I came across Margaret Mahey's name when one of my slow learning pupils picked up 'Lion in the Meadow,'read it, roared with joy and read it again and again to anyone who would listen. I met Margaret Mahey at a readinbg conference in 1975, a shy, ungainly young woman until she had to speak. She had the power to make the ordinary world magical, she could put dragons into matchboxes, make humdrum characters exotic and turn learning to read into a magical adventure. Over the years I have met her at conferences, attended her lectures, and read every story of hers I could get hold of.
And when I have been overrsees I have rather enjoyed seeing the awe in other writers' eyes when I can say,
"Margaret Mahey? Of course I have met her." She was an icon cel;ebrated in more countries than just New Zealand.
In my teaching days I regularly put her story 'The Road to School'into a student teacher's hands and said 'Read this. It will tell you what education is all about.'
In the road to school a four year old boy goes to school with his brother, 'just for the morning', as they walk to school they meet 'Little Grey Whirling Fellow' who gives them a little phial of dust. At the bridge over a stream a bog women gives them a tiny bottle of water and a man who has been changed into a tree by a witch gives them a seed.
At school when the teacher mentions 'deserts' in the geography lesson the classroom becomes a dersert, full of mystery and adventure. Later the water bottle turns the classroom into an ocean full of mermaids, pirates and pearls. Finally the seed grows into a forest of exotic birds and animals.
The teacher in the story met each inmterruption to his teaching plan with,
"Well we shall certainly learn from this."
Children love the story, but it has a deep lesson for adults about what teaching should do if it is to become education, about the magic of a child's imagination.
Ther world looks grey to me this morning, why has such a bright spirit left the world and I, ten years older, am still grinding through it?
I hope teachers are searching their book rooms and putting 'The Pirate's Mother', Down the Back of the Chair', and all those wonderful, wacky, stories she wrote back on the shelves.