Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Chewing Gum Rescue and Other Stories by Margaret Mahy

This is my favorite collection of short stories, ever. Partly because I love the stories, and partly because of the epic quest that was part of my life and involved this book.

First of all, let me just point out that if you haven't read anything by Margaret Mahy, you probably should. She's a wonderful children/young adult writer who draws a lot from mythology and folklore, although as far as I know she doesn't have any direct adaptations.

My favorites of hers, though, are her short stories, which snap and sparkle with magic, from girls with literal green thumbs, to giants' bathtubs, to angels and devils selling love, courage, and wisdom.


So that brings me to the tale of my Epic Book Quest, because it's a great story and you want to hear it.

When I was 6 or 7, one spring, my family moved one city away. The school district took pity on us and let us finish out the year at our current school, so Mom drove us half an hour or so every day. Naturally we filled the time with audio books, one of which was a book of short stories (you can perhaps see where this is going).

These short stories were so captivating and magical that we would sit and listen to the end of the current story in the car after we got where we were going. I think we may have listened to this particular book 2 or 3 times, narrated by a rich male voice. The story about the Griffin's tears particularly stuck with me, as did the one about the Angel and Devil at the Corner Grocer.

Fast forward about 18 years. I had thought of the stories from time to time, but I had no real recollection of the title or author or any details. Still, somehow it lingered in my mind, until I was determined to find it again.

I first contacted the Newton Centre Public Library's children's librarian, who chatted with me in a live session (what a concept back in 2004). After we consulted a bit, we thought it might have been a John Bellairs book, since they had several of his audio books in the collection, and they had the right "feel" to them. However, further research showed that he did not have any short stories in publication.

I then asked every children's librarian, librarian, forum, and community I could find, as well as chronicling the mission on my personal journal, with daily updates like, "They were definitely read by a man!" and "I'll find the darn thing if it's the last thing I do!" For some reason, my mom (Librarian Extraordinaire) got the idea that I should look into Margaret Mahy--it must have been ringing distant bells in her head already. However, none of her titles jumped out at me, and I continued to search.

In my searching, I had found a website called Stump the Bookseller. It cost $2 to submit a stump, but they have extensive archives, so I spent some time searching through those, by keyword. At last I gave up and sent them a check.

After 21 days, I got an email, identifying my book as (you'll have figured this part out by now) Margaret Mahy's Chewing Gum Rescue and Other Stories. I had my doubts, as I remembered nothing about chewing gum--in fact I find that story to be one of the least memorable in the collection. I suppose it was before the children's book publishing world went nuts with the fantasy marketing.


I hope this will inspire you to check out Margaret Mahy, in general, and this collection in particular. These stories have some great sticking power.


  1. that is exactly what has happened to me! no luck finding a recording of the stories though :(

    1. I have these stories digitally, read by Richard Mitchley. I had them transferred from tape to digital in a studio. You can email me at to discuss.

  2. I have these stories digitally, read by Richard Mitchley. I had them transferred from tape to digital in a studio. You can email me at to discuss.