Tag Archives: Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy’s adjectives SOUND good — so here’s a challenge for you!

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The New Zealand Book Council has been on the hunt for New Zealand’s best loved book (a classic book). It will be announced at a special session at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in May.

I was invited to send in my pick and the first book that popped into my head was the book that stayed in my head for all kinds of reasons. I was OVER the MOON that I had picked a children’s author.

I picked Margaret Mahy‘s The Lion in the Meadow. They will post the reasons why, but I will tell you one thing. She is really good with adjectives in the book.

I love this repeating phrase: ‘a big, roaring, yellow, whiskery lion in the meadow’

Margaret would have PLAYED with these adjectives until she got them SOUNDING just right. How DELICIOUS they are to say out loud!


NOW your TURN!

Try writing a poem where you use a string of adjectives like Margaret has —  but you play with them first to get them sounding good. Maybe you repeat the line in your poem. You can pick a different animal or bird for your adjective line:

The ……….,   ………….,   …………..,  ……………….  cat


The ……….,   ………….,   …………..,  ……………….  owl


The ……….,   ………….,   …………..,  ……………….  elephant


The ……….,   ………….,   …………..,  ……………….  tiger

OR ANY ANIMAL or BIRD you like!

Once you are happy with your line use it in a poem (you can use it more than once)!


You can enter you list poem in the February sound-poem competition.

Deadline: February 27th

Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com. Include your name, age, year and name of school. You may include your teacher’s name and email address.

I am posting my favourites and will have a book prize for one young poet.

Reading Festival: Competition number 3 for children and schools


To celebrate Margaret Mahy’s Dashing Dog book (with illustrations by Donovan Bixley),

I invite you to write a poem about a dog. Juicy words are welcome!

Thanks to HarperCollins I have a copy of the book to give to my favourite poem. I will post my favourites as they arrive and the winner will be announced on Friday November 29th.

Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com. Include your name, age, year and name of school. Include your teacher’s name and email address if you can.

see my review of Margaret’s book here

Margaret Mahy’s Dashing Dog can swim


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‘Dashing dog! Dashing dog! Oh, what a sight to see!

Cleaned up and curlicued! What a delight to be’

HarperCollins has published a new edition of Margaret Mahy‘s poem, Dashing Dog. There are bright and bouncy illustrations by Donovan Bixley and there is a CD of Margaret reading the poem.

The poem follows an excited dog and his family as they go for a walk on the beach.

The poem is Margaret at her most delicious, bounciest, dashingest, dartingest, dreamiest wordiest BEST!

The words  dance and dash and cavort on the page and in your ear.

Margaret uses lots of alliteration that hums like music: ‘Devil-dog-daring, and dog-about-townery’.

She uses glorious, big words that are chewy on your tongue: curlicued, perambulate, docile.

She makes up words that are strange and zany and perfect (often to fit her rhymes): sandified, drowndering, townery.

The rhythm catches the dash and dart and antics of the dog and his family on the beach perfectly and Margaret reads it so beautifully.

SO, to sum up, this is a fabulous poem that made me think of my dogs when we go to the beach and they get all drippy and zoomy and puffy and panty and licky and rolly and huggy and happy! It is a terrific book and would be great to read with someone else.

You could try writing your own big rollicking rompy dog poem! Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com. Include your name, age, year and name of school. You can include the name and email of your teacher if you like.

NZ Post Children’s Book Awards

Book  awards can be nerve wracking times. My heart goes out to all those who didn’t get a gong and my delight goes out to all those who did. I was really impressed with the flurry of inventive activity that celebrated the shortlisted books throughout New Zealand. Bravo organisers!

I have read a number of the shortlisted books and I certainly had some favourites. Kate De Goldi generously answered some questions for Poetry Box ( May 19, 2013 — and I talked about what I loved about The ACB of Honora Lee). But I also loved Barbara Else‘s The Queen and the Nobody Boy. This is a book that is deliciously imaginative with exquisite detail. You enter the world of the book and you want to stay awhile! I really enjoyed Racheal King’s  Red Rock. This is like a beautifully written fable that is also grounded in the real world. David Hill‘s novel Mr Brother’s War won Best Junior Fiction and I was happy for David. His book takes you into the grip and guts of war in ways that are both complex and moving. It’s ages since I have read it — now I want to read it again ( I will publish one of David’s poems on Poetry Box sometime this year). I highly recommend all these books!

