Meet Authors & Illustrators

Mem Fox

   Mem Fox, one of Australia's best known children's authors, spoke about writing and her books at a meeting I attended earlier this year. She is a most entertaining and expressive speaker, undoubtedly due to earlier studies at a drama school in London. Mem Fox believes that a picture book for children should possess the following qualities:
Brevity - limiting the written text to about 700 words to maintain the interest and attention span of a young child
Emotional pull - developing a story that the children want to read or have read over and over
Repetition - assists in retention and developing reading skills and satisfies the primeval need for order and rhythm reflected throughout nature
Rhyme - very important in teaching children; the words are music and paint
Rhythm - the most important aspect of writing because the placement of words is directly related to the power of the words.

   The many books written by Mem Fox all exemplify the qualities she has espoused. Koala Lou (Ages 4 to 8, $13.95) is a talk of a little koala bear who enters the Bush Olympics, attempting to win an event and her mother's love at the same time. In Night Noises (Ages 5 to 8, $13.95) Lily Laceby is awakened by her dog barking at strange noises outside. Lily finds a lovely surprise to help fill her lonely days. Possum Magic (Ages 5 to 8, $13.95) is a tale of Grandma Poss and Hush and their culinary tour across Australia to find the magic food to make Hush visible again. It is the all time best-selling children's book in Australia and winner of numerous awards. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (Ages 5 to 10, $13.95) is Fox's favorite book because it reflects her relationship with her grandfather and changed her thinking about the elderly. It is an ALA Notable Children's book.

   Mem Fox now has her own Web site at www.memfox.com.

 

Reviews

Boo To A Goose
Mem Fox
Pictures by David Miller
   Storyteller and poet, Mem Fox would never say, "Boo!" to a goose. She would, however, dance with a pig who was wearing a wig; take a long walk from here to New York; and walk on her knees in a hive full of bees. And that's what she tells readers in this delightful rhyming picture book. Young listeners will love chiming along with the cautionary refrain, "But I wouldn't say 'Boo!' to a goose..." that follows each of the author's declarations of acceptable derring-do. Curiosity mounts as each page is turned, and it's finally satisfied with an explanation that is both humorous and childlike. The paper sculpture illustrations are breath-taking; they add depth and style to the already stylish writing that is Mem Fox's trademark. There's something for everyone here: teachers will like the repetitive language for its helpfulness to emerging readers; young children will bounce along with the rhythm as the story's read aloud; and adult reading partners will bask in the joy it brings to all their listeners. 1998 (orig. 1996), Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Books, Ages 2 to 5, $14.99. Reviewer: Judy Katsh
ISBN: 0-8037-2274-5

Dear Mem Fox, I Have Read All Your Books Even the Pathetic Ones
Mem Fox
   Mem Fox has graced us with her special brand of Australian picture books these last 8 years. Now we are privy to her life, her philosophy, and her passions for teaching and writing. Unlike Hush in Possum Magic, she will never be invisible. Her autobiography has raised her to the level of superstar. She creates her own intense magic as she writes about her childhood in Africa, her years at drama school, her courtship and marriage, and her deep feelings for her daughter. She is outrageous, thoughtful, provocative, and candid. Buy a handful to give to your friends. 1992, Harvest/Harcourt, Ages All, $10.00. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
ISBN: 0-15-658676-2

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
   Harriet Harris, the child in this story, does not mean to get into mischief but it finds her anyway. Whether it is knocking over orange juice, dribbling jam all over her, or dripping paint on the carpet, Harriet seems to create quite a mess. Throughout the story, the mother somehow keeps her patience and gently tells Harriet that she will drive her wild. Harriet is always very sorry, but that does not stop her from her next misadventure. Finally, the mother loses her temper and yells at Harriet. The illustrations capture the mother's frazzled face and Harriet's very sorry, big, brown eyes. Happily, the situation is resolved lovingly and the story ends sweetly. This heart-warming account would be a perfect gift for the mother of a young child--it is a little wild, very funny, and full of love. 2000, Harcourt Inc, $16.00. Ages 3 up. Reviewer: Lisa Hillstrom (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2001; Bank Street College of Education; United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
   Buckaroo Book Award, 2001-2002; Nominee; K-3; Wyoming
ISBN: 0-15-201977-4

Hattie the Fox
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Patricia Mullins
   Mullins' collage style creates large, expressive figures that complement Fox's text, which rely on repetition of key elements to build drama and enhance beginning reading skills. Be prepared for a surprise ending! 1992 (orig. 1987), Simon & Schuster, Ages 3 to 7, $14.95 and $5.99. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
ISBN: 0-02-735470-9
ISBN: 0-689-71611-7

