Mem Fox: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 08.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, DC
>> And, I have the honor today of introducing Mem Fox.
[ Applause ]
>> Chances are if you have a child, as I do, you've read a Mem Fox book.
This prolific Australian writer is the author of more
than 35 picture books for children,
including some favorites in my own household.
<i>Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes</i>, <i>Koala Lu</i>
and the very effective<i> Time for Bed</i>.

Her first book <i>Possum Magic</i>, the tale of two possums in search
of food that will make the other visible again,
she has said was rejected multiple times before it became the huge best
seller internationally that it is.
Her most recent book,<i> Lets Count Goats</i>,
illustrated by Jan Thomas is a typical Mem Fix masterpiece.
It is a subtle lesson that's told by lovable animals in very witty verse.
Mem is a retired teacher and a fierce literacy advocate who lives
in Adelaide, Australia and lists among her likes world peace
and green paper clips.
[ Laughter ]
>> And her dislikes, which I'm thankfully not wearing a brown
clothing, and untidiness and she says that she enjoys sleeping
and I assume she also enjoys writing,
but I will let her tell you more about that herself.
[ Applause ]
>> Mem Fox: Hi, or as I bet you're dieing
for me to say, "Good day[HC1]".
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: And I used to think that Australians didn't say good day,
I thought it was just something that Americans thought Australians said,
but I've been listening and we do.
We do say good day.
Once upon a time a very long time ago, ladies and gentlemen,
boys and girls, a baby was born.
That baby was me.
[ Laughter ]
>> It's hard to imagine that I was ever a baby but I was.
When I was six months old my parents moved to Africa
and that's where I started school.

That's why I don't have an Australian accent,
I have an English accent instead.
I'm so sorry that I don't have an Australian accent,
I am ashamed of the fact that I don't have an Australian accent.
My teacher, when I started school, was a very frightening teacher.
An African man called Mr. Lorvu [phonetic].
I was the only white child in the school.
All my friends were Africans and we learned to write sitting
under a big tree and we wrote in the earth with our fingers.
That's how I learned to write, by putting my finger in the earth.
He would do it in the air and we would do it in the earth
and he would come around and look at it
and if it wasn't good enough we would sweep that bit aside
with the side of our hand and we would do it again and then
of course we graduated later to slates, which was fantastic
because in order to rub things out on a slate you have to spit on it.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Well that was how I learned to write.
I made a lot of friends at school and they were all Africans.
I could have felt very different.
I didn't feel different, I didn't notice the color of their skin,
I didn't notice the color of my skin
and I have remembered that all my life.
Now days as soon as I say to myself, by looking at somebody,
that person is different from me I know

that I am making a very big mistake
because that person is not very different from me in any way.
We are all like each other,
we are all human beings and we are all the same.
When I grew up I remembered my friends in my first class
and I wrote this book,<i> Who Ever You Are</i>.
[ Applause ]
>> Mem Fox: My Mother was a very difficult woman to please.
She was the sort of woman who thought
that if I were praised I would get above myself.
So she praised me very rarely and especially
when I became enormously successful
with my very first book she thought I was in mortal danger of some kind
or another, and her praise from that time became even more sparse.
However with this book she finished it and said,
without realizing what she was doing,
this is my twenty second book ladies and gentlemen,
twenty-two books I had to wait, she said, "Oh, I love that book".
[ Applause ]
>> Mem Fox: So this book is rather special to me for many reasons.
Whoever you are, children, are there any children in the audience?
Can I see them?
I can see one or two.
You know this book is funny.
At the front they say whoever you are,
inside they say whoever you are, as if we could not remember
from one page turn to the next.
And amazingly, for the third time, as if we were complete idiots,
they tell us, for the third time,
that this book is called<i> Whoever You Are</i>.
Can you tell me what this book is called people?
[ Laughter ]
>> Audience: Whoever you are.
>> Mem Fox: Thank you.
Oh, I just have to tell you that I have a little grandson
who was born prematurely, very, very prematurely.
It will be our only grandson, he's now, his corrected age six months,
he was born on January the 4th.
And I have read him -- I read him this book every single day
in the hospital.
I opened the door of the humid crib, humidity crib,
and I read him this book.
So it is a very, very special book to me.
I bet you're just wishing I would get on and read it, you know.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Little one, whoever you are, wherever you are,
there are little ones just like you all over the world.
Their skin may be different from yours
and their homes may be different from yours.
Their schools may be different from yours
and their lands may be different from yours.
Their lives may be different from yours
and their words may be very different from yours
but inside their hearts are just like yours, whoever they are,
wherever they are, all over the world.

