Merry Christmas to anyone who celebrates Christmas, anywhere in the world! And a very happy day off for those who don’t.
I’ve spent some time in hospitals this year, mostly children’s hospitals in several states. I’m showing this photo right now to alert you immediately to what the real old me looks like at the end of 2016. The delighted parents below had had premature twins, Harriet and Edward Hobson. I met them on a read-aloud visit to their ward in the Adelaide Children’s Hospital.
You will have noticed—no, I hope you will have been dazzled!—by the new look of my website. I’ve made many changes for you in particular, as you’re so special, so you can find what you’re interested in more easily and quickly than you could before. The major difference, apart from the more funky look of the site, is that you can now listen to me read most of the books I’ve written. I’m ecstatic about that. I love reading aloud and being listened to. I didn’t go to drama school for nothing. Oh, those drama people!
The big joke in the previous paragraph is that I personally had nothing to do with the website up-grade. I mean, would I even know where to start? No! The many changes ‘I’ made were in fact engineered by the brilliant guys at Enee Solutions in Adelaide. It was a huge amount of work and took many months. Anthony Gulin was the main genius. I kiss their feet in gratitude. All I did was provide the content, new and old, since a website with no content is like a book with blank pages and who wants to spend hours browsing that?
As I was typing that information I had a phone call from a wildly excited six-year-old, my Theo, whose tooth had fallen out all of a sudden, after wobbling for weeks. Everything I think of as important is irrelevant compared to the noisy joy and relief of six-year-old’s tooth falling out. Honestly, being a grandparent is Paradise on Earth, but I don’t expect you to care at all, or even to believe me, until or unless you’re a grandparent yourself. (Theo’s last day or Year One is over tomorrow and the long summer hols are about to begin, which must confuse those of you in the northern hemisphere, currently shuddering with cold in the wind and snow and rain. Brrr.)
I won’t tell you everything that’s happened since I last wrote in case this up-date sounds like the letters people send out at Christmas, raving about their children’s achievements, (Theo won a state-wide French poetry speaking competition. I kid you not. But do you really want to know that? Feel free to throw up!), their holidays in exotic places, their incredible successes at work and so on. I bet you’ve noticed in those annual letters that nothing bad has happened to anyone for the entire year past. They’re hilarious fabrications, those letters, as bad as Facebook. Not that I’m on Facebook myself. It’s if nothing bad happens in real life. Of course it does, and it happens to us all.
The bad thing in my life has been and remains the illness of my younger sister. I’ve mentioned this before (I don’t intend to go into details in a public) but the good thing is that she’ll be out of hospital and home for Christmas, and she’s a real Christmas girl.
The bad thing was that because I flew to visit her I missed the school concert at Theo’s school, during which the Year Sixes did a play of my book Wombat Divine. Tears were shed. Apparently it was divine.
The good thing was that when I left my sister in the hospital I said something that made us both laugh and I feel I’ll be able to hear that laughter forever.
The bad thing is that our other sister lives in Italy and we both miss her.
The good thing is that my latest book with the magical Judy Horacek: Ducks Away! is now out in the world and paddling along in fine form. (Thank you Sarah Hatton once again for being the perfect publicist.) I am, needless to say, hoping for a sort of Green-Sheep-reaction to the publication of Ducks Away! because it’s the same kind of book for the same age of child; although my husband isn’t a child and he loved it so much I dedicated it to him. My daughter Chloë, and Theo, love it too but you can never rely on family for a true assessment. Families love you so much they tend to love the book because it’s yours.
The bad thing is that Ducks Away! will scarcely have had time to breathe its own breath on the bookshelves before the launch in late February 2017 of my next book: I’m Australian Too, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh.
The good thing is I’ll be 71 a few days after that launch and I know I’ll be jumping for joy that I’m still working and still contributing to children’s literary lives, let alone to their learning to read. 71 is frisky so long as you think it is. Old age? God spare me.
The bad thing is I’m weary from working, but not of working.
The good thing is that in my job, my work is often recognised in little ways and big ways, as you see below.
And the big recognition happened like this…
I’ve done some work in the northern suburbs of Adelaide for the United Way charity, helping to set up a program called: ’Read Aloud. Every Child. Every Day.’ In early December I was invited to Government House for an acknowledgement of the work of United Way volunteers. It was a hot day and I was exhausted, and frantic about my sister. I almost didn’t go.
As the ceremony was unfolding I found myself standing there in disbelief. It was like a slow-motion movie, or a dream in which I gradually became the main character. The feeling was amazing. My name was called. What? I was the only person to be singled out. I walked forward on weakened knees to stand with the Governor while the United Way CEO read the citation. I hoped in desperation that I’d dressed appropriately for the occasion. The award itself was exquisite and I’m so proud of it that it won’t be hidden away modestly, as my other awards are. I want it seen: being rewarded for being a read-aloud advocate rarely happens. Mostly I’m lauded as a children’s writer, which is lovely of course, and I’m grateful, but by now you and I know that the reading-to-kids message is where my heart lies and I cannot thank United Way enough for recognising that. Gratitude, especially, to Kerry Davies and Greg Franks.
I’ve been to many hospitals (as I’ve said), and schools, and towns, and Child and Family Centres, and other events this year. I had photos but I can’t find most of them. Age? No, incompetence. I can’t find photos of the book tour for Ducks Away! either. Perhaps it’s a message that I should stop now before I waste more of your precious time. Here’s one last one from the Adelaide Children’s Hospital once again—this is premature baby Abdul El-Sayed with his dad and his mum Sophia, after many weeks in the neo-natal ward.
Thanks for hanging in there up to this point, and all the very best for 2017!
Mem Fox xxx