Merrion Frances "Mem" Fox, AM (born Merrion Frances Partridge on 5 March 1946) is an Australian writer of children's books and an educationalist specialising in literacy. Fox is semi-retired and lives in Adelaide, South Australia.
In 1981, while working in drama, Fox decided to retrain in literacy studies. She said: "Literacy has become the great focus of my life – it's my passion, my battle and my mission and my exhaustion." She has published books on literacy aimed at children, their parents, teachers and educators. She held the position of Associate Professor, Literacy Studies, in the School of Education at Flinders University until her retirement in 1996. Since her retirement from teaching, Fox travels around the world visiting many countries and doing presentations and speaking on children's books and literacy issues. Following an aggressive interrogation by US immigration officials on a trip in February 2017 to deliver a keynote speech in Milwaukee, Fox said that she would probably never visit the US again.
Fox wrote her first draft for the internationally acclaimed Possum Magic in 1978 during a course in children's literature at Flinders University. Nine publishers rejected the draft over a five-year period. When it was accepted by Omnibus Books in Adelaide they asked Fox to reduce the 4½ page book, then entitled Hush the Invisible Mouse, by two-thirds and to change the mice to Australian animals to place emphasis on her Australian theme. Possum Magic is now one of the most recognised picture books in Australia and has sold over 3 million copies worldwide.
The two main characters in Possum Magic are Grandma Poss and Hush. Hush has been made invisible by her Grandma to protect her from the dangers of the Australian bush. The story details the duo's adventures as they tour Australia searching for the secret to Hush's visibility. It is a rhythmical story of Australia's varied landscapes and the animals that live in them.
The book Guess What? ranks number 66 on the American list of the 100 most challenged books 1990 to 2000. Groups and agencies can challenge a book to prevent it from being available to be read by the general public.
Fox was born Merrion Frances Partridge in Melbourne, Australia, but grew up in Southern Rhodesia. Her parents were missionaries and she attended Hope Fountain mission school, near Bulawayo. When she was eighteen, she went to England where she was accepted into an English Drama school.
In 1969, she married Malcolm Fox, a teacher. The following year they returned to Australia and in 1971 she gave birth to her only child Chloë Fox, a former ALP member of the South Australian Parliament.
She dislikes her given name, and adopted the shortened form "Mem" at around the age of 13. She has never taken the step of legally changing her name, so remains "Merrion" for official purposes.
Opinion on childcare
Fox attracted controversy in 2008 after claiming entrusting very young children to childcare is child abuse. Her comments were generally supported by the Australian Family Association based on research on the importance of time with and attention from parents, though they did describe Fox's comments as "perhaps a little bit unfair". Parent groups like Career Mums described Fox's comments as "irresponsible" as they didn't take into account the quality of care received by children, the social and cognitive development which goes with exposure to professional early childhood educators, and the economic pressures that can force parents to return to work.
Awards and recognition
- Won – New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Ethel Turner Prize for young people's literature for Possum Magic (1984)
- Won – Dromkeen Medal (1990)
- Won – Member of the Order of Australia for "services to children's literature" (1993)
- Won – COOL Award for Possum Magic (1994)
- Won – Centenary Medal (2001)
- Honorary doctorates – Wollongong and Flinders Universities, Australia in 1996 and 2004.
- Finalist – Archibald Prize for a portrait of Fox, titled The Storyteller by the artist Henny Van den Wildenberg (2004)
- Possum Magic (1983) illustrated by Julie Vivas
- Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (1984) illustrated by Julie Vivas
- A Cat called Kite (1985) illustrated by K. Hawley
- Zoo-Looking (1986) illustrated by Rodney McRae
- Arabella, the Smallest Girl in the World (1986) illustrated by Vicky Kitanov
- Hattie and the Fox (1986) illustrated by Patricia Mullins
- Just Like That (1986) with Kilmeny Niland
- Sail Away: The Ballad of Skip and Nell (1986) illustrated by Pamela Lofts
- The Straight Line Wonder (1987) illustrated by Meredith Thomas
- A Bedtime Story (1987) illustrated by Sisca Verwoert
- Goodnight Sleep Tight (1988) illustrated by Helen Semmler
- Guess What? (1988) with Vivienne Goodman
- Koala Lou (1988) illustrated by Pamela Lofts
- With Love at Christmas (1988) illustrated by Fay Plamka
- Night Noises (1989) illustrated by Terry Denton
- Feathers and Fools (1989) illustrated by Lorraine Ellis
- Shoes from Grandpa (1989) illustrated by Patricia Mullins
- Sophie (1989) illustrated by Craig Smith
- Time for Bed (1993) illustrated by Jane Dyer
- Tough Boris (1994) illustrated by Kathryn Brown
- Wombat Divine (1995) illustrated by Kerry Argent
- A Bedtime Story (1996) illustrated by Elivia Savadier
- Boo to a Goose (1996) illustrated by David Miller
- Whoever You Are (1998) illustrated by Leslie Staub
- Sleepy Bears (1999) illustrated by Kerry Argent
- Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild! (2000) illustrated by Marla Frazee
- The Magic Hat (2002) illustrated by Tricia Tusa
- Where Is the Green Sheep? (2004) illustrated by Judy Horacek
- Hunwick's Egg (2005) illustrated by Pamela Lofts
- A Particular Cow (2006) illustrated by Terry Denton
- Where the Giant Sleeps (2007) pictures by Vladimir Radunsky
- Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (2008) illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
- Hello, Baby (2009) illustrated by Steve Jenkins
- A Giraffe in the Bath (March 2010) with Olivia Rawson, illustrated by Kerry Argent
- Let's Count Goats (October 2010) illustrated by Jan Thomas
- The Little Dragon (April 2011) illustrated by Roland Harvey
- Two Little Monkeys (May 2012) illustrated by Jill Barton
- Tell Me About Your Day Today (2012) illustrated by Lauren Stringer
- Good Night, Sleep Tight (2012) illustrated by Judy Horacek
- Yoo Hoo, Ladybird! (2013) illustrated by Laura Ljungkvist
- Baby Bedtime (2013) illustrated by Emma Quay
- Nellie Belle (2015) illustrated by Mike Austin
- This & That (2015) illustrated by Judy Horacek
- Ducks Away! (2016) illustrated by Judy Horacek
- I'm Australian Too (2017) illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh
- Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again (October 2018) illustrated by Judy Horacek
- Thereby Hangs a Tale (1980)
- How to Teach Drama to Infants Without Really Crying (Australian title) (1984) (Teaching Drama to Young Children (USA title) (1987))
- Mem's the Word (1990 – Australian title) (Dear Mem Fox (1992 – USA title)
- English essentials : the wouldn't-be-without-it guide to writing well (1993) with Lyn Wilkinson
- Memories : an autobiography (1992)
- Radical reflections : passionate opinions on teaching, learning, and living (1993)
- Reading Magic: How Your Child Can Learn to Read Before School - and Other Read-aloud Miracles (2001)
- English essentials : the wouldn't-be-without-it guide to writing well (revised 2009) with Lyn Wilkinson