Friday 3 September 2021


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The Boy Who Made Things Up by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Lily Emo    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Margaret Mahy’s The Boy Who Made Things Up has just been republished by Hachette NZ with gorgeous new illustrations from local artist Lily Emo. Lily was awarded the 2020 Margaret Mahy Illustration Prize, an annual prize for an unpublished illustrator, launched by Hachette NZ and The Mahy Estate in 2019. Not only does it give an illustrator a wonderful opportunity, but we also get to have more of Mahy’s fantastic picture books in print. Mahy’s books, from her well-known picture books (A Lion in the MeadowBubble Trouble) to her magical and sometimes edgy books for older readers (Kaitangata TwitchThe Tricksters), are all excellent. Her storytelling, sometimes zany, sometimes unsettling, often charming and filled with humour, also explores our relationships with each other and our place in the world. The Boy Who Made Things Up is a delightful dive into the magic of storytelling and how the world can be imagined anew. From the first lines, you will be hooked. “There was once a dad who had a little boy. It was a bit of a waste for this dad to have a boy, because he was much too interested in work.” The boy, Michael, finds his own way to enjoy himself — he makes things up. When the car breaks, a walk home is a wondrous adventure. Michael knows how to tell a story, and Dad is initially perplexed by utilising his imagination, but he gets the hang of it. Lily Emo’s illustrations capture the wonder and joy in storytelling, and she adds another layer to this tale with her delightful imagery. On every page there is more to discover as creatures are drawn right into the boy's and Dad’s walk home, as the neighbourhood becomes vibrant and full of animals — and even a beach. Dad can’t quite believe that the brightly coloured path leads to the sea until Michael reminds him about making it up. As they venture onto the path, look around and see a girl and a bear having a party, a boy reading, a cat painting, kites flying and balloons floating up in a very Mahy style (the bunch of the balloons reminds me of her multi-coloured story-telling wigs), golden rabbits running free, a hot air balloon, a ballerina, a juggler, and a wizard. And that’s just one page! At the sea, you can spy a ghost ship, a mountain woman, a mermaid, buried treasure, a sea serpent, and wondrously coloured fish, as well as watching out for what the crabs are up to. And what did Dad finally make of all this making things up? Well, he can’t understand why there’s sand in his shoes and that he’s a little sunburnt, but he can understand that working less and making up stories might be just about the best thing one could do. 

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