If you wanted to research Sarah Mayor Cox’s life, you need look no further than her office for fodder.
“You could write your auto biography in the books you’ve read,” says the education lecturer, almost off-hand, as she scans the spines that line her walls.
“My Beatrix Potter books from my childhood are here. There’s also my very first fairy tale book… When I look back on my old books, I can see the seeds of where I am now.”
We’re on the third floor of the Bendigo campus’ education building, room 3.09, cocooned within comforting rows of picture books, young adult novels, and books about said books.
They’re also piled on the floor, the desk, the chairs, in plastic bags and one very large suitcase. It’s like the Tardis in here. Bigger on the inside.
Sarah reaches for a well-thumbed, sticky-noted copy of Let’s Enjoy Poetry. A book about teaching poetry in schools, by Heather Chatfield.
Sarah’s first full-time teaching job was at Heidleberg Heights Primary School in Melbourne. At the back of the school beyond the football field and over the fence, was Oldmeadows book shop.
“I never saved any money,” she says, on the lure of that shop. The poetry book was the first purchase of many. It was also an omen of what was to come.
Not long after her move to Bendigo in 1993, she and her husband, fellow lecturer Peter Cox, bought Heather Chatfield’s house. Sarah discovered Heather had also taught English education at La Trobe and the two women became great friends, despite such an age gap.
Rubbing shoulders with authors – and illustrators – is part and parcel of Sarah’s lovely, literature-filled life.
She is a Children’s Book Council of Australia Victorian Executive member, former president of the Local Council of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association and founding co-convenor of the La Trobe University Texts Mark the Spot literary festival for local schools, among many other bookish commitments.
Sarah also chats all-things children’s books on ABC radio with presenter Fiona Parker every second Friday after the 10.30am news.
“My reading keeps me up to date in my area, but it also informs my teaching,” she says.
Sarah is about to begin a PhD on the experiences of Australian children’s book illustrators. “I don’t think they get a good enough go,” she says. “I’d like someone in my eulogy to say ‘she was a champion for children’s illustrators’.
“They’re just an extraordinary group of people, they’re unlike any other creative group and I don’t think we value them enough or respect their work enough. And I don’t think we truly understand how much of a childhood is made up of picture books.”
Or in Sarah’s case, an adulthood, too.