Margaret Hamilton – Falling Forward – a life in children’s books

Margaret is the owner of Pinerolo, The Children’s Book Cottage at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains.  It sounds like a delightful retreat for writers, I would love to get there one day.  To find out more about Pinerolo, click HERE.

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Margaret’s first job was as a librarian and she discovered that she loved working with children.  She soon became the Children’s Librarian.  Margaret shared a tale where someone had asked when she was going to get a real job.  And this was during Book Week, possibly one of the busiest weeks of a Children’s Librarian’s working year.  I’m glad she stuck with it.

Margaret gave a delightful history of Australian picture books.  Sometimes I wish I was older so I had been alive when Australian children’s books came into their own.  “Waltzing Matilda”, written by A.B. Paterson and illustrated by Desmond Digby became one of Australia’s first internationally successful picture books.

Margaret went from working in a bookshop to being the design manager at Hodder and Stoughton.  She worked here as computers changed the way typesetting and printing was done.  “There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake” was a book that Margaret enjoyed working on.

Margaret went to the Bologna Book Fair in 1975, and so began her obsession with Italy.  Margaret was lucky enough to attend the Bologna Book Fair for another 26 years.  She enjoyed watching the presence of Australian children’s books increase every year.

Margaret’s interests in books changed slightly when she had her daughter, she became more interested in baby books, and some of her favourites were by Jan Ormerod.

“Grug” by Ted Prior was another book that Margaret published.  She recounted some amazing stories about the publishing of this book, including that it sold almost 1 000 000 copies.

Margaret fell forward into Margaret Hamilton Books, her own publishing house. It was a steep learning curve where she and her partner had to do everything from commissioning new works to making the coffee.  “Who Killed Cockatoo” by W A Cawthorne, illustrated by Rodney McRae, was their first book.  It sold well, including into the US which was a surprise to Margaret as it was a very Australian book.  In the 10 years of operation, there were many changes in the publishing industry.

Margaret talked us through a huge number of books that she had the pleasure of working on.  It became evident to me that here was another legend from the world of Australian Children’s Literature.

Margaret Hamilton Books became a part of Scholastic Australia.  She loved the fact that all the staff at Scholastic were entirely devoted to children’s books.  “Where does Thursday Go”, written by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Stephen Micheal King, was one of their favourite award winning books that she worked on.  “My Dog”, written by Jeff Heffernan, illustrated by Andrew McClean, was another favourite.

Margaret informed us that she had been involved in the publishing of 300 books, see what I mean, an absolute legend of Australian Children’s Literature.

Margaret told us how she worked with Lincoln Hall on “Dead Lucky” and the children’s book “Alive in the Death Zone”.  These were based on his experience climbing Mt Everest.

She told us the tale of Pinerolo which opened in November, 2012.  We found out that Pinerolo means place of many pines.  The name Pinerolo comes from a town in Italy that Margaret has a close relationship with.  Again, I would love to spend some time here.  We found out about the amazing activities held at Pinerolo such as author residencies and school visits.

I felt so blessed to sit in on this session.  If ever you have the chance to see Margaret speak, to attend one of her picture book workshops, or even to visit Pinerolo, I would suggest that you take it, you will not be disappointed.

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