Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand’s most beloved writers, the author of forty novels, over one hundred picture books, and a twice-winner of the Carnegie Medal. She passed away in 2012, and I’ll admit that I got a little tearful when I heard that there was still one last story of hers to be published posthumously.
As a final coda to Mahy’s prolific writing career, Tale of a Tail is a funny, magical little story about a boy called Tom who lives with his mother on Prodigy Street. Everything is ordinary enough until another Tom moves into the house at the end of the road. Tomasz Mirabilis is a strange-looking man with an even more extraordinary dog called Najki. Whenever Tom offers to take Najki out for a walk he finds that he has to be careful not to make any careless wishes, for with a wag of his tale, Najki has the habit of making them come true!
Whether fending off the terrible Cat-Kickers gang or making himself the star of the local rugby team or accidentally sending his mother to the top of the tallest tree in his garden, Tom is quick to discover that making wishes has its ups and its downs. And despite the responsibility with which he decides to treat this rare gift, he also can’t help but grow increasingly proud of the power that he wields.
Reminiscent of Mary Poppins and other episodic stories involving a child getting embroiled in fantastical adventures, Tale of a Tail is a story most children will love due to its simplicity, using its premise to ask them what they would do if they could wish for anything they wanted, and delivering the message that sometimes it’s the ordinary things in life that are the most extraordinary.
For an older reader, it was a chance to enjoy Mahy’s mastery of descriptive prose one last time. Mr Mirabilis’s coat looks like: “a pet thunderstorm that was being taken for a wild walk” and Najki’s ears are “little wizard’s houses filled with shadows.” She’s always known how to spin a story, and this is perfect for reading aloud.
With illustrations by the wonderful Tony Ross, Tale of a Tail is a bittersweet but fitting farewell to Margaret Mahy’s writing career.