Children's Authors/Mem Fox
Mem Fox was born Merrion Patridge on March 5, 1946 in Melbourne, Australia. When she was six months old she moved with her missionary parents to what is now Zimbabwe. Even though most of her growing up years were spent on a mission in Africa she did not feel deprived. In fact, she described it as "idyllic".1The home she grew up in was filled with classic books. She also very much enjoyed the freedom she had roaming around her African home running barefoot and riding wild donkeys. At age 13 she and some of her girlfriends decided to change their names. She has been Mem ever since.
Mem’s first years of school were spent in Africa. When she first began she was the only white student in her class.2 From this she learned that the color of a person’s skin does not make them better or worse than anyone else. This is something Mem still feels very strongly about.3 In 1965, at the age of 19, Mem moved to England to attend drama school. It was while there she met Malcolm Fox whom she married in 1969. In her thirties, after she and Malcolm had moved to Australia, Mem attended Flinders University in Adelaide where she studied children’s literature. She later became an associate professor there and spent 24 years teaching teachers.
Mem has always enjoyed writing. Her first “book” was written at the age of 10 while living in Africa. This book was six pages stapled together and was on the topic of soil erosion. She also has always liked writing and receiving letters, they are little stories in themselves. To this day she still likes to send a handwritten letter. In her thirties Mem began studying children’s literature at Flinders University. During this time she had an assignment to write a children’s story. The story she wrote, Hush the Invisible Mouse, would become her first published book, Possum Magic, which is the best-selling children’s book ever in Australia.2 During her time in drama school in England, Mem had the opportunity to learn by heart many of the great English playwrights. Mem credits this with giving her the best training for becoming a writer of pictures books. She says it gave her an internal sense of literary rhyme which children find so appealing in books.1
From her time as a professor watching her students teach reading Mem noticed that those children who had been read to while young were better able to pick up on reading skills at school. Because of this, since her retirement from teaching in 1996, Mem dedicates much of her time to traveling the world "stalking" parents and "begging" them to read aloud to their children.
Books of Interest
Whoever You Are (1997): Mem’s life experiences growing up in Africa, living in England, and traveling much of her life have given her the opportunity to associate with people from many cultures. This book reflects her ideas that it is our similarities that should matter most, not our differences. Whoever You Are can provide a great springboard for discussing the qualities that make us unique (skin color, language, home) and the things that we have in common (hurts, smiles, laughing).4
The Magic Hat (2002): “One fine day, from out of town, and without any warning at all, there appeared a magic hat.” So begins this story of a wizard’s magic hat. Mem’s use of literary rhyme makes this a delightful read aloud. Mem herself is a great advocate of the things children learn as they are read aloud to. Readers will practice their rhyming skills as they try to predict which animal will be next!5
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (1984): This is Mem’s second published book. The main character, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, is named for her father (yes, all four names!). Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper is a combination of her mother’s name and her two sisters’ names. Through her characters in this book Mem gives the readers some wonderful descriptions of what a memory is. Wilfrid Gordon’s interpretation of these descriptions leads to a touching conclusion with Miss Nancy.6
Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! (2000): Even though she doesn’t mean to be, Harriet is a pesky child. Things seem to happen “just like that”. Mem perfectly captures moments in a young child’s day and the exasperation a mother can feel. Readers young and old will relate to the messes Harriet makes and sympathize with her mother's efforts to be patient. As in Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Patridge, the end of this story reminds us it is small moments that can be the most meaningful in a relationship. 7
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes: The beginnings of this book were written on a plane!1 This is a sweet story of how where ever you are in the world babies are born with “ten little fingers and ten little toes”. Just like in her book Whoever You Are, this book voices Mem’s strong belief that we should put aside our differences and look to what we have in common.8
Possum Magic (1983): Travel Australia with Grandma Poss and Hush on their quest to find the food that will make Hush visible again. Readers will be entertained as Hush tries authentic Australian cuisine in search of the forgotten magic. Mem’s beloved story is another example of her mastery of literary rhyme that can be best enjoyed while reading aloud!9
1. http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/fox/ Retrieved March 21, 2012.
2. http://www.memfox.net/welcome.html Retrieved March 21, 2012.
3. Fox, M. (1993). Politics and Literature: Chasing the "Isms" from Children's Books. The Reading Teacher , Vol. 46 (No. 8), pp. 654-658
4. Fox, Mem. (1997). Whoever You Are. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.
5. Fox, Mem. (2002). The Magic Hat. New York, NY. Harcourt, Inc.
6. Fox, Mem (1984). Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.
7. Fox. Mem. (2000). Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.
8. Fox, Mem. (2008). Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc.
9. Fox, Mem (1983). Possum Magic. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.