Named after Nan Chauncy, a noted Tasmanian author of children’s books, this CBCA award been created to honour people who have made an outstanding contribution to the field of Australian children’s literature. The 2017 recipient of the award is an icon of Australian children’s literature – Mem Fox. Her award included the following citation…
The recipient of the 2017 CBCA Nan Chauncy Award for outstanding contribution to Australian children’s literature is Merrion (Mem) Fox.
Mem Fox has become ‘a household name’ with children, families, students of literature and literacy and the broad community, in a stellar career spanning nearly 40 years. Mem’s ‘fame’ began with her creation of the acclaimed iconic picture book Possum Magic, published in 1983, with irresistible illustrations by Julie Vivas. Possum Magic was a Highly Commended CBCA Picture Book of the Year in 1984 and is still the best-selling children’s book in Australia, with nearly five million copies sold.
Since then, Mem has written over forty books for children and five non-fiction titles for adults. She has been honoured with many national and international awards, including the Dromkeen Medal for distinguished services to children’s literature (1990), Australian of the Year (SA, 2003), Hans Christian Andersen Ambassador (2005) and three honorary Doctorates of Letters from the universities of Flinders, Wollongong and University of Technology Sydney.
Drama was Mem’s first love and many an audience has been brought to tears by her rendition of The Little Matchgirl. However, in 1981, Mem made the momentous decision to retrain in literacy, to understand how children learn to read and write. As Mem says:
‘Literacy has become the great focus in (her) life – her battle and her mission’.
For 24 years, she shared her knowledge and passion with students at Flinders University, where she was Associate Professor. Radical Reflections on Teaching, Learning and Living (1993) challenged and thrilled teachers in literacy classrooms in Australia and the USA. Her bestselling book Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever (2001) brought Mem’s inspiring wisdom to a world community of parents keen to help their children to become enthusiastic, skilful readers.
It is this incredible outreach to educators and parents that sets Mem Fox apart from other successful Australian children’s authors. A beginning teacher commented that:
‘The love she has for sharing and encouraging others to read and the passion she has for a good story, read with pure enjoyment, empowered me in my teaching practice’.
Mem has a special commitment to disadvantaged families and children and in 2016 she became Literacy Ambassador for the Year of Literacy in Devonport, Tasmania. Mem worked with parents in a warm, engaging way, making them feel confident, valued and capable. She made multiple visits to the area, volunteering her time, donating books to parents and guiding educators. She continues to send monthly messages to the Family and Child Centre, providing ongoing motivation and inspiration for the literacy mission. The impact of Mem’s work is reflected in parents’ comments, their joyful reading aloud to their children and increased borrowing of picture books from the local libraries.
As the nominator of Mem for this award concludes:
‘I doubt that we could ever quantify the impact of Mem on educators, parents and children. I do know that every time she shares a book, she leaves the audience, regardless of age or experience, wanting just one more story’.
And, ‘one more story’, Mem continues to create, delighting audiences across the globe.