Mem Fox

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Mem Fox

Fox speaking to audience in 2014
Fox speaking to audience in 2014
BornMerrion Frances Partridge
(1946-03-05) 5 March 1946 (age 78)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Pen name"Mem" Fox
EducationFlinders University
GenreChildren literature
Notable worksPossum Magic
Notable awardsNan Chauncy Award, 2017

Merrion Frances Fox AM (née Partridge; born 5 March 1946) is an Australian writer of children's books and an educationalist specialising in literacy. Fox has been semi-retired since 1996, but she still gives seminars and lives in Adelaide, South Australia.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Merrion Frances Partridge was born in Melbourne on 5 March 1946 to Nancy and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. In October, her parents left Australia to become teaching missionaries of Hope Fountain Mission in Rhodesia, and Partridge and her two sisters grew up and were educated in Africa. She was the only white child at the mission school. After authorities found out, she was forced to go to an all-white school and was teased for having an African accent. After graduating high school, she did volunteer work in a conference centre of the World Council of Churches near Geneva, Switzerland.[2][3][4]

Partridge dreamed of pursuing a stage career. Her father reluctantly agreed to send her to an English drama school on the condition that she would attend Rose Bruford College in London, which also included a compulsory teaching degree. In 1965, she began three years at drama school and discovered that "she didn't really want to act, but she did want to be known." She also met fellow student Malcolm Fox. After marrying in 1969, they moved to Rwanda, then England and finally Adelaide, South Australia.[2] Their daughter Chloe was born in 1971.[4]


In Adelaide, Fox applied for a radio job at ABC. She only had irregular parts in radio plays and began teaching as she did not get paid enough money. By 1973, Fox had signed up to teach drama full-time at Sturt's Teachers University.[2]

Possum Magic[edit]

When her daughter was seven, Fox decided to take a course in children's literature at Flinders University because of Chloe's love of reading. One of the assignments was to write a children's book, for which Fox wrote a story named Hush the Invisible Mouse. Her professor encouraged her to publish it, and it was illustrated by Julie Vivas, a student in the art department. It was rejected nine times over five years before Omnibus Books accepted it, but asked her to rewrite it more lyrically, cut two-thirds of the story and change the mice to possums.[2][5]

In 1983, the book was published as Possum Magic. It follows Hush, a possum whose Grandma Poss turns her invisible to protect him from the bush. Now considered a classic in Australian children's literature, Possum Magic is Australia's bestselling children's book.[4][6]

Literary career[edit]

In 1984, Fox's second book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge was published by Omnibus Books. It follows a boy who helps his elderly neighbour recover her lost memory through gifts.[6] The title of the book was the name of her father.[7]

The book Guess What? ranks number 66 on the American list of the 100 most-challenged books 1990 to 2000.[8] Groups and agencies can challenge a book to prevent it from being available to be read by the general public. The book has now been banned in Duval County, Florida on accusations that the book contains pornographic material. The specific section that troubled censors involves the main character taking a bath.[9]

Teaching career[edit]

In 1981, while working in drama, Fox decided to retrain in literacy studies. She said: "Literacy has become the great focus of my life – it's my passion, my battle and my mission and my exhaustion".[1] She has published books on literacy aimed at children, their parents, teachers and educators. She held the position of Associate Professor, Literacy Studies, in the School of Education at Flinders University until her retirement in 1996.[1] Since her retirement from teaching, Fox travels around the world visiting many countries and doing presentations and speaking on children's books and literacy issues.[1] Following an interrogation by US immigration officials on a trip in February 2017 to deliver a keynote speech in Milwaukee, Fox said that she would probably never visit the US again.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Fox is married to teacher Malcolm Fox. Her daughter, Chloë Fox, is a former member of the South Australian House of Assembly.[11][12] As she dislikes her given, legal name, Fox began using her nickname "Mem" around thirteen years of age.[13]

Awards and recognition[edit]


Children's books[edit]


  • Thereby Hangs a Tale (1980)
  • How to Teach Drama to Infants Without Really Crying (Australian title) (1984) (Teaching Drama to Young Children (USA title) (1987))
  • Mem's the Word (1990 – Australian title) (Dear Mem Fox (1992 – USA title)
  • English Essentials: The Wouldn't-Be-Without-It Guide To Writing Well (1993 and 2009) with Lyn Wilkinson
  • Memories: An Autobiography (1992)
  • Radical Reflections: Passionate Opinions on Teaching, Learning, and Living (1993)
  • Reading Magic: How Your Child Can Learn to Read Before School - and Other Read-aloud Miracles (2001)


  1. ^ a b c d "Life Story". Mem Fox website. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d Gillies, Carol (January 2000). "Talking about Books: "Mem's the Word": Examining the Writing of Mem Fox". Language Arts. 77 (3): 250–257. JSTOR 41483060.
  3. ^ Fox, Mem. "Photo and Bio". Mem Fox. Retrieved 10 February 2023.
  4. ^ a b c Smith, Dianne (June 2000). "A Guide to the papers of MEM FOX" (PDF). The Lu Rees Archives. Retrieved 10 February 2023.
  5. ^ Benns, Matthew (24 April 2005). "Brown's secret society set to crack million members". The Sun-Herald. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  6. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Emer (2010). Historical Dictionary of Children's Literature. Scarecrow Press. p. 103. ISBN 9780810874961.
  7. ^ Fox, Mem (May 1993). "Politics and literature: Chasing the "isms" from children's books". The Reading Teacher. 46 (8): 654–658. JSTOR 20201162.
  8. ^ "The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000". American Library Association. Archived from the original on 18 February 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2008.
  9. ^ Mokrzycki, Sarah (16 May 2023). "Guess What? Mem Fox children's book banned in Florida as 'pornography'". The Age. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  10. ^ Zarin, Cynthia (27 February 2017). "An Australian Children's-Book Author's U.S. Customs Ordeal". The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  11. ^ Grattan, Michelle (18 June 2004). "New ALP candidate has literary pedigree". The Age. Retrieved 19 August 2011.
  12. ^ Sharron L. McElmeel (1992). Bookpeople: A Multicultural Album. Teacher Ideas Press. p. 55. ISBN 0-87287-953-4.
  13. ^ Interview by Maria Zijlstra (22 August 2009). "The power of names". Lingua Franca. Radio National.
  14. ^ "Dromkeen Medal". Scholastic. Archived from the original on 3 July 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2007.
  15. ^ "Its and Honour – 26 January 1993". Australian Government. Retrieved 7 March 2008.
  16. ^ "It's an Honour – 1 January 2001". Australian Government. Retrieved 7 March 2008.
  17. ^ Hartgerink, Nick. "Honoris Causa: for the sake of honour". University of Wollongong. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  18. ^ "Honorary degree recipients for Doctor of Letters (DLitt)". Flinders University. 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2018. Merrion (Mem) Frances Fox, AM, DipT, BA, BEd, Grad Dip, DLitt (Hon) Woll, DLitt 2004
  19. ^ Ducks Away!. OCLC. OCLC 945969497.


External links[edit]