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Margaret Balderson (1935-) - Sidelights

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Australian children's book author Margaret Balderson first made a name for herself with When Jays Fly to Bárbmo, a coming-of-age story about Ingeborg, a Norwegian girl who experiences the German invasion of Norway during World War II. The fear of invasion, and then its traumatic reality, provoke the young woman into a soul-searching quest to validate her own personal identity. This debut novel won awards across the English-speaking world.

Balderson was born and raised in Australia, but in 1963 she left for Europe. She settled for two years in Norway, where she worked in the winters and explored the countryside in the brief northern summers. In the Arctic nation, according to Twentieth-Century Children's Writers contributor H. M. Saxby, "she experienced in a deeply personal way the innate rhythms of that land as expressed through its seasons. In particular, the Dark Time of the long Arctic winter became for her symbolic of an oppression of spirit which evaporates with the miracle of each spring." Balderson's experience of that cycle is reflected in Ingeborg's life, as she passes through the darkness of living under occupation and emerges into freedom and adulthood.

After leaving Norway, Balderson worked on a kibbutz in Israel, then took nine months to wander across Asia and back to Australia. She finally arrived home in 1966 and returned to library work in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, "although," as she once commented, "with no burning desire to become a truly dedicated librarian."

In the 1970s, Balderson wrote two books for children, A Dog Called George and Blue and Gold Day. The former is the story of a ten-year-old boy and his pet, who is modeled after the author's own blue-eyed, old English sheep dog; the latter is a tale about two girls and a dog playing on the beach early in the morning. After those two books, Balderson disappeared from the publishing scene until 2002, when a casual game played with a friend resulted in Sea Bird.

As Balderson related on the Scholastic Australia Web site, she and several other volunteers at an animal sanctuary were taking a break one morning when she asked everyone at the table to write down a word for her. "It was for a game I often played with budding writers," she explained. "In order to write a story, all I wanted was a personal name, a place, a color, a feeling, an object, and an animal or bird." Balderson took the six entries—Isobel, under the jetty, comb, suspicious, turquoise, and ostrich—home, wrote an opening paragraph, and then gave it to her friend Elizabeth Smith and had her write the next part. Slowly, Sea Bird emerged.

Balderson has continued to write for publication since then. Her next book, Junkyard Dogs, is a picture book, written in rhyme, about four spoiled rich dogs who are bored with living in the lap of luxury. They become friends with two junkyard dogs, Molly and Moo, and have great fun, but their owner is angry when the nowfilthy dogs return. However, their master soon falls on hard times and is forced to move to the wrong side of town, right next door to the two junkyard dogs. Balderson's "quirky rhyme style" helps to make Junkyard Dogs "a fun text that preschoolers will love," commented Aussiereviews.com contributor Sally Murphy.

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, fourth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.

PERIODICALS

New Statesman, November, 1968.

Times Literary Supplement, October 3, 1968, p. 1107; October 30, 1970, p. 1258; December 5, 1975, p. 1460.

ONLINE

Aussiereviews.com, http://www.aussiereviews.com/ (January 11, 2004), Sally Murphy, review of Junkyard Dogs.

Scholastic Australia Web Site, http://www.scholastic.com.au/ (January 11, 2004), "Profile: Margaret Balderson."*

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