Margaret Wild: HCAA Nominee
This HCAA nominee spotlight is courtesy of Maria Teresa Salcedo Montero and Wafa Pathan, in partnership with Evelyn Arizpe and the Erasmus Mundus programme, the International Master’s in Children’s Literature, Media and Culture (IMCLMC).
Anguish, anger, sadness, loneliness and despair are part of life and part of childhood. Talking about these topics for a young audience is relevant, needful and challenging, and Margaret Wild does it through delicate, strong and sensible stories.
Wild was born in 1948 in a small town in South Africa, and in 1973 she emigrated to Australia where she has developed her career as children’s author. She has published over 100 books, many of them are picturebooks, which have been awarded, translated and enjoyed by children around the world. Her best-known picturebook is Fox (2000), which invites the reader to understand the complex situation of the characters, their friendship, traumas and loneliness. Thus, in picturebooks like The Very Best of Friends (1989), Rosie and Tortoise (1998), Jenny Angel (1999), Lucy Goosey (2007), Harry & Hopper (2009) and her verse novel Jinx (2001), Wild explores different circumstances and struggles, overcoming the bitterness of life. In the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Awards, she is the author nominated by Australia.
Her particular style, treatment and point of view of themes like children’s fears and anxieties, the loss of a loved one, resilience, friendship and unconditional love, make her an exceptional candidate for this award.
Fears and Anxieties
Wild has depicted children’s anxieties and fears through her writing in different settings and characters. For instance, in Lucy Goosey, the child expresses the anxiety of change, separation and experiences the fear of being lost and abandoned. Similarly, in the story of Rosie and Tortoise, the book talks about how Rosie is afraid of how to behave and manage the fragility of her newborn brother. Both stories focus on the collective experiences and worries related to the unknown. Wild’s writings give acknowledgement and assurance to children about their negative feelings and how to process them. Her books make the reader realize that being anxious or afraid is part of the human experience. Moreover, very tactfully, she also involves supportive adult characters in the stories to soothe unpleasant emotions. For instance, the character of the mother in Lucy Goosey and the father’s character in Rosie and Tortoise. Lastly, in the absence of adults, the character of Tortoise reminds children that sometimes it is enough to have the self-assurance to go through the midst of darkness, “When night fell, he was still plodding on, saying to himself, ‘Slow and steady does it, it will get me safely home’.
The loss of a loved one
The loss of a loved one is a painful situation that some children face and the sadness that appears afterwards could be difficult to manage. Wild has addressed this subject in a direct, honest and thoughtful way from different perspectives in many of her books. In Jenny Angel, Jenny faces the fact that her brother is going to die, and to comfort him and herself she embodies the character of his guardian angel, accepting little by little his imminent end. In Harry & Hopper, The Very Best of Friends, and Jinx, unexpected deaths shock the main characters and the longing for them appears in different disguises. Harry does not talk about the death of his dog; Jessy shuts herself in the house to watch TV, ignoring and neglecting William – the cat of her dead husband; and Jinx begins to get drunk and she is always angry or distant. Accepting the loss and saying goodbye is a tender process and Wild shows how her characters embrace friendship and love as a way to feel at peace. Naming the death without camouflage, depicting in a direct language the facts, emotions and actions without judging, is a noteworthy characteristic of Wild’s work. This sensitive subject is vital for children, and her books allow young audiences to reflect and talk about it in a creative and safe environment.
Resilience and Unconditional Love
Comforting the loved ones to take their fears away, loving them the way they need, loving unconditionally or practising self love are repetitive themes of Wild’s picturebooks. Lucy Goosey, Rosie and Tortoise, The Very Best of Friends, Fox, and Mr. Nick’s Knitting (1989) are a few examples where she addresses the deep bonds of relationships, trust, care, and love. For instance, in Fox, the dog is always supporting the bird or Lucy Goosey’s mother assuring her child that no matter what, she will always find her, love her, and will protect her.
Moreover, the universal theme of resilience is another prominent element of her work, such as One Night (2003). Helen, the main teenage character of this verse novel, decides to give birth to her child and finds new friendships despite losing every emotional and financial support because of her decision. Also, the bird in Fox, returns to embrace the relationship she has lost, no matter how late it is or Jassie (in The Very Best of Friends) decides to grieve with William – her husband’s cat – to heal. The beauty of Wild’s characters is that they are afraid, vulnerable but still embrace life and stay resilient to experience beyond ordinary lives.
Her unique style to present stories for children and young adults where distressing circumstances are explicitly shown in a respectful and accurate way is a prominent characteristic of her work. The bonds and friendships that her characters cultivate in those challenging moments show that healing is a process that is easier with the support of each other. Lastly, her stories offer understanding of life’s struggles instead of denial, which helps her readers to get exposed to deep and valuable human experiences. These qualities make her work universal and long-lasting and herself a worthy candidate for this prestigious award.
List of works cited
The Very Best of Friends (1989)
Mr. Nick’s Knitting (1989)
Rosie and Tortoise (1998)
Jenny Angel (1999)
One Night (2003)
Lucy Goosey (2007)
Harry & Hopper (2009)