Julia Marshall has been selected as the 2021 Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal winner, for lifetime achievement and distinguished contribution to New Zealand children’s literature, and will be presented with her medal and deliver the 2021 Storylines Margaret Mahy lecture on 28 March at Storylines’ national awards ceremony in Auckland.
Julia Marshall has been described as “a truly innovative and fearless publisher [whose] standards of excellence never waver”. She has a record of being innovative and brave – no more so than when starting Gecko Press in 2005 after she discovered that Ulf Stark’s classic Can You Whistle, Johanna? had been translated into 20 languages but not English.
She began by selecting other quality titles previously unpublished in English, and has continued her approach to publishing quality literature for young people over the last 16 years. More recently, she began publishing titles as te reo Māori editions.
She has published numerous books selected for “Best of” lists, including in 2020, The House of Madame M by Clotilde Perrin and Migrants by Issa Watanabe by Kirkus Reviews; Bear Named Bjorn by Delphine Perret in the New York Public Library Best books for Kids 2020; The Gobbledegook Book: A Joy Cowley Anthology by Joy Cowley in the International Youth Library, White Raven selection 2020; and The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter as an IBBY Honour Book in 2020.
Early publishing success for Julia and Gecko Press came in the form of Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop, which won the New Zealand Post Children’s Book of the Year award and the Junior Fiction award in 2008. Snake and Lizard was the first original New Zealand title from Gecko Press, then described as a “new, boutique independent publisher”. It is now more likely to be described as a global publishing business.
In a recent blog post Julia says, “There is a tendency in English-speaking countries to think that early childhood is a place of innocence, and that we should protect our children and avoid strong emotion and fear. We choose soft, friendly bears over wolves. We choose quick rhymes and sweet, smiling faces.
“But children also love another kind of book…, ones that produce the frisson of fear, like the deliciousness of being tickled within an inch of too much. And children too enjoy deciding for themselves what to think, what might have happened, who was right or wrong.
“For Gecko Press, story is at the heart of what we publish and we choose books where the problems and resolutions unfold without the reader being aware they are learning about the world, and people in it, good and bad. It is the old adage of show, not tell.”
In addition to making Gecko Press a publishing success story, Julia is also strongly supportive of local writers and the New Zealand children’s literature community. Over the past two years Julia has been President of the Publishers Association of New Zealand, and one of the PANZ/NZSA/CNZLA Copyright Working Group set up to protect the rights of writers and illustrators of Aotearoa.
The Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal & Lecture Award is New Zealand’s most prestigious honour for children’s authors, illustrators and publishers. Among the recipients since its inception in 1991 are Joy Cowley, Lynley Dodd, Jack Lasenby, Maurice Gee, Tessa Duder, Gavin Bishop, David Hill, Kate De Goldi, Des Hunt, Andrew Crowe, and Kids Lit Quiz originator Wayne Mills. The most recent winner was writer
Maria Gill in 2020.
The Medal and associated lecture were first presented in 1991 to Margaret Mahy in recognition of her contribution to the world of literature for children and young adults. Surprising Moments, her inaugural lecture, set the standard for those given by subsequent award-winners.
These published lectures by the champions of the New Zealand children’s literature community have enriched New Zealand’s literary heritage with their insight into the experiences, ideas, issues and concerns involved in writing and/or illustrating for children, improving literacy, and ensuring access to quality literature.