The place where Margaret Mahy began

By Hana Garrett-Walker

The New Zealand School Journal has given many artists and writers their start. Photo / learningmedia.co.nz
The New Zealand School Journal has given many artists and writers their start. Photo / learningmedia.co.nz

She went on to become one of the country's greatest writers for children, but Margaret Mahy's beginnings started in a small school journal read by many New Zealand children and teachers for more than a century.

And she's not the only famed New Zealand artist to appear in the New Zealand School Journal.

In fact, many of the country's top artists and writers have had their work feature in the publication; Rita Angus, Dick Frizzell, Colin McCahon, Joy Cowley, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, and James K. Baxter have all featured in the publication.

For many, much like Margaret Mahy, this is where their career began, as well as providing a regular source of income for striving artists.

Mahy died in Christchurch yesterday after she was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour in her jaw in April this year.

The New Zealand School Journal - which features stories, poetry and art work - is a resource designed for students aged from about year four to "help foster a love of reading among New Zealand school children", Ministry of Education spokesman Matt Radley said.

It has been in New Zealand schools since 1907 and nine titles come out annually for students working at levels two, three and four of the curriculum, he said.

Art historian Athol McCredie described the journal as an element of New Zealanders cultural consciousness - "remembered as evocatively as the smell of stale school milk, the feel of chalk and finger paint, and the steamy atmosphere of a classroom of wet bodies on a rainy day".

Before the 1940s the vast majority of illustrations in the Journal were sourced from overseas publications, but following the Second World War New Zealand artists began to feature prominently in the publication.

For artist Rita Angus the Journal was an important source of income, while artist Colin McCahon only contributed the odd cover work or illustration.

Writer Joy Cowley had some of her early works, which were initially written for one of her sons, published in the Journals in the mid-1960s.

In 1961 Mahy was still working as a librarian when her early work featured heavily in the New Zealand School Journal.

Teddy and the Witches, and The Procession were both published in 1961, followed by more than 75 stories and poems in the School Journal between 1961 and 1986, Learning Media chief executive David Glover said.

In 1965 two issues of the School Journal were devoted to her work - A Lion in the Meadow and The Midnight People.

"Margaret was the quintessential storyteller, weaving magical and mystical tales that inspired and entertained children and adults around the world," Mr Glover said.

Following her beginnings in the School Journal she went on to win many of the world's premier children book awards, including the Carnegie Medal and the Hans Christian Anderson Award, and just last year scooped up the New Zealand Post Children's Book of the Year Award for The Moon and Farmer McPhee.

She also held the country's highest royal honour, a member of the Order of New Zealand - a title only 20 living New Zealanders have.

The School Journal's have now been in schools for 105 years, and continue to provide a valuable resource for teachers and students.

Just this year a report into the School Journals and Teacher Support Materials was published.

It explored the effectiveness of the Journal in 2010-2011 and found that the School Journals covered a wide range of topics, included rich use of language at all levels and presented different viewpoints on issues.

"Teachers considered the 2010-11 texts to be highly engaging, due to topics of relevance to students and sophisticated use of graphics and rich enough to reward repeated rereading. This perception was confirmed by the students with whom we spoke," it said.

When the paper's researchers, Sue McDowall and Judy Parr, visited schools they found many examples of teachers focusing on the use of language in the Journals as part of their lesson.

"It's fantastic quality stuff," Ms Parr said.

"I go to international conferences and things and people internationally are always so envious of the fact that in New Zealand we've had such a quality resource provided, and that...schools have been given this resource over a long period of time, so people never cease to be amazed."

The journal is funded by the Government, as part of its instructional series of resources supporting the New Zealand Curriculum.

- APNZ

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