Five questions for Margaret Mahy

New Zealander Margaret Mahy has written everything from metaphorically rich fantasy (The Changeover) to gritty YA fiction (Memory) to riotously funny picture books (The Great White Man-Eating Shark). A former librarian, she’s also a storyteller whose repertoire includes an extended tongue-twister involving a baby in a bubble and lots and lots of trouble (not to mention rebels and pebbles — and slingshots). Bubble Trouble is now a picture book with effervescent illustrations by Polly Dunbar and a starred review in the May/June Horn Book.

1. How did you come to write this tongue-twister thriller?

It is sometimes hard to say exactly where the idea for a story comes from, but in this case it was almost certainly the mere sound of the words. And having coupled bubble with trouble, one had to think of the sort of mischief that might be caused by a rebellious bubble.

2. The line that defeats me every time is “how wicked treble Abel tripled trouble with his pebble.” What’s the hardest tongue twister you know?

The hardest one I know is probably “The Leith Police dismisseth us!” but it isn’t a particularly flamboyant tongue twister, is it? Just hard to say quickly . . .

3. Did you get in hot water a lot as a child? Have you ever used a slingshot?

I got into trouble at school and sometimes at home for talking a lot; I was a very chatty child. I longed to use a slingshot but was discouraged from doing so. Nevertheless, the time came when I learned how to make slingshots of my own, and then I was probably a bit of a risk to those around me.

4. You write both laugh-out-loud picture books and deeply cosmic novels. What do you think they have in common?

Language, of course, is one of the things they have in common — even if the language varies according to the story that is being told. Also, I think mystery underlies humor in a way that is not commonly acknowledged. Sometimes a joke with words can direct one’s perception into unexpected fields . . . fields that have to do with the mystery of the human condition.

5. As a parent, grandparent, and librarian, what do you look for in a book to read aloud?

Ideally, I look for a story I will enjoy myself. My theory is that the listening child will see that I am enjoying the story, and this will blend into the child’s own pleasure. Reading the story and hearing it become a shared and sometimes intimate experience . . . something that emphasizes the richness of words and event.

From the May 2009 Notes from the Horn Book.

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About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is executive editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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