Their smiles are like yours and they laugh just like you.
Their hurts are like yours and they cry like you too, whoever they are,
wherever they are, all over the world.
Little one when you are older
and when you are grown you may be different
and they may be different whoever you are, whoever they are
in this big wide world, but remember this, joys are the same
and love is the same, pain is the same and blood is the same,
hearts are the same and smiles are just the same wherever they are,
wherever you are, wherever we are all over the world.
[ Applause ]
>> Mem Fox: <i>Whoever You Are</i> makes writing look easy.
It looks so easy and people read a book like that and they say,
"You know I think I'll write a picture book one day
when I have the time", as if time were the only requirement.
As if talent had nothing to do with it what so ever.
Now you look at that book and you think, oh what's that,
she must of knocked it up in an afternoon.
But of course I didn't, because how many of you noticed that each
of the similar items in the book has only one syllable, one syllable.
Their lives may be different, their words may be different,
their schools may be different, joys are the same, love is the same,
pain is the same, smiles are the same.
They're all one syllable words.
And it drives you crazy, that kind of detail drives you crazy
and I am one of the writers, the few writers at this festival,
who writes as rarely as possible.
I think it adds up to about five minutes a year because it is
so difficult to find one syllable words.
Like a good man, they're hard to find.
[ Laughter ]
[ Clapping ]
>> Mem Fox: Fortunately I found the good man
and the syllables, so I'm doing just fine.
I'm just doing fine.
My Mother was a very wild Australian woman.
When we were in Africa she could kill a snake with one blow
from a crow bar, which she kept at the back door.
She brought me up to love Australia, even though we didn't live there.
She sang me Australian songs.
She made me Australian cookies.
She told me about the beaches and the people.
She read me stories about Koalas and Kangaroos.
I was the most Australian child ever in the world,
even though my home was in Africa.
When I was already grown up and married, I came back to Australia
and pretty soon after that we had our own child
and we called her Chloe and she began to grow and to love books
and I was so shocked to find that there were no Australian books
for my little Australian kid to read.
I was outraged, people.
I was outraged.
I was outraged.
Oh, yes she liked Beatrix Potter.
Oh yes she loved Dr. Seuss.
Oh, yes, they were all fine, they were all fine,
but where was the Australian book for my Australian child?
Surely, I said to myself, there must be something for an Australian child
to read that wasn't written in England
or America, but there wasn't much.
There wasn't enough.
I had to do it myself.
So I wrote a book, which is now 27 years old,
it's called <i>Possum Magic</i> and it is the best selling kid's book
in the world in Australia.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Those of you who know anything about books and writing
and publishing will know that for a book to be in hard back
for 27 years is something unbelievable,
and <i>Possum Magic</i> is still
in hard back 27 years after it was published.
So I'm pleased about it.
Not pleased enough to read it to you, though, because I need
to hurry along with my talk.
I assure that you will have some questions for me at the end
of this session, but let me guess what some
of those questions might be.
One thing people always ask is, how many books have you written?
So I will answer that question by saying immediately
that I've written 36 books for children
and five books for grown-ups.
Now the last time I spoke to anybody, about a month ago,
I had only written 35 books and I've now written 36.
So, in the last month, in my house, has come the new copies
of my latest book, which are very, very exciting.
Particularly, as a first time Grandmother, I have finally,
after 39 years of waiting, been able to put <i>For Theo</i>
at the beginning of a book.
[ Applause ]
>> Mem Fox: Oh, its so exciting people, it's so exciting.
You understand that, you know, for me as a premature baby Grandmother
to have a six month old child turning the pages every single time,
at six months is astonishing.
I mean I did not think that kids could do that.
Flick, flick, flick.
It's sensational and he seemed
to like this the other day when I read to him.
It came on the day that I left.
It came into my house on the day that I left, which was Wednesday.
And it goes like this.
Now this may not go so well, it may not go so well
because I've never read it before, okay, except to him,
and that was just one to one.
This is my first big audience, and you know you get to know your books
after awhile and you so them really well and you know
when to turn the pages and so on.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: I'm going to tell you the background
in how this story came to be after I have read it.
This book is called <i>Lets Count Goats</i>, <i>Lets Count Goats</i>.
Are we ready?
I suspect inside they say lets count goats again.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Oh yes, they do.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Because we're idiots, we can't remember
from one page turn to the next.
Here we go.
I'm so sorry for the people at the sides,
I will promise, I love you dearly.
I love you a lot.
Okay, I adore you but I'm going to have difficulty because I've got
to read the book, probably like this.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: And of course, you know, you need to see the pictures
and you're so far away that it's kind of pointless you being here.
Why don't you all go home?
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Oh dear are we ready?
Oh Lord okay.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Here we a see a mountain goat frisking in the sun
and here we see a city goat going for a run.
But can you count the seaside goats?
I think there's only one.
So you now have to imagine what you're seeing on each page
because you can't see the illustrations after this okay.
Here we see a drinking goat and here a goat is eating,
but can you count the little goats lost and loudly bleeding?
Here we see an airport goat looking for her cases,
but can you count the pilot goats with goggles on their faces?
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Here we see a show of goat playing on the vase,
but can we count the rowdy goats careering around in cars?

