Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review: Possum Magic by Mem Fox

Author: Mem Fox
Title: Possum Magic
Illustrator: Julie Vivas
Publisher: Gulliver Books, Harcourt Brace & Company, first published by Omnibus Books (1983)
Publication Date: 1983
ISBN: 0-15-200572-2

Once upon a time there lived two out-of-the-ordinary possums from Australia named Hush and Grandma Poss. Why are they different than the average possum? Grandma Poss could make bush magic, turning animals into different colors and sizes. What about Hush? Well, Grandma Poss made Hush invisible to protect her from the snakes. After a time, Hush wanted to be visible again. Grandma Poss consulted her magic books, but she couldn’t find the answer. She knew it had to do with human food, so Grandma Poss and Hush hopped on their bicycle and took off on a culinary tour of Australia, seeking the means to make Hush visible once more. (Fox, Mem. 1983. Possum Magic. Ill. By Julie Vivas. New York: Gulliver Books. ISBN: 0152005722)

Created around a simple plot in which Grandma Poss needs to find the right foods to make her granddaughter Hush visible again, Possum Magic is a delight to the ears and to the eyes. The characters, including the background characters, represent a variety of Australian wildlife, including a wombat, a dingo, an emu, a kangaroo, a koala, a spiny ant-eater, and a snake. The characters are simple given that the plot is the focus of the story; however, personalities come through in the determination of Grandma Poss and the willingness of Hush to follow Grandma Poss’s instructions.

Rhyme, repetition, and alliteration are sprinkled throughout the story making it a fun and easy story to read aloud. The inclusion of Australian vocabulary is not so overwhelming as to prevent young children from around the world from following the story line. Instead, the vocabulary used introduces the reader to Australian animals, foods, and places as the plot develops. Grandma Poss and Hush even celebrate dancing to a traditional Australian song, “Here We Go Round the Lamington Plate.”

The illustrations add to the story and the characters. Beautifully illustrated in watercolor washes with some spatter painting, a variety of Australian animals are portrayed, each with its own individual personality. Only Grandma Poss wears clothes: glasses, an apron, slippers, socks, and running shoes. You can see her worry when she can’t find the answer in her books, her determination as she pedals around Australia, her pleasure in Hush’s enjoyment while floating in an umbrella off the beach of Perth. You can see Hush’s fear of snakes, her despair when she thinks she will never be seen again, her enjoyment of the bike ride on Grandma Poss’s back, and her ecstasy in gaining back her visibility.

It is on Grandma Poss's bicycle that the reader travels Australia, visiting cities in states all around the coast as a variety of foods are sampled. Australian children can be seen in the background. In the theater, they are all light-skinned, but on benches outside in the far north of Australia, children of all different skin tones and hair textures can be seen enjoying their lunches. A map is included at the end, showing their travels, the cities, and the foods they explored. This is truly an international book which spreads some of the flavors of Australia to children around the world.

Review excerpts:
Horn Book (February 1991) “They fuse text and illustrations together so masterfully that it seems like a sleight of hand. Presto change-o: one enchanting book.”

School Library Journal (December 1987) “Although the characters, locales, and vocabulary are thoroughly Australian, Possum Magic has universal appeal.” (Preschool-Grade 2)

1994 COOL Award (Canberra’s Own Outstanding List)

Use this book as a way to introduce Australia, and combine it with a nonfiction book about Australia like Australia in Colors by Nathan Olson or Australia by Allan Fowler or a website such as at Add a virtual tour of the wildlife and of each of the cities included in the story by going to Explore the flavors of Australia included in the story by serving the same tasty Australian treats. Do you need some help? Go to Mem Fox’s site for Possum Magic at Expand this book into an author study using this site and other books by Mem Fox, such as Wombat Divine and Koala Lou. Have fun, and g’dday, mate!


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