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AAhhh! Picture books. I love children’s picture books. And these two winners are heavenly. I have already flagged Mr Whistler on Poetry Box (March 28, 2013) — Gavin Bishop‘s lively illustrations and Margaret Mahy‘s brilliant story are a treat. This won best picture book. Later this year Kyle Mewburn is going to answer some questions for Poetry Box and I will share what I love abut his books. There is a poet lurking inside this fabulous storyteller that’s for sure. He knows what to do with words to make them sing and gleam. I was happy he won the children’s choice award. Well deserved!

A YA book won the top prize: ‘Ted Dawe’s book Into the River won the New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and was also the winner of the Young Adult Fiction category.  This engaging coming of age novel follows its main protagonist from his childhood in small town rural New Zealand to an elite Auckland boarding school where he must forge his own way – including battling with his cultural identity.’

Simon Morton and Riria Hotere won Best Non-Fiction with 100 Amazing Tales from Aotearoa. Will have to get a copy of this!

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Now all the authors can get back to the real world of writing and reading and visiting schools and cooking dinner and driving children to school and feeding dogs and cats and walking on the beach or in the bush or up mountains and flying in aeroplanes and riding bikes and catching ideas and trains and going to the library and bookshops and watching movies and answering the phone and sending emails and posting letters.

Writing poems is sometimes like making soup & Mahy’s Mr Whistler

Writing poems is sometimes like making soup ( I love making and eating soup in winter). You need just the right amount of ingredients, but I reckon we all have a different idea of what those ingredients might be. Too much salt and the soup tastes yuk! Not enough salt and the soup tastes yuk! Not enough liquid and it’s not really soup. Pumpkin and ginger — a match made in heaven.

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Margaret Mahy knew how to make a good soup poem and a good soup story. Just as I showed with The Moon & Farmer McPhee, Margaret used her ear when she wrote Mr Whistler. Sometimes a whole sentence will be full of shiny words, but often she writes a plain sentence with one word that shines:

‘Last of all he clapped his hat on his head.’

Margaret could have said ‘put his hat on’ but clapped just adds music and zing to her story. She uses just the right amount of salt (shiny words).

Mr Whistler sounds good but it is also a great story. Mr Whistle gets dressed. He is off to the station, dancing and tapping with a song in his head.  He is really worried he is going to lose his ticket. I don’t want to spoil how this delightful story unfolds — you will just have to read it.

Gavin Bishop, one of our very best illustrators, did the illustrations. The illustrations dance and tap across the page like the song in Mr Whistler’s head. I love them! I always get curious about the pictures and wonder what the illustrator used to do them. These look like a mix of water-colour and ink on special water-colour paper. I always wish the publishers would give us this information. Gavin Bishop lives in Christchurch.

Mister Whistler was published by Gecko Books in 2012. This is what it says inside: ‘For more curiously good books see http://www.geckopress.com.’;  Congratulations Gecko Press, this book is one of them!

Why Tierney likes Margaret Mahy’s ‘Bubble Trouble’

 I really enjoyed reading this letter from Tierney.  NZ Poetry Box is mostly for children up to Year 8 but every now and then I will post something by an older student. I agree with what Tierney says about rhyme. I plan to do lots of posts on rhyme in the future. Thanks for picking your favourite Margaret Mahy poem.

Hi Paula,


My name is Tierney.  I am thirteen years old, a Year 9.  I am homeschooled by my mother.


My favourite Margaret Mahy poem is ‘Bubble Trouble.’  I love the way it sounds when read aloud; each word seems to fit so perfectly!  It’s a very clever poem, and I think that it is the sort of poem that sounds amazing as you were talking about in the 3rd Poetry Challenge.  I have been told before that “poets should never rhyme”, but I disagree- don’t you?  I think it gives a poem a lovely feel, the words dance rather than roll off the tongue.  I know there are some poems that seem “forced” if made to rhyme, but I still think that rhyming is a perfectly fine thing to do.


I also liked ‘Bubble Trouble’ because of its use of so many techniques; there was alliteration, assonance, I think, rhyming of course, and plenty of other clever ways to make the words fit together.  I have read other Margaret Mahy poems before, but I think that her ‘Bubble Trouble’ poem was the cleverest, cutest and best of all her poems!


From Tierney.

