Mem Fox was born in Australia, grew up in Africa, studied drama in England and returned to Adelaide, Australia, in 1970. She is Australia's most highly regarded picture-book author. Her first book, "Possum Magic," is the best-selling children's book ever in Australia, with sales of more than 4 million. In the United States, "Time for Bed" and "Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge" have each sold over a million copies. Fox has written more than 35 picture books for children and five nonfiction books for adults, including the best-selling "Reading Magic." Her latest book is "Let's Count Goats" (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing). Fox lives in Australia.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2010 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination for your new book – Let’s Count Goats?
I had written a book called Where is the Green Sheep? illustrated by Judy Horacek. She and I wanted to do a companion book to Green Sheep because it’s a wildly popular book. I decided the new book should be a counting book called Counting Sheep. I wrote the text but Judy didn’t like it and turned down the request to be the illustrator. I was very sad about that but I picked myself up, tossed out the sheep idea, re-wrote the text and called the book Let’s Count Goats! It’s been wonderfully illustrated by Jan Thomas and I’m thrilled with it!
What challenges do you face in your writing process?
Mostly the challenge is to sit down and actually write. I find writing so difficult that I write for only a few days a year.
How do you overcome the challenge?
I work closely, side by side, with my American editor, Allyn Johnston, whenever she and I are in the same country at the same time. (I live in Australia.)
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
Write all the time: letters, notes, speeches, poems, funny verses, pamphlets, stories, plays, journals, song lyrics, or anything other writing you can think of. Published writers were all writing madly long before they decided to become writers. Also, read. Writers are never non-readers. They have been readers all their lives. They treat books like chocolate—delicious things to devour at every possible moment.
Can you suggest a fun topic to get them started?
Never write on a topic suggested by someone else. You need to write what you need to write; and you need to write for a reaction and a response from readers you care about. Write things that are about you and meaningful to you, even though the names and characters you choose will probably hide the fact that you’re really writing about yourself. My book Koala Lou is ALL about me yet the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ never appear.
What is your list of favorite children’s books?
I can’t really list them because my friends are children’s book writers and if I list my favorites I might leave their books out and they could get mad and jealous.
How do you decide on themes for your books?
I feel. And what I feel is what I write about. I never start with a plot.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
I don’t do any research. I write picture books so I don’t need to research anything. Thank heaven!
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Read to your children daily from the first weeks of their lives. Read very short, rhyming, rhythmic, repetitive books, over and over again, with love and with zest and with gay abandon.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
I have a new book coming out next year about a naughty little dragon; and another typical Mem Fox book called Two Little Monkeys. It’s typical because it’s short and repetitive and, I hope, it’s FUN!
If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?
Mostly I’m NOT creating children’s books! Instead I’m creating great food in my kitchen. Cooking is my favorite thing in the whole wide world.