Pershall, Mary K. 1951–

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Pershall, Mary K. 1951–


Born March 14, 1951, in Marshalltown, IA; daughter of Raymond Winfred (a farmer) and Leila Frances (a homemaker and nurse's aide; maiden name, Stratton) Pershall; married John Horneshaw (a quarantine officer), December 28, 1985; children: Katherine, Anna. Education: University of Northern Iowa, B.A., 1973, graduate study, 1973–74. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Anglican.


Home—Victoria, Australia. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Group/Pearson Australia, 250 Camberwell Rd., Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia.


Merrilands High School, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, teacher of English as a second language, 1974–76; Victorian Ministry of Education, writer for and editor of Pursuit (magazine for schoolchildren), 1977–88; Melbourne Western Metropolitan Region, assistant principal, 1994–2000; writer. Women's Movement Children's Literature Cooperative, member, 1975–81, chairperson, 1980; Interchange (organization arranging respite care for parents of disabled children), member of management committee.


Australian Society of Authors.

Awards, Honors

New South Wales Premier's Literary Prize for Children's Literature, New South Wales Family Therapy Award, and Children's Book of the Year for Older Readers designation, Australian Children's Book Council, all 1989, Adelaide Festival Literary Prize for children's literature, Kid's Own Australian Literature Award, and Western Australia Young Readers' Award, all 1990, and best book for young adults designation, American Library Association, and Bank Street College of Education Children's Book of the Year designation, both 1991, all for You Take the High Road; writer's fellow, Literature Board of the Australia Council, 1991; Children's Peace Literature Award, 2003, and Family Award for Picture Book, both for Two Weeks in Grade Six.


Shopkeepers (children's nonfiction), Sugar & Snails, 1979.

Oz Rock (children's nonfiction), Macmillan, 1987.

Hello, Barney! (picture book), illustrated by Mark Wilson, Penguin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 1988.

You Take the High Road (young-adult novel), Penguin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 1988, Dial (New York, NY), 1990.

A Long Way Home (adult novel), Penguin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1992.

Stormy, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1993.

(With daughter Katherine Pershall) Too Much to Ask For, illustrated by Craig Smith, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1998.

Asking for Trouble, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001.

(With daughter Anna Pershall) Two Weeks in Grade Six, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2003.

Making Jamie Normal, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2005.

(With Anna Pershall) A Term in Year Seven, Puffin (Cam-berwell, Victoria, Australia), 2005.

Contributor to anthologies, including Made in Australia, Oxford University Press, 1990; Absolutely Rapt, Oxford University Press, 1990; Into the Future, Penguin, 1991; Goodbye and Hello, Penguin, 1992; and Nude School and Other Stories, Oxford University Press, 1992. Contributor of articles and stories to Australian magazines and newspapers, including Cleo, Women's Weekly, and Australian Short Stories.


Raised in the rural American Midwest, Mary K. Per-shall was often entertained by stories told by her parents, and she credits her storytelling ability to the fact that her older sisters had left home by the time she was six years old. "Sometimes I wonder if I would have listened so hard to my parents' stories if I'd had brothers and sisters to play with, fight with, grow up with on the farm …," Pershall once told SATA. "Perhaps I'd have done that even if I'd been in a big family. Who knows? All I know for sure is that the place where stories come from—fantasy, imagination—was and still is the most central part of me." Her most popular books include the middle-grade novels Making Jamie Normal, about a seventh grader who tries to make her younger sibling more attuned to the habits of mature preteens, and the award-winning young-adult novel You Take the High Road. The story of a fifteen-year-old girl who has trouble dealing with the death of her baby brother, the latter novel was praised by a Publishers Weekly contributor for featuring a "down-to-earth style [that] is tempered by poetic moments of insight." Several of Pershall's books have been family affairs: Too Much to Ask For was co-written with older daughter, Katherine Pershall, while Two Weeks in Grade Six and A Term in Year Seven were collaborations between the novelist and younger daughter, Anna Pershall.

Though Pershall learned to amuse herself as a child by making up stories, as she later admitted, "it took twenty years to get together the courage and confidence to start to turn my fantasies into fiction." Moving to Australia following college and raising two daughters with her husband, she eventually submitted works to a publisher, and her first book, Shopkeepers, was published in 1979. Of the professional success she has experienced since the late 1980s, Pershall commented: "Sometimes it seems such a strange thing to do, to sit here in front of my word processor for hour after hour making up tales, taking bits of reality and reshaping them often beyond recognition. Other times I know it's wonderful to get paid (not a lot, but something) for doing what I've always loved best."

As Pershall once explained to SATA: "The themes in You Take the High Road and in my picture book, Hello, Barney!, are the ones that intrigue me: birth, death, loss, the struggle to fit in and the resentment which results. These are the themes my mother spoke of so often, and I hope that through my writing I can make her observations come to life. At the same time, I want to keep on recording the funny, quirky bits of life that my dad is so good at spotting."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1990, review of You Take the High Road, p. 224.

Horn Book, September-October, 1990, Nancy Vasilakis, review of You Take the High Road, p. 607.

Journal of Reading, November, 1992, review of You Take the High Road, p. 220.

Magpies, November, 1993, review of Stormy, p. 34; September, 2001, review of Asking for Trouble, p. 41; May, 2005, review of Making Jamie Normal, p. 38; September, 2005, Ricki Barrett, review of Term in Year Seven, p. 37.

Publishers Weekly, July 14, 1989, review of Hello, Barney!, p. 75; January 12, 1990, Diane Roback, review of You Take the High Road, p. 62.

Reading Teacher, April, 1991, review of Hello, Barney!, p. 587.

School Library Journal, February, 1990, Barbara Chatton, review of You Take the High Road, p. 109.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1990, review of Yo u Take the High Road, p. 346.

Wilson Library Bulletin, Susan A. Jones, review of Yo u Take the High Road, p. 16.


Penguin Books Australia Web site, (June 6, 2006), "Mary K. Pershall."

Show & Tell Promotions Web site, (June 6, 2006), "Mary K. Pershall."