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This week on NZ Poetry Box – More Mahy

Wow! About a month old and NZ Poetry Box has had nearly 6,000 views. I am delighted — thank you.

Cheers to all those children who have been trying NZ Poetry Box challenges. This week we are still celebrating the writing of Margaret Mahy. On Monday I will tell you what I love about Margaret’s long poem, A Summer Saturday Morning and later I will post Tierney’s poem pick (congratulations!). On Tuesday I will give you a perfectly playful poetry tip, on Wednesday it will be Poetry Box Play time, on Thursday I will tell you what I love about Margaret’s story Mr Whistler. Easter caught up on me so I will post the winners and my favourites in the sound-poem challenge sometime after the deadline on Thursday (5pm).

I won’t be posting over Easter (back on Wednesday April 3) but here’s a little holiday challenge: write a poem using no more than 20 words about your favourite place to go at the weekends. Make the place come alive with the words you pick. Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com Include your name, age, year, name of school and teacher. HAPPY EASTER! Send to me by Tuesday April 2nd 5pm but I will post any I like over the long weekend (get Mum or Dad to help you send them).

Last week I invited you to tell me which of Margaret’s poems you love and why (Tierney did a great job on this!). Perhaps this week you could tell me which of Margaret’s books you love. If you are like me you will have trouble picking because you like so many of them.

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I used to read A Summer Saturday Morning with my girls when they were young. There are two stars in this long poem: rhythm and repetition. These two stars make it a fabulous poem to read aloud by yourself, with your family or class, to your dogs or your cats.

The rhythm is a bouncy, ‘wiggly track’ rhythm that makes you want to get up off the sofa and get your cats and dogs and head off down the track to the beach — walking and wiggling, walking and wiggling, walking and wiggling.

Each verse is four lines long and all the lines are about the same length so that helps make the rhythm wiggle and bounce, wiggle and bounce.

The repetition is everywhere and is what gives the poem zing! I love the sound of the last line of each verse (always the same): ‘On a summery Saturday morning.’

Repetition is in the middle of each verse. You get to hear a phrase three times (marvellous!). My favourite: ‘the tangled green,/ The tangled green, the tangled green.’

And of the end of the lines you have simple rhymes that punch out that beat: ‘peace’ and geese’.

To top it all off Margaret has found words that sound magnificent together: ‘flap and hiss.’

I don’t have permission to post this long poem, but you can find the book itself and you can find the poem in The Word Witch published by HarperCollins (this week’s prize!).

A Summer Saturday Morning was published by Penguin UK in 1999 with illustrations by Selina Young and published in NZ by Puffin in 2010.

Margaret Mahy’s The Moon & Farmer McPhee

When I read The Moon & Farmer McPhee  by Margaret Mahy, I can hear poetry magic at work. Margaret is telling a story but her stories always make gorgeous music in your ears. What is different about this book is that the story itself is David Elliot’s (he did the magnificent illustrations) and Margaret found the words to tell that story.

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There is heavenly alliteration: ‘The wild wonder of the world was spinning around him so he spun, too.’

There are words that stand out in a sentence: ‘Something was frisking in the farm outside.’

There is the joy of repetition: ‘For a moment the night was dark and shadowy and the farm was quiet … quiet … quiet.’

There is delicious rhyme: ‘We will moo-moo-moo/ in the midnight dew.’

And there is a fabulous simile: (on the moon) ‘Some days it is thin, curved like a peeling from a silver apple.’

And then of course there is the story: All the animals at midnight will not let Farmer McPhee get a wink of sleep with all their hollering and howling. But this is a story that will take a surprising turn and put a smile on your face! So Margaret and David made an excellent team.

Find a copy of the book. Enjoy the wonderful story and then go on the hunt for poetry! As you can see, I love this book.

The Moon and Farmer McPhee has beautiful illustrations by David Elliot. It was Book of the Year at the 2011 NZ Post Children’s book Awards. It was also selected as the New Zealand 2012 IBBY Honour Book for Illustration. The Moon and Farmer McPhee is a gorgeous production with fold-out flaps inside. It is published by Random House NZ and thanks to their generosity I have a copy to give away in a future NZ Poetry Box Challenge.

Margaret Mahy’s The Word Witch and a mini challenge

Margaret Mahy (1936 – 2012) is one of New Zealand’s most beloved authors. She wrote over two hundred titles from dazzling picture books for the very young to award-winning novels for teenagers. She wrote poems, novels, non-fiction, picture books and countless school readers. Margaret was awarded the Hans Christian Anderson Medal which is an enormous, international honour.

