Award-winning New Zealand author Margaret Mahy died July 23 in Christchurch following a brief illness. She was 76.
Mahy was born March 21, 1936 in Whakatane, New Zealand, and was keen on being a writer from a very young age. She wrote and “published” her first story, which she shared with classmates, when she was seven years old. Her love of reading and books stayed with her as she pursued a B.A. degree at Auckland University College and Canterbury University College, graduating in 1955. Soon after, she entered New Zealand Library School.
For a number of years she worked as a children’s librarian and carved out time to write at night while raising her two daughters as a single mother. Mahy pursued book publishing in her native country without much luck until one of her stories, which appeared in a New Zealand magazine called The School Journal, was spotted by U.S. editor/publisher Helen Hoke Watts. Watts’s company, Franklin Watts, published Mahy’s first picture book, A Lion in the Meadow, in 1969, which put the author’s work on the international stage. She began writing full-time in 1980 and went on to publish more than 150 books for children and young adults.
Mahy’s many picture books have been roundly praised for their sense of whimsy and accomplished wordplay. Her novels for older readers, which contain elements of fantasy and the supernatural, also feature ordinary kids confronting common, sometimes serious issues, and working through family relationships, a quality often lauded in reviews of her titles. Mahy won the U.K.'s Carnegie Medal for her first two novels, The Haunting (1982) and The Changeover (1984), and she was presented the Hans Christian Andersen Award, in recognition of her entire body of work, in 2006.
At the time of her death, Mahy had completed a new picture book, The Man from the Land of Fandango, illustrated by Polly Dunbar, which Clarion Books will release on October 23.