing to Margaret Mahy, the jury has recognized one of the world's most original re-inventors of language. Mahy's language is rich in poetic imagery, magic, and supernatural elements. Her oeuvre provides a vast, numinous, but intensely personal metaphorical arena for the expression and experience of childhood and adolescence. Equally important, however, are her rhymes and poems for children. Mahy's works are known to children and young adults all over the world.[33]

Mahy won the Carnegie Medal in 1982 for The Haunting.[3] In 1984 she won the medal again for The Changeover.[4] In 2005 she won the Phoenix Prize for The Catalogue of the Universe.[34]

The Margaret Mahy Award, named for Mahy, is presented annually to "a person who has made a significant contribution to the broad field of children's literature and literacy".[35] Mahy was the first recipient of the award in 1991.[35][36] Lectures by the winners are published, the standard of which was set by Mahy's inaugural lecture, Surprising Moments.[35]

In 2013, the top prize for young adult fiction at the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards was renamed the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award.[37] Also in 2013, a playground based on her work was commissioned to be built in Christchurch's East Frame.[38]

Some other awards:

The Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association designates the best English-language children's book that did not win a major award when it was originally published twenty years earlier. It is named for the mythical bird phoenix, which is reborn from its ashes, to suggest the book's rise from obscurity. Mahy is one of three authors to win it twice (1985 to 2012).[34]


Going to the Beach, a book written by Mahy

Mahy wrote more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collections of short stories published between 1969 and 2014.[44]


  1. ^ Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. CCSU lists 32 "Highly Commended" runners up from 1966 to 2002 but only three before 1979 when the distinction became approximately annual. From 1979 there were 29 "HC" books in 24 years including Mahy alone in 1987.
  2. ^ U.S. Library of Congress catalogue records cover ten 1969 books written by Mahy, all evidently large-format picture books (22/23cm x 28/29cm, 26pp to 42pp). They are the British and American editions of five titles with five illustrators and three British publishers, all published by Watts in the U.S.


  1. ^ a b "Hans Christian Andersen Awards" (top page). International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  2. ^ a b "2006". Hans Christian Andersen Awards. IBBY. With presentation speech by jury president Jeffrey Garrett (21 September 2006) and other contemporary material. Acceptance speeches for 2006 are missing. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  3. ^ a b Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners: The Haunting, Carnegie Winner 1982, CILIP, archived from the original on 10 September 2015
  4. ^ a b Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners: The Changeover, Carnegie Winner 1984, CILIP, archived from the original on 10 September 2015
  5. ^ Curriculum Lab:CCSU Burritt Library, Carnegie Medal Award, Central Connecticut State University, archived from the original on 16 October 2013
  6. ^ Taylor, William. "Margaret Mahy, A Memory". Bookbird. 51: 113 – via ProQuest.
  7. ^ a b Questions kids ask Margaret Mahy, Christchurch City Libraries, archived from the original on 23 January 2015
  8. ^ "$3m playground ready to open". The Press. 17 December 2015. p. A3. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  9. ^ a b c "Author Margaret Mahy dead at 76". The New Zealand Herald ( 23 July 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  10. ^ Vitello, Paul (25 July 2012). "Margaret Mahy, Children's Author, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 22 June 2013.
  11. ^ robinson, R; Wattie, N (1998). Oxford companion to New Zealand Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  12. ^ Interview with Margaret Mahy, Christchurch City Libraries, archived from the original on 9 May 2015
  13. ^ Samdog Design Ltd. "New Zealand Book Council Biography". Retrieved 4 September 2012.
  14. ^ "NZ author Margaret Mahy dies: report". The Australian. News Limited. AAP. 2 August 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  15. ^ a b "Margaret Mahy, a biography". The Margaret Mahy Pages. Christchurch City Libraries ( 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
  16. ^ a b "Margaret Mahy, renowned NZ children's author, dies". One News. TVNZ. 23 July 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  17. ^ Taylor, Phil (28 July 2012). "Margaret Mahy: Enchanted by life's possibilities". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  18. ^ Casinader, Jehan (9 January 2009). "Magic for our young minds". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 12 September 2015.
  19. ^ Somreset, Guy (24 July 2012). "Memories of Margaret Mahy". New Zealand Listener. Archived from the original on 27 January 2015.
  20. ^ "Margaret Mahy's death a huge loss". 24 July 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  21. ^ "Children's author Mahy dies at 76". BBC News. London: British Broadcasting Corporation. 24 July 2012. OCLC 33057671. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  22. ^ a b Dastgheib, Shabnam (24 July 2012). "Rush on Margaret Mahy books". The Dominion Post. Wellington, New Zealand: Fairfax New Zealand. ISSN 1175-9488. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  23. ^ Flood, Alison (23 July 2012). "Children's author Margaret Mahy dies aged 76". The Guardian. Manchester, UK. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  24. ^ Knight, Kim (6 April 2014). "The truth behind Margaret Mahy's last book". Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  25. ^ Catherine Butler "Margaret Mahy: Librarian of Babel". The Lion and the Unicorn; number 2, 2015
  26. ^ The 1965 version, with pictures by Jill McDonaldlink, may have been separately published in a School Journal series by the Department of Education.
    "Formats and Editions of The lion in the meadow". WorldCat. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  27. ^ Mary Corran, "Mahy, Margaret" in St. James Guide To Fantasy Writers, ed. David Pringle, London, St. James Press, 1996, ISBN 1-55862-205-5, (pp. 383-5).
  28. ^ Eccleshare, Julia (26 July 2012). "Margaret Mahy obituary: Versatile and prolific writer of children's books". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014.
  29. ^ "Margaret Mahy Awards & honours". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  30. ^ "Undergraduate scholarships at Canterbury". Archived from the original on 18 February 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
  31. ^ Hartevelt, John (19 March 2009). "Creative mistake for a creative writer". The Press. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  32. ^ "Kaitangata Twitch". Website dedicated to the screen adaptation. Production Shed TV ( 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  33. ^ Garrett, Jeffrey (27 March 2006). "IBBY Announces the Winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 2006" (Press release). Zurich, Switzerland: IBBY. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  34. ^ a b c d e "Phoenix Award Brochure 2012"[permanent dead link]. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
    See also the current homepage "Phoenix Award" Archived 20 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  35. ^ a b c "Margaret Mahy Award". Auckland, New Zealand: Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust of New Zealand. Archived from the original on 6 July 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  36. ^ "Margaret Mahy Medal Award". Christchurch City Libraries ( 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  37. ^ "Book award named after author Mahy". 3 News NZ ( 29 April 2013. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  38. ^ Brownlee, Gerry (23 May 2013). "Playground honours Margaret Mahy ONZ" (Press release). New Zealand Government. Archived from the original on 15 January 2015.
  39. ^ a b Bateman, D. 2005. Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. David Bateman Ltd. p. 407.
  40. ^ "2003 Awards: (New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards) Winners and Finalists 2003". Booksellers New Zealand ( 28 September 2011. Archived from the original on 31 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  41. ^ "Previous winners". Creative New Zealand. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  42. ^ "Sir Julius Vogel Awards". Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand, Inc. ( 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  43. ^ "2011 Awards: New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards Winners 2011". Booksellers New Zealand ( 18 May 2011. Archived from the original on 26 July 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  44. ^ "Mahy bibliography at fantasticfiction". 23 July 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]