Hunwick's Egg
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Pamela Lofts
   After a wild storm, an old bandicoot named Hunwick finds a strange, beautiful egg near his burrow. None of his animal neighbors recognize it, so he takes it home to care for it until it hatches. Meanwhile, he begins to talk to it, share his troubles, and hold it close. But it does not answer, nor does it hatch. His neighbors worry about him and feel sorry for him. But Hunwick has already realized that the egg is really a stone. Still, he loves it, "and it remained his friend forever." This unusual story with a moral to ponder offers Lofts an opportunity to portray the landscape of the Australian desert and some of its inhabitants. Mostly her watercolor pencils create portraits of flowers, insects, and such creatures as an emu, a cockatoo, a horned lizard, and, of course, Hunwick, a charming, long-nosed and long--eared character easy to empathize with. A note tells us that the bilby, or rabbit-eared bandicoot, is an endangered species. With these naturalistic drawings done with a very strong esthetic drive Lofts leaves lots of white paper bare, perhaps to leave room for thinking about the possible "meanings" in this provocative tale. 2005, Harcourt, $16.00. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-15-216318-2

Koala Lou
Mem Fox
Illustrations by Pamela Lofts
   The koala heroine enters the Bush Olympics and hopes to win the gum tree-climbing event so that her mother-overwhelmed by the birth of many, many koala babes-will tell her eldest daughter "Koala Lou, I DO love you." Even though Lou loses the event, she gains what she most wants: the knowledge that her mother loves her-and always will. My favorite illustration shows fluffy Lou racing in red sneakers and pumping weights. 1989, Harcourt, Ages 3 to 7, $14.00 and $6.00. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
ISBN: 0-15-200502-1
ISBN: 0-15-200076-3

The Magic Hat
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Tricia Tusa
   "Oh, the magic hat, the magic hat! It moved like this, it moved like that!" It appears from nowhere, landing on unsuspecting heads, transforming the people it lands on into a toad, a baboon, and other creatures we can try to guess ahead of time from the rhymes. The kids seem to be enjoying the fun until a mischievous wizard appears to change the people back, then take the hat away with him. What he leaves behind and what the hat does to him leaves the ending open for speculation. Tusa's animated colored drawings create double-page scenes filled with details and folks with personality galore. All move in dance-like joy to the infectious rhythm of the rhyme. 2002, Harcourt, $16.00. Ages 3 to 7. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2003; Bank Street College of Education; United States
   Kirkus Book Review Stars, March 1, 2002; United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
   2x2 Reading List, 2003; Texas
   Beehive Award, 2003-2004; Nominee; Children's Picture Books; Utah
   Buckaroo Book Award, 2004-2005; Nominee; Grades K-3; Wyoming
   Virginia Young Readers Program, 2003-2004; Nominee; Primary (Grades K-3); Virgin
ISBN: 0-15-201025-4

Night Noises
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Terry Denton
   Old Lily Laceby and her dog Butch Aggie doze by the fire as strange noises echo outside. As she dreams, Lily reviews her life through the years back to when she was a young girl...The ending brings Lily's life story full circle and Denton's illustrations poignantly and humorously convey Lily's ninety years. This book received the Redbook Children's Picturebook Award. 1991, Harcourt, Ages 3 to 7, $15.00, $22.00 (big book) and $5.00. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
ISBN: 0-15-200543-9
ISBN: 0-15-257426-3
ISBN: 0-15-257421-2

Possum Magic
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Julie Vivas
   An international bestseller, Possum Magic casts two Australian bush possums in starring roles but also features wombats, dingoes, and emus, rendered endearing by Julie Vivas' soft-toned watercolors. In addition to introducing Australian animals, Fox takes her possums on an eating adventure in search of the Australian foods-vegemite sandwiches, pavlovas, and lamingtons-that will work a necessary magic. The book provides a warm, wonderful first exploration of Australia! 1990, Harcourt, Ages 4 to 8, $14.00, and $6.00. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
ISBN: 0-15-200572-2
ISBN: 0-15-263224-7

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud To Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever
Mem Fox
Illustrations by Judy Horacek
   Here is an amazing new book by Mem Fox, an author who has proven herself many times in the children's books she's written and the literacy teaching she has done. Mem Fox, whose parents were Christian missionaries, has declared herself a "missionary for literacy," just like Oprah. Her new book, Reading Magic is subtitled Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. It is a weighty title, but Fox's delivery is so breezy and anecdotal that you hardly notice the theories when they pop up. That is also because she translates these ideas into practical, comforting advice. Fox tells readers that children need to hear a thousand stories read aloud before they read for themselves. Then she notes that three stories a day "deliver us a thousand stories in one year." She suggests "one favorite, one familiar and one new, but," she adds, "reading the same book three times is also fine." Fox describes reading together as a delicious "chocolate" kind of experience. The kind that can't be matched by television because it gives children a chance to talk back. The kind that develops a private family language through shared book experiences. She gives techniques for making reading aloud a dramatic and satisfying event. Fox explains the three magics children need to understand before they can read alone, and she shows how reading aloud unites these three: the magic of print, the magic of language, and the magic of general experience. 2001, Harcourt, $23.00 and $12.00. Ages adult parent/professional. Reviewer: Susie Wilde (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, Supplement, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States
ISBN: 0-15-601076-3
ISBN: 0-15-100624-5

