February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Mem Fox Interrogated by U.S. Border Police, Later Gets Apology

MFF.TNFamed Australian children’s author Mem Fox was detained by U.S. border police in Los Angeles as she made her way to Milwaukee for the Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA) Convention on February 8.

Fox, who has written more than 30 books, including Possum Magic (HMH, 1991), compared her experience to being a “prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.” Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, she described the behavior of the officials at Los Angeles Airport as “turbocharged.” “I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” Fox said. “I felt like I had been physically assaulted, which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby, and I’m 70 years old.”

At the reading conference, Fox mentioned the incident with the conference planners and some of the attendees, including Joyce Uglow of the WSRA. Uglow told School Library Journal that Fox said she would further discuss what happened when she returned home to Australia.

Her presentation at the conference was well received. “She is hilarious, inspiring and so incredibly brilliant!!!” tweeted Amanda Strupp, a K–6 literacy coach/interventionist. She discussed the power of reading to children and her opinion of level readers. “I’m not interested in the level of the reader; I care about the level of interest, Fox said during her presentation.

Mem Fox and educators from the Howard-Suamico School District in Wisconsin at the Convention.

Mem Fox and educators from the Howard-Suamico School District in Wisconsin at the WSRA Convention.

Brian Wilhorn, a reading teacher from central Wisconsin, was also at her presentation. “I thought to myself, ‘Mem Fox is reading aloud to me.’ I commented to a coworker that Mem Fox’s books have put my children to bed almost as many times as I have.” He was surprised to learn of Fox’s difficulty in entering the country. “I was shocked her presentation could be so engaging and insightful and passionate and relevant after such an experience,” Wilhorn told SLJ. “She could have easily been distracted, but if she was, it was not apparent in the least.”

Fox’s comment—“at the moment I’m in so much shock about it, I can’t imagine going back to the states”—has upset some librarians. Tammie Benham, children’s librarian at the Joplin Public Library in Missouri, told SLJ that she would like to see every librarian in the United States write a letter of support to Fox. “I value the work of Ms. Fox and find her reluctance to return to this country disheartening,” says Benham. “Librarians are the natural voice to answer her dismay. I am hopeful contacting her will positively influence her opinion of our country by rewriting this negative experience.”

Meanwhile, Deborah Hogg, teacher librarian at Sydney Secondary College Balmain Campus in Australia, addressed Fox’s treatment on Facebook. “I am astonished that anyone in the Customs Service should participate in this action and wonder how they, as individuals, can justify their actions.”

Authors also took to Facebook to express their displeasure. “This woman, a gift to children’s literature, is one of the reasons I do what I do. This story, her story, is both heartbreaking and infuriating,” posted picture book author Angela DiTerlizzi.

hero_im_australian_too_squareAfter returning home, Fox contacted both the Australian Embassy in Washington, DC, and the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia. She quickly received a letter of apology.

Fox’s new book, I’m Australian Too (Scholastic Australia), illustrated by Indian-born Australian Ronojoy Ghosh, is about multiculturalism and welcoming strangers.










Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.



  1. Laurel Sharp says:

    from the LAX Border Police website (Ethics/Standards of Conduct):
    The conduct of employees must reflect the qualities of
    courtesy, integrity, and loyalty to the United States; a deep sense of responsibility
    for the public trust; promptness in dealing with and serving the public; and a
    standard of personal behavior that reflects positively upon and will be a credit to
    both employees and the Department.
    This hardly seems to be the case.

  2. kay COGGs says:

    It is because she returned on a Visa too many times in one year. My husband was grilled and kept two hours by customs in Minnesota. He even had to give them his email password. Why? Because he returned t the States within 30 days of leaving. Because if you leave and come back too soon it looks suspicious. They kept asking him are you working here on a Passport? A Korean women was in the room too because she had returned three times in three months. I was questioned for an hour in the UK when I visited because I came twice in 6 weeks…She should have known better as many times as she has traveled…

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind