Photo Credit: Penguin Books
Welcome to Just So Stories Mem! What an absolute honour to be able to have this exchange with you – many thanks!
- I’ve had the great pleasure of attending various of your presentations and PD events over the years and every time have come away energised and re-enthused. Your passion is always so infectious. Perhaps you could share your thoughts on maintaining our enthusiasm for our work with children and reading?
So far, I have never experienced a lack of passion for reading aloud to children. I adore it when they sit at my feet, listening, sometimes hardly breathing, and at other times laughing so much they’re on their backs with their legs in the air. I think the secret to maintaining our passion is finding fantastic books that set us alight as adults, and similarly send children into transports of delight. Boring books do nothing for anyone, nor does boring expression when we’re reading. Zest and enjoyment in our voices and on our faces pays dividends in keeping the children in the palms of our hands. I’ve found it’s best not to engage in any preliminary talk before I begin to read a story. I cut to chase, open the book and go for it, trusting that the writer’s words will grab the children’s attention and hold it to the end. It always does.
- I’ve always wondered if your childhood years in Africa were a spur for your imagination and creativity. It seems to me that today our children are so completely surrounded by noise, distractions, screens, endless organised activities and so on that there is little time left for imaginative play or creating one’s own ‘magic’. What are your thoughts on this?
It’s true that I grew up (a long time ago!) without much external distraction, and became a creative, imaginative person. I can’t deny that. But It’s perfectly possible for children to be just as imaginative and creative today if screen time is severely limited and children are allowed to get bored. Boredom is a great fillip to creativity and the imagination, but most kids aren’t left alone long enough to get bored. I don’t mean physically alone. I mean being without any overt stimulation. I love it when I see my grandson teetering on the edge of boredom. (I allow it to happen, even though I want to jump in sometimes and suggest things.) I know the result will be some incredible game that might begin with an old tablecloth and my dad’s ancient walking stick, and go on for a self-entertaining hour.
- Your body of work comprises so many iconic picture books, all of them much loved. If I ask friends and colleagues to name a favourite there is always such a wide response (my own would be Tough Boris and Wombat Divine!) but I also enjoyed greatly your autobiography Mem’s The Word and I wonder if you have ever considered writing a novel for children?
I like writing picture books for young children and non-fiction books for adults, although both are hard work and take a long time, but I have no desire to write a novel for any age group. I read them all the time—I hate to be without one, but writing one? No thank you!
- Your beautiful new book The Tiny Star (so lovely it made me teary) is inspired by your bond with your grandchild. As I am raising my granddaughter since the death of her mother, I can completely and whole-heartedly connect with this. Please tell us more about your decision and emotions behind the writing.
Because you are raising your grandchild after the death of her mother, I will say very little in reply, except that you are awesome. Need I say more? You totally understand the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren, let alone children and their own parents. I hope your grand-daughter knows her mother is now a star shining brightly and loving her from afar, forever.
- Aside from your family and the memories they will carry in their hearts, how would you want to be remembered by the world at large?
I hope people remember that I was fun to be with and that I wrote some great books that touched people’s hearts for generations. (I hope they forget the not-so-great books. Hah.)
- Though you have been ‘semi-retired’ for quite a long time now there seems to be no stopping the unstoppable Mem Fox so what’s the next delight in store for us?
Amazingly, although The Tiny Star hits the shelves on October 1st, I have yet another new book arriving on November 5th, a dramatic sibling rivalry story: Roly Poly, about two polar bear brothers. You can guess the rest…
Mem, again I thank you for taking the time to share your words with my audience. It is truly an honour.
And thank YOU very much for your kind interest!
Visit Mem’s website for more!