Shoes from Grandpa
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Patricia Mullins
   Mullins' collage style creates large, expressive figures that complement Fox's text, which rely on repetition of key elements to build drama and enhance beginning reading skills. Be prepared for a surprise ending! 1992, Orchard Books, Ages 4 to 7, $13.95, $13.99, and $6.95. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
ISBN: 0-531-05848-4
ISBN: 0-531-08448-5
ISBN: 0-531-07031-X

Sleepy Bears
Mem Fox
Illustrations by Kerry Argent
   Mother Bear is putting her children to bed for the winter. As each of her cubs gives a big yawn, she offers a rhyming wish for pleasant dreams. The first is told of pirate life and the second is a circus performer. After a safari, a princess and many sweets, Baby Bear receives his dream of moonbeams and stars, and everyone sleeps until spring. The detailed and colorful illustrations add to the predictable text to make a wonderful bedtime story for young children. 1999, Harcourt Brace and Company, Ages 3 to 7, $16.00. Reviewer: Karen Porter
ISBN: 0-15-202016-0

The Straight Line Wonder
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal
   Listen for the musical beat in Mem Fox's stories. In this her latest, a "straight line" dances out his dreams to the chagrin of his two best friends, also straight lines. "Don't be different!" they warn. Unable to control himself, the innovator begins "jumping in humps, pointing his joints, twirling in whirls," etc. His creativity wins him a movie contract, and he becomes a star. He never has to be a straight line again. Read this to teens. A perfect blending of zany illustrations that fit this fey story. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly are smiling. Use Singing in the Rain to set the mood. 1997, Mondo Publishing, Ages All, $14.95. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
ISBN: 1-57255-206-9

Time for Bed
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Jane Dyer
   Writer Mem Fox and illustrator Jane Dyer have a special gift for portraying warm, loving families that provide comfort for small children. Their talents are combined in Time for Bed, a rhyming lullaby. Fox names and Dyer pictures twelve sets of animal parents bedding down their young with kisses, hugs, snuggles and tenderness. 1993, Harcourt, Ages 1 to 5, $15.00, $6.95, and $22.00 (big book). Reviewer: Susie Wilde
ISBN: 0-15-288183-2
ISBN: 0-15-201066-1
ISBN: 0-15-201014-9

Where Is The Green Sheep?
Mem Fox and Judy Horacek
Illustrated by Judy Horacek
   Everybody loves sheep and this flock cunningly portrays concepts in a fun and clever manner. We are first introduced to the blue sheep and the red sheep. Sheep in various activities are presented but one sheep is missing--the green sheep. Tanning sheep, diving sheep, even Gene Kelly in sheep's clothing makes an appearance dancing and singing in the rain. (Twenty-first century children will most likely not understand that allusion, but it is a great page!) Horacek's playful pen and watercolor images convey Fox's text with practical simplicity and friendly colors with just the right amount of white space on each spread. A few opposites are included along with an assortment of colorful and color-less sheep engaged in different activities. Can you find the reflective sheep? But what about that elusive green sheep?--by the end of the book you will find it was there all along--beginning with the title page! 2004, Harcourt, $15.00. Ages 2 to 4. Reviewer: Elizabeth Young (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   Best Children's Books of the Year, 2004; Bank Street College of Education; United States
   Fanfare Honor List, 2004; Horn Book; United States
   Notable Children's Books, 2005; American Library Association ALSC; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
   Books of the Year Winner 2004 Ages 2 to 4 United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
   2x2 Reading List, 2005; Texas
ISBN: 0-15-204907-X

Whoever You Are
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Leslie Staub
   This beautiful book features children from all over the world. They may not look like you, or speak your language, or do things the way you do them, but inside they are just like you. They smile and laugh and hurt. The simple text and bright illustrations helps readers to accept differences between people, to recognize similarities, and to rejoice in both. 1997, Harcourt Brace, Ages 3 to 8, $16.00. Reviewer: Dori Butler
ISBN: 0-15-200787-3

Wombat Divine
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Kelly Argent
   A special treat for Christmas is Wombat Divine. At last Wombat is old enough to audition for the Nativity play. He tries out for each part but loses to someone who is perfect. Wombat is either too heavy, too short, too sleepy, or too short sighted. Koala, Kangaroo, Platypus and the others all sympathize with a dejected Wombat until the perfect part is found... the Baby Jesus and guess what? He is Divine! Argent's animals are full of personality and energy. This is a true picture book with a simple story line and pictures that expand on and enrich the test. Brava to Mem and Kelly! 1996, Harcourt, Ages 3 to 7, $15.00. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
ISBN: 0-15-201416-0

Zoo-Looking
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Candace Whitman
   A little girl with a big purple hat goes to the zoo and looks at the animals and some even look back. The lilting verse from Mem Fox and torn paper collages by Whitman create an inviting book for young children especially since it features an outing with Dad. 1996 (orig. 1988), Mondo, Ages 2 to 4, $14.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
ISBN: 1-57255-010-4

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Updated 06/21/05

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If you're interested in reviewing children's and young adult books, then send a resume and writing sample to marilyn@childrenslit.com.

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