I was born in Melbourne, Australia, in March 1946, but left at the age of six months to go to Africa with my parents, who were missionaries. The mission we lived on, Hope Fountain, was a few miles from the city of Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe, which used to be called Rhodesia. In my first year at the mission school I was the only white child so all my close friends were black. We learned to write by drawing our letters in the red earth. Later, we graduated to writing squeakily on slates. Now, of course, I use a computer, but I still use a pencil and paper whenever I have a writing problem to solve. My brain loves it when I write in pencil.
My father’s name—Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge—is also the title of my second book. Miss Nancy, in the same book, is my mother; the rest of Miss Nancy’s name comes from the names of my two sisters, both of whom are younger than I am: Jan Delacourt (who used to be Jan Delacourt Cooper) and Alison Partridge. Jan lives in Italy and Alison lives north of Sydney.
In the mid-sixties, totally unsophisticated, I went to drama school in London and spent three happy years changing my Rhodesian accent, speaking Shakespeare, singing Beatles’ songs, wearing miniskirts, and dyeing my hair—a habit I haven’t grown out of. I was brilliant red for years, but blonde now looks better in my aged state. Being a red-head had become my brand, my recognizable logo, so people who see my now are shocked and saddened!
I took a great risk in 1969 and married an Englishman—a highly gifted teacher of French and drama, who is now a gorgeous retired drama lecturer. Malcolm and I have now been married for 43 years (as of 02:01:2012) Our daughter, Chloë, to whom Possum Magic is dedicated, was born in 1971. She was a journalist for seven years in Adelaide and Paris; then a high school teacher of French and English at Loreto, a Catholic girls’ school in Adelaide; and now she is a politician: a Labor Party Member of Parliament for the state seat of Bright in South Australia, which she won in the March 2006 elections. She is currently the Minister for Transport Services. And of course she is also and more importantly, the mother of our adored grandson, Theo, who born in January 2012.
Back to me—after all, this is all about me!—as a mature age university student in my early thirties, I studied children’s literature at Flinders University. This set me, totally unawares, on the road to some fame and even fortune since it was during that course that I wrote the first draft of my first book: Possum Magic. It was rejected nine times over five years but went on to become (and continues to be, to this day) the best-selling children’s book in Australia, with over four million copies sold. In 2004 its 21st birthday was celebrated with parties and events in thousands of schools and other places around Australia, and a new re-designed edition was launched. The colours of the original film of the illustrations were fading because it had been reprinted so many times! They now look gorgeous again.
Since Possum Magic I have written many more books for children: over 40, I believe, at the last count. Around half of these have become bestsellers which just goes to show that occasionally I write great books as well as pathetic ones. Some of my books have different titles and different illustrators in the USA but essentially they are the same inside.
One of the best moves I ever made was to re-train, in 1981, out of drama into literacy studies, to find out how children best learn to read and write. Literacy has become the great focus of my life—it’s my passion, my battle, my mission and my exhaustion. If you’re the parent of a child aged from 0-7 I hope you will enjoy my bestselling book for parents: Reading Magic: how your child can learn to read before school and other read aloud miracles. If you are a teacher I hope you will be challenged but also thrilled by my book Radical Reflections, about the teaching of reading and writing.
Writing is my second love. My first is teaching, to which I admit an addiction so powerful that I’m surprised I had the courage to retire early (in 1996, aged 50) from my position as Associate Professor, Literacy Studies, in the School of Education at Flinders University, South Australia. I taught there with great satisfaction and happiness, full time, for twenty four years. I cried three times in my last class, so sad was I to leave.
I now spend most of my time writing presentations urging parents, teachers, and others to read aloud to children aged between 0-5, and I travel the world doing it. I have travelled a great deal as an international literacy consultant to places as diverse as Bahrain, East Timor, Guam, Hong Kong, Oman, Tanzania, China, and of course to the USA which I have visited over 100 times. I have spoken at hundreds and hundreds of conventions in the States. I also travel—i.e. work like a tired old dog!—extensively around Australia, which I particularly adore since this is my beloved homeland. And I continue to write picture books when the spirit moves me, so if you’re still reading this, and if you like my books, and keep buying them, I promise to continue to write picture books for children even though it’s the hardest job in the world and much more of a grind that most people realize. I have many new books in the pipeline, currently being illustrated. They will appear over the next five years.
One of my recent books: Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, has been a big hit in the USA in particular, where it was on the New York Times bestseller lists for 18 weeks in 2008-200! Incredibly exciting! The sales are due, in large part, to the utterly endearing illustrations in the book, divinely painted by Helen Oxenbury whose feet I kiss. I have made up a sort of lullaby to Ten Little Fingers which you can hear on YouTube. Unfortunately, I sing it myself and I’m asthmatic, and each verse starts an octave lower than the verse that precedes it. (I exaggerate, but only a little.) At least there’s enough of a recognisable tune for parents to be able to learn it and sing it to their own children beautifully.
My many new books are listed in the Bibliography section of this website. For those of you besotted with Where Is The Green Sheep? please note that Judy Horacek and I have collaborated on a new picture book: Goodnight, Sleep Tight, due out in October 2012. It has echoes of Green Sheep in the pictures. We hope you will love this one, too!
I continue to travel, work and write. I hope that you and I will meet, one way or another, as our lives progress.