NEWS Jul 24, 2012

Tribute to Margaret Mahy

“Mother, there is a big, roaring, yellow, whiskery lion in the meadow!”

Not any more. Sadly Margaret Mahy died on the 23rd of July and all our thoughts go out to her family and friends.

A national taonga, she was simply our best loved children’s author, and her many, many books (verse, short stories, picture books and novels - hers was a prodigious talent) shaped a generation of readers. There were witches in cherry trees, piratical mothers, a three legged cat, whiskery lions, even Norvin (who looked like a Great White Man-Eating Shark). Like the eclectic objects pulled from Down the back of the chair her characters sprang from an inexhaustible imagination and a profound love of story telling, of words and the richness of language.

Always generous with her time, she was a passionate advocate for literacy, literature and libraries. Her rapport with children was dynamic – who can forget that rainbow wig! Willingly we listened, read and celebrated Margaret’s passion and skill in telling stories – and long may we do so. What better Pied Piper could we ever ask for?

Margaret Mahy leads a group of children through Frank Kitts Park.
Author Margaret Mahy with children, by Phil Reid, 1992. Evening Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library. EP/1992/2237/9.


Margaret Mahy ONZ was born in Whakatane, New Zealand on 21 March 1936 and died 23rd July 2012. She is New Zealand’s best known author of children's and young adult books.

The plots of many of her books have strong supernatural elements and her writing concentrates on the themes of human relationships and growing up. Her novels The Haunting and The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance both received the Carnegie Medal of the British Library Association. 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. She has written a almost 50 novels and many have been translated into German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Italian, Japanese, Catalan and Afrikaans.

For her contributions to children's literature she has been made a member of the Order of New Zealand. 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.

As an outstanding children's author Margaret Mahy has won many awards throughout her career. They include: The Esther Glen Award, The Carnegie Medal, Aim Children’s Book Award, New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award, The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Prime Ministers Literary Award, Icon Artist and in 2006 she was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award (known as the Little Nobel Prize) in recognition of the "lasting contribution to children's literature" she has made.

In awarding the 2006 Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Writing to Margaret Mahy, the jury, “recognized one of the world’s most original re-inventers 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." ("IBBY Announces the Winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 2006", 27 March 2006.)

The nine books submitted to the Hans Christian Andersen Jury were:

  • The Haunting
  • The Changeover - a supernatural romance
  • The Catalogue of the Universe
  • Memory
  • Maddigan's Fantasia
  • A Lion in the Meadow
  • The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate
  • The Great White Man-Eating Shark
  • The Girl Who Washed in Moonlight

This list comprised five novels published over a span of 25 years, three picture books from 1969 to the present, and one school reader.