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I met Margaret several times and I loved many things about her. I loved her generosity with words — not just on the paper where they wove spectacular (and quiet) magic but with other people. She always wanted to listen to others, to read the books of others, to delight in the lives of others — and she devoted much attention to children. To me she was an exceptional role model for authors.

Once she asked me to recite one of my poems. I was surprised and shocked she would ask me but my poem Blind as a Beetroot came into my head and I recited that. I was quaking in my jandals but she roared with laughter and slapped her knees when I finished. That was such kindness on her part.

Today I am going to tell you what I love about her poetry collection The Word Witch and talk about a poem of hers that HarperCollins has so kindly given me permission to post. Tessa Duder went on a fabulous hunting expedition to gather the poems togther for the book. Before I talk about the book though, I am going to give you a mini challenge. Write and tell me which Margaret Mahy poem you love and why.

You have until 5pm Saturday 23rd March. Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com with your name, age, class year, name of school, teacher’s name and email and I will post the winner on Monday 25th March.

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Margaret’s poems never sit still. It is as though she sat on a rocky beach hunting for marvellous words with patience and daring and a knowing eye and ear. Each word is like a little rock or shell or pebble and Margaret could see what made that pebble word special. She knew how to make a pebble chain (of words) that gleamed and glistened and sparked.

Some of her poems are long and are terrific read aloud — I love ‘Down the Back of the Chair,’  ‘A Summery Saturday Morning’ and ‘Bubble Trouble.’ These poems have infectious rhythms that get your body moving, but they also have dazzling alliteration (‘calculated catchwork’) and rhymes that duck and weave and chime. Margaret is our Rhyme Queen.

Three salutes because Margaret was never afraid of big words (nefarious, cacophony, gallant). Perhaps like me the dictionary was one of her favourite books as a child. It is a bit harder now with spell check and computer dictionaries to snuggle up and hunt for words.

I love the made-up words that find their way into Margaret’s poems: flingamango, sandified, fandandical.

I love too those poems that tell a story; the rhyme and the rhythm and Margaret’s spectacular imagination sweep you along the curves of the story (‘Bubble Trouble’ is a great example).

I am posting ‘Baby is falling Asleep‘ thanks to HarperCollins (see credit at the end of the poem).

This poem has it all. It starts with a very ordinary, everyday thing. The baby manages to fall asleep amidst the clutter and racket in a household full of cats, dogs, mother, father, sisters, brother and bagpipes! Margaret makes that racket boom and burst on the page and in your ear. Say her words out loud and listen to her sounds: ‘grousing and grumbling’ and ‘pinging and popping and piping and clattering.’ Marvellous. Her rhyme is slipping and sliding and making music magic. She is not afraid to put in ‘cacophony.’ Say that word out loud and hear how good it is.

I like the way she plays with the last lines so that they are nearly the same but not quite. Try it!

Altogether this is a poem that reading once is just not good enough. You need to read it again and again. Perhaps you will be like me and the poem will make you want to get writing too.

I have felt a bit sad writing this post knowing that Margaret is no longer with us and we no longer have the joy of her presence, but I am full of such gladness that we have the richness and joy of her words.


Baby is Falling Asleep


The happy home rumbles with racket and rumpus

and Mother and Father both jiggle and jump as

the fracas flows in from each point of the compass . . .

yet baby is falling asleep.


Kate’s in the kitchen. She’s grousing and grumbling

at Sam on his skates. He is sliding and stumbling

upsetting the saucepans. Ka-BOOM! They go tumbling!

But baby is falling asleep.


Florrie and Fern are commencing a flounce-about!

Two of the cats start a passionate pounce-about,

dogs begin barking, embroiled in a bounce-about.

Baby is drifting to sleep.


Mervyn makes music no ceiling can soften. He

blows on his bagpipes. Amazing how often he

hits a wrong note, and produces cacophony!

Baby has fallen asleep.


Sleep, little darling, through family clattering,

blaring and banging and booming and battering,

pinging and popping and piping and pattering!

Sink into whispering sleep!


© The Word Witch

By Margaret Mahy, edited by Tessa Duder, illustrations by David Elliot

Published by HarperCollins New Zealand