February 4, 2018

Heat Wave No. 3 February 4th 2018

Of course it’s summer. Of course I live in Adelaide. Of course everyone’s now back at work or school, so of course there’s yet another heatwave looming at the end of this week. Of course that’s what usually happens at this time of the year, but it’s always a shock to live through days and days of temperatures over 37ºC/100ºF. And it’s always sad to watch plants wilt in sadness, shrivel and then die, in spite of one’s best efforts to save them.

And it’s always interesting to see what my fingers type when I sit down to write. I intended to say such and such, but I found myself saying this and that instead. The same happens when I sit down to start a story. I didn’t intend to complain about the weather. I’m a summer girl. I love it! But it ‘s hot, there’s no denying. So let’s move on…

2017 was a wonderful year, as I think I may have said several times. I didn’t dare to hope that 2018 would be anywhere near as good. I was perfectly happy with the way things were, counting blessings left, right, and over the moon.

But grand things have happened already.

Australia Day

I gave a speech on Australia Day (Jan.26th), finishing with a reading of I’m Australian Too, which praises of our immigration history and our tolerant, multicultural cohesion. Several people (adults) told me they’d had tears in their eyes. I feel a combination of alarm and joy when my books make people cry.

Australia Day is fraught with complex feelings, nationally: grief for the Aboriginal peoples, and celebration for those receiving their citizenship. I hope I got the tone right. Here’s what I said:

‘Thank you. It’s such a privilege to be here on such a beautiful day.

‘I would like to begin by recognising that today is a day of great sorrow and grief for the Aboriginal people of Australia, including the Kuarna people on whose land we find ourselves at this moment in history. I acknowledge that their lives and land have been most dreadfully affected by the arrival of the foreigners, our ancestors, who arrived in Australia in 1788. I pay the first peoples of Australia my deepest respect at this time.

‘And simultaneously, I pay my greatest respect to those of you who made the momentous decision to come to Australia from your original homelands. I’m wildly excited to meet those of you who have become new citizens today, from so many different parts of this planet. I know many of you have lived here for many years and I’m thankful that you have finally made the decision to sign on the dotted line, even though you know you’ll get fined if you don’t vote on election day! And to the brand-new citizens who have arrived only in the last few years (what stories you must have!), I know you’re already making an incredible contribution to this country and I thank you so much for deciding to come. This must be a very emotional day for you. A thousand welcomes, Aussies!

‘As you know, I’m a writer. My first book was Possum Magic, a madly, Australian book. My most recent book is even more madly Australian, if you can believe it—and it’s pretty much written for a day like today. It’s called I’m Australian Too, and the wonderful illustrator is an Indian Australian, who is a recent, and very welcome citizen of Australia: Ronojoy Ghosh. Allow me to read it….’

[The book  tells the immigration history of Australia, beginning with the Aboriginal peoples and moving right through to the Syrians who have come here most recently to escape the current terrors in their country.]

This what I was wearing when I left the house.

Er, I wore it all day, not just leaving the house!

_________

A Review in the Horn Book

Another lovely 2018 occurrence has been the starred (!!) Horn Book review of the USA edition of Ducks Away! Judy Horacek illustrated the book in a hilarious and delightful way. She manages, in her inimitable fashion, to paint/create so clearly and cleverly that small children can grasp immediately what’s going on, and fall in love with the action. Here’s what the prestigious Horn Book had to say:

Subscribe to The Horn Book

Review of Ducks Away!

 Ducks Away!
by Mem Fox; illus. by Judy Horacek
Preschool    Scholastic    32 pp.    g
1/18    978-1-338-18566-9    $16.99

Fox and Horacek (Where Is the Green Sheep?, rev. 5/04) team up again in this silly, cheerful counting book for the very youngest. When a mother duck waddles onto a bridge, she’s followed by her five ducklings — until, one by one, they fall into the river below. In a repeated refrain, the mother duck agonizes over the situation: “What should I do? Where should I go, with four on the bridge and one below?” Eventually, with all five ducklings swimming about in the river, the mother duck figures it out — with the help of her much-more-laidback offspring. The text and art work together beautifully: the text is b
rief but dramatic (exclamation marks are used to perfection), and each time a number is mentioned, it is highlighted in orange, reinforcing the arithmetical concepts. The bright primary-and-secondary-colors art manages to be both minimal, with an age-appropriate complete lack of background detail, and hilarious. The motion lines as each duckling falls into the water; the wordless splash that follows, with the little orange duckling feet sticking up: slapstick visual humor ideal for the audience. Preschoolers will hardly notice that they are learning addition and subtraction, so taken will they be by the dithering of the hapless mother and the topplings of the ducklings. Add this to your counting book shelves right quack, er, quick.

_________

Writers Week Dedication

To add to all that excitement (and it’s only February 4th), I’ve been thrilled and honoured by the news that the Adelaide International Festival’s Writers Week has, this year, been dedicated to me. Me? Things like that always shock me, as if I were a truly un-deserving person who’d written a couple of passable books. (I need to slap myself. Self-doubt is silly at this point.) It’s such an honour for one so young to have been so lauded. Hah! I’ll be turning 72 on the day of the event at the festival, so I must be getting on. It’s the kind of annual honour that’s typically bestowed on elderly writers, so I’ll swallow my pride, take a bow and accept my age, just this once. A thousand thanks to the person (Laura Kroetsch?) or the committee who decided to be so good to me. It’s especially heart-warming to be given such lovely recognition from one’s own home town. I had a lump in my throat when I read the email.

_________

The Indie Books Awards

Every year the independent books stores in Australia give awards to their favourite best-selling books. There are four books shortlisted in this year’ Indie Book Award for best children’s book and I’m thrilled to report that I’m Australian Too is one of them. I don’t kid myself that books like I’m Australian Too will change people’s attitudes to people of different races, but as a writer I feel I have to make a passionate literary effort to alleviate the racism in Australia, to increase tolerance and understanding, and to encourage acceptance of ‘the other’ whoever he or she may be, including ourselves. Not to do so would cover me with shame.

______________

Life Goes On

Mad though it is at our age, we are renovating our kitchen. It’s going well, in that the old kitchen, its walls and floor are gone. We are now looking at earth from 1935. Renovations (‘re-modelling’, I think you call it in the States) are of endless and detailed interest to the people embarking on them, but yawningly tedious for everyone else, so I won’t mention it again. I just thought this photo of the current scary state of play might amuse you:

_______________

Everything else is poddling (new word) along in its usual yearly cycle: beloved daughter back at school, teaching French to girls; beloved grandson now in Grade Three, and so excited about school starting that he woke at 5:30 on the first morning; beloved husband doing all the business and most of the errands; and me being a grandmother, housewife, cook, and gardener. And also being a having-coffee-with-friends kind of person. I haven’t written a word since early November. Plenty of time for that later. Good grief, I’m only 71! 

Hoping all is well in your world— with love,

Mem Fox