Lynley Dodd may not be the first name that springs to mind when picture books are talked about but mention My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes and everyone smiles at the recollection of a perennial favourite, Lynley Dodd did the pictures for that. Each year since it was inaugurated the latest story about Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy has appeared in the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Pick of the Year – there by virtue of its popularity with the children who do the picking. Lynley Dodd created Hairy Maclary.
Our lack of familiarity with this inventive artist and writer may be explained (but not excused) by the fact that she is a New Zealander. Her entry into children’s books came when Eve Sutton – also a New Zealander and a relation by marriage – suggested that they should do a book together. But what should it be about? It so happened that about that time – the early ’70s – Lynley had a cat who liked hiding in odd places and she liked drawing him. Eve got to work on the rhyming text and soon we had, among others, the `cat from France’ who `liked to sing and dance’, and the `cat from Norway’ who `got stuck in the doorway’, and the `cat from Spain’ who `flew an aeroplane’. Illustrations – national stereotypes of these amazing cats – alternated with a funny and inventive series of pictures depicting how `MY cat likes to hide in boxes’ with often only an eye, an ear or a waving tail visible. My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes was accepted for Hamish Hamilton by Julia MacRae and published in 1973. Other titles followed, including The Nickle Nackle Tree, a counting book with a cast of unlikely birds – Seven haughty Huff Puff birds, thirteen grouchy Grudge birds – and a highly alliterative text, also by Lynley Dodd, who was now working solo.
Lynley Dodd is very conscious of being one of the few New Zealanders involved in creating children’s books, and is quietly but firmly nationalistic. So it was a natural step to move, in 1978, from the British based Hamish Hamilton to Mallinson Rendel, a local publisher based in Wellington. It was a happy choice. `I really do think small is beautiful,’ says Lynley, `and it’s so helpful to be able to drop round to see your editor instead of communicating across the world.’
In 1982 Mallinson Rendel made a link with Spindlewood – another small and beautiful publisher, based in Barnstaple – and it was thus that in 1983 Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy arrived on these shores. Children, with no help from critics or commentators who weren’t really looking, somehow found their own way to the book which with its simple structure, repetitive rhyming text, giggle-inducing word-play and lively easily read pictures has instant and essential child appeal. Who could resist a collection of dog characters like the dalmatian ‘Bottomley Potts, covered in spots’, the dachshund `Schnitzel von Krumm with a very low turn’ and of course the Scottish terrier Hairy Maclary himself. Children out walking have been heard to shout `Oh look, there’s Muffin McLay,’ as a particularly hairy Old English sheepdog comes into view.
The same cast of dogs appeared in Hairy Maclary’s Bone but in Hairy Maclary Scattercat, our hero is on his own feeling `bumptious and bustly, bossy and bouncy and frisky and hustly,’ looking for something to chase. What he finds is a collection of elegant cats-Slinky Malinki, Pimpernel Pugh, Mushroom Magee-to bother. His cocky progress continues until he pounces on the wrong tail and Scarface Claw-the terror of the first Hairy Maclary book – gives him his come-uppance.
Spindlewood has re-issued several earlier Lynley Dodd titles and a delightful story information book The Smallest Turtle. This month her latest book Wake Up Bear is due out. Like the others it has a humorous, repetitive text and funny, appealing pictures in a blend that provides exactly the right support for beginner readers and is a pleasure for younger children to share with adults and older children. Like Hairy Maclary it has the makings of another classroom classic.
Lynley Dodd: the books
All titles in hardback by Spindlewood, in paperback by Puffin.
My Cat Like to Hide in Boxes, 0 907349 70 6, £4.95 hbk; 0 14 050.242 4, £1.25 pbk
The Nickle Nackle Tree, 0 907349 76 5, £4.95
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, 0 907349 50 1, £4.25 hbk; 014 050.531 8, £1.50 pbk
Hairy Maclary’s Bone, 0 907349 96 X, £3.95
Hairy Maclary Scattercat, 0 907349 46 3, £4.25
The Smallest Turtle, 0 907