Mem Fox is a renowned children’s book author and household name. She has recently released Good Night, Sleep Tight and we took the opportunity to speak to her about her writing and her passion for literacy.
Mem Fox and Good Night, Sleep Tight’s illustrious illustrator and cartoonist Judy Horacek are currently on tour for the launch of Good Night, Sleep Tight so if you would like the chance to catch them live the appearance details can be found at the bottom of this interview.
Welcome to Beauty and Lace Mem, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
You have quite a back catalogue, can you tell us what made you want to write children’s books?
I wrote my first book, Possum Magic, at university. It was written for a children’s literature assignment when I was a mature-age student.
My lecturer thought the book was brilliant, yet it was rejected nine times over five years. During that time it was rewritten and then of course it finally got published and went on to become Australia’s bestselling picture book.
Good Night, Sleep Tight has just been released, can you tell us a little about the book please?
The launch of my latest book has been fantastic. It became a bestseller within three weeks of launch.
It’s called Good Night, Sleep Tight, and it tells the story of Bonnie and Ben and their babysitter, and the rhymes he tells them at bedtime. This nostalgic story takes children back to a land where little piggies go to market, old men bump their heads and stars can be wished upon.
Good Night, Sleep Tight is the perfect bedtime book for children aged five and under. It brings back the rhymes many parents loved as children, reinventing them for a new generation and offering another storybook that parents and their children can bond over.
This is a re-release for Good Night, Sleep Tight, can you share with us how the new release came about?
Good Night, Sleep Tight was first published in 1988. It had seven nursery rhymes woven into its structure because I’d heard at a literacy conference in South Africa that children who know six nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four are usually in the top reading group at school by eight. I wanted to make that goal a reality for as many children as possible. For a myriad of reasons though, the book was out of print for over twenty years.
But in late 2010, I was asked to participate in a literary event at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. The convener, Michael Williams, told me he had grown up with the rhymes and repetitions of Good Night, Sleep Tight. He told me he no longer had a copy, but he now had a baby son and was keen to find a copy of the book.
So I decided to re-write the book slightly (there are now two children, not one) and the magical Judy Horacek agreed to illustrate it very much in the manner of Where Is The Green Sheep?, making Good Night, Sleep Tight a follow up to the bestseller.
The book was relaunched last month and I also dedicated it to Michael Williams.
You are passionate about literacy, can you tell us a little about your books Reading Magic and Radical Reflections?
Radical Reflections is for teachers who are interested in how we write and learn to write; and in how we read and learn to read.
Reading Magic is my best selling book for parents. It’s about the importance of reading to children daily from birth to five years. It explains what reading is, how children learn to read and what parents can do to help children love books, love reading and learn to read easily.
Can you share with us your thoughts on the importance of reading aloud?
Reading to little children provides the utmost joy to both parent and child as they bond together over favourite stories. It’s a delicious activity. Reading to very young children from birth to five years is also essential for brain development, language development and social development.
Parents need to have lots of fun reading to their toddlers in order to foster a love of books, long before they are old enough to read without assistance. It’s important to capture and keep the attention of young minds by reading with zest and a voice full of happiness.
Do you think there is a best time to read aloud to your child?
Always make reading books with your child the last thing you do each night before bedtime. Reading is an important part of the bedtime ritual. It helps children relax at the end of the day, as well as develop a lifelong love of reading.
Having said that, I find reading happens nicely at any time of the day, particularly when children are tired or fractious: it’s a calming thing to do, and very loving.
Have you got a favourite of your books?
I never talk about that in case my other books may get hurt feelings.
Is there a favourite place you have to write?
I write so rarely that it is often when I’m away from my usual desk: in hotels, planes, airports, doctor’s waiting rooms, you name it!
You don’t choose your illustrators, have you always been really happy with the illustrators who have worked on your books?
Yes, I have almost always been happy with my illustrators. Good Night, Sleep Tight, has been created with the wonderful children’s illustrator and cartoonist Judy Horacek. This is our second time working together. Our previous collaboration, Where is the Green Sheep?, stayed at the top of the bestsellers list for over eight years.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration for me comes from real life. If it doesn’t come from my own real, lived experience, it might not be real to other people. If something is real to me, there is a greater chance it will be real to other people, and that children will be able to relate to the feelings and ideas in the story.
Are you working on anything new you can share with us?
Yes, I have seven books in the pipeline which should just about last me till I am truly ancient! My next book (already out, amazingly) is titled Tell Me about Your Day Today. I also have another two books coming out next year.
What does being a woman mean to you?
I thank God or someone else almost daily for the fact that I am a woman, not a man. I love the way we can communicate so easily with one another, reveal our emotions without embarrassment, share our joys and troubles easily, and in general, live happy, fulfilled, rounded lives, even if we do do most of the housework and the organisation of the family, even in these ‘liberated’ times. I feel sorry for the men I know and love dearly because I always feel they’re missing out on something.
Mem Fox and Judy Horacek can be seen at these publicity events in December:
Tuesday 11th December
Adult evening for parents/teachers and librarians
Venue: Riverbend Bookshop
193 Oxford Street, Bulimba 4171
Time: 6:00 – 8:00pm
Wednesday 12th December
Adult evening for parents/teachers and librarians
Venue: Chermside Library
375 Halimton Road, Chermside
Time: 6:30 – 8:30pm