The Magpies Said: Stories and Poems from New Zealand

Compiled by Dorothy Butler,
illustrated by Lyn Kriegler-Smith

By Anthony Holcroft: The Old Man and the Cat; The Girl in the Cabbage Tree

Kestrel: Harmondsworth UK, 1980

ISBN 0722656866

The Magpies Said is a superb collection of stories and poems from around New Zealand for children and families all over the world to enjoy. Anthony Holcroft contributes two stories: “The Old Man and the Cat” and “The Girl in the Cabbage Tree”.

The Old Man and the Cat

An old man makes himself a wooden flute and is delighted to discover that its magical song charms all the creatures living in the forest. But a black cat is watching from the shadows, and one day the flute mysteriously disappears ...

“The Old Man and the Cat” is also available in picture book editions (published in 2012 and 1984) and is anthologised in The Ears Storybook.

The Girl in the Cabbage Tree

“Anthony Holcroft’s ‘The Girl in the Cabbage Tree’ tells of a farmer who obliges a tree-spirit to marry him by stealing and secreting her protective scarf (a variant of the seal-woman motif) and then, by releasing her when she is near to death, enables her to return to him voluntarily. This is beautifully done, teeming with fresh images (‘The air was cool as mushrooms’), virile yet tender.”

Kevin Crossley-Holland (critic and author of The Arthur Trilogy), Times Literary Supplement, UK (December 1980)

“The Girl and the Cabbage Tree” also appears in Tales of the Mist.

Reader comment

“I think this story [‘The Girl in the Cabbage Tree’] has a very ‘New Zealand’ quality — not just because of the cabbage tree but in a variety of ways. I think this is quite a beautiful story.”

Margaret Mahy, undated letter (c 1977)

“Let me say at once that I think ‘The Girl in the Cabbage Tree’ is superb ... I was spellbound — as were several of my own children (grown!) to whom I showed it.”

Dorothy Butler, letter (25 October 1977)