Here we -- oops -- what?
Oh, yes.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Here we see an over goat and this one's going under,
but we can we count the crossing goats terrified of thunder?
Is that five?
Five, we are at five.
Here we see the Sanford goat playing with his toys,
but we can we count the trumpet goats making all the noise?

You're counting aren't you?
Here we see a summer goat with nothing left to mow and
but can we count the winter goats huddled in the snow?
Seven? Here we see a fireman goat climbing through the smoke
but can we count the rescued goats trying not to choke?
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Here we see a soccer goat roaring at the ref,
but can we count the cheering goats who must be going deaf?
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Here we see -- oh my God, what are we up to?
Are we sure were up to nine?
Were you counting?

Hang on, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine,
oh my goodness, thank God, I thought there was a mistake.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Now this page is scarey
because we should be on ten, should we not?
I mean that's how counting goats go.
They go from one to ten.
We are gong from nine to five, but there's a reason
for it, okay, don't panic.
Here we see the story goats and all their shining eyes,
but can you count their pricked up ears one, two, three, four, five,
six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
You can? I'm not surprised.
[ Applause ]
>> Mem Fox: At the moment my most popular book
in Australia is a book called<i> Where is the Green Sheep</i>.
It is so popular that so many three year olds get three copies of it
for their third birthday and they already have a copy of their own,
so it doesn't go down well.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: It is so popular that the illustrator and I decided
that we would like to do a companion book for <i>Where is the Green Sheep</i>,
and I thought a counting book would be a great idea.
However, my illustrator did not like the text that I did,
so it could not be a companion book because if it was going
to be a companion book she had to like the text
and she didn't like the text.
And she was pretty scarey about the text
and she said well you can write your own book but I'm not illustrating
that one and she said you can't use sheep,
I had called the book counting sheep.
She said you can't use sheep because that's a companion book
to green sheep and you can't use color
because we've already got<i> Coloring Green Sheep</i> .
And I wondered how many words I could actually use
by the time I finished this conversation.
Anyway, I rewrote the book, called it <i>Counting Goats</i>
and that's how the book came into being.
It came into being because of that.
But I do want to tell you something about my grandchild.
I'm very pleased that I have written <i>Counting Goats</i>
and that it's dedicated to him because he will be able to count.
I was with my daughter a couple of weeks ago, and she was holding him,
and she told me something that had happened in 1998.
She said this happened in 1998.
And I said, "Oh that's only eight years ago."
And she looked at me and said, "No.
No. It's 12 years ago.
2010 minus 1998 is 12, its 12 years ago."
And I said, "Well, you know, I'm a writer.
I was never meant to do math, it's not one of the things
that I have ever, ever had the talent for.
I just can't do it, I've never been able to do it.
I cannot subtract, I can't add, I can't do anything.
I can't even work out a percentage, really, on a calculator.
I mean it is appalling, my math is appalling."
And she looked at this tiny child in her arms and she said, "Oh Theo,
oh Theo what a genetic swamp you have been born into."
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: So I'm very, very,
pleased that that book has been written for him
so at least he will be able to count even though I can't.
I'm going to finish by reading a very rowdy book so that we finish
on a loud and happy note.
I was going to tell you a sad story and then I thought no,
no we'll finish on a very happy note because I want everybody to join in.

This book is called<i> Hattie and the Fox</i>.
It's an old classic of mine.
Are there children in the audience that I can see?
There are children, children, children watch my finger children.
Hattie and the fox, fox, or as you say fox.

<i>Hattie and the Fox</i> by Mem Fox.
How cool it that, fox twice on the cover and probably,
knowing what we've seen before, probably inside the book as well.
Indeed we have it,<i> Hattie and the Fox</i>
by Mem Fox and this is how it goes.
Hattie was a big black hen.
One morning she looked up and said goodness gracious me I can see a
nose in the bushes.
Good grief said the goose.
Well, well, said the pig.
Who cares said the sheep.
So what said the horse.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: What next said the cow?
And Hattie said goodness gracious me I can see a nose
and two eyes in the bushes.
Good grief said the goose.
Well, well, said the pig.
Who cares said the sheep.
So what said the horse.
What next said the cow?
And Hattie said goodness gracious me I can see a nose, two eyes
and two ears in the bushes.
Good grief said the goose.
Well, well, said the pig.
Who cares said the sheep.
So what said the horse.
And I would like you all to be the cow, who seems not to have a brain
in her head, but she saves the day in the end, and the cow says
in a very stupid sort of way.
What next said the cow?
Very good, very, very, good.
And Hattie said goodness gracious me I can see a nose, two eyes
and two ears and two legs in the bushes.
Good grief said the goose.
Well, well, said the pig.
Who cares said the sheep.
So what said the horse!
>> Audience: What next said the cow?
>> Mem Fox: And Hattie said goodness gracious me I can see a nose,
two eyes, two ears, two legs and a body in the bushes.
Good grief said the goose.
Well, well, said the pig.
Who cares said the sheep.
So what said the horse!
>> Audience: What next said the cow?
>> Mem Fox: And Hattie said goodness gracious me I can see a nose,
two eyes, two ears, a body, four legs and a tail
in the bushes, it's a fox, it's a fox.
And she flew very quickly into a nearby tree.
Oh no said the goose, dear me said the pig, oh help said the sheep,
oh dear what [inaudible] I've completely lost the plot

because it was all so terrible.
But the cow said "moo" so loudly that the fox was frightened
and ran away and they were all so surprised that none
of them said anything for a very long time.

[ Applause ]
>> Mem Fox: And I think I have left time for one question is that right?
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: One question.
I'll answer it with one syllable words if I can.
[ Laughter ]
>> Mem Fox: Do we have a question?
Does anybody have a question?

[ Inaudible audience question ]
>> Mem Fox: There's a book called <i>Guess What</i> I was asked
about the illustrator and me, which is typically of all my books,
I have nothing to do with the illustrator.
I often don't meet the illustrator.
I don't know Jan Thomas who did goats.
I hope to meet her because I love the work, but I don't meet them.
I don't instruct them.
I would be furious as I was about the green sheep, you know, book.
I don't like to be told what I write.
As a writer, and because I have know visual ability at all,
I never say to an illustrator this is what I want,
because what I want is so pedestrian, it's so low level,
it's so pathetic and geniuses, you know produce things
that are so, so different.
The illustrations in guess what are absolutely astonishing.
They're on a level with the illustrations in <i>The Goblin</i>
<i>and the Empty Chair</i> by The Dillon's, which is illustrated
by Leo and Diane Dillon, just an amazing book.
So have we got time for one more?
No. Ten minutes.
Yes we have.
>> Could you read this book for me?
[ Background noise ]
>> Mem Fox: I cant.
I wish I could, I haven't got time.
Okay, I'm going to do it.
It takes two minutes.

[ Applause ]
>> Mem Fox: It takes two minutes people, don't panic.

Once upon a time there lived a pirate,
whose name was Boris Von Der Borch.
He was tough, all pirates are tough.
He was massive, all pirates are massive.
He was greedy, no he wasn't.
He was scruffy, all pirates are scruffy.
He was greedy, all pirates are greedy.
He was fearless, all pirates are fearless.
He was scarey, all pirates are scary.
But when his parrots died, he cried and cried.
All pirates cry, and so do I.
[ Applause ]
>> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress.
Visit us at [HC1]No time needed before or after
[ Laughter ]
because it wasn't longer than 5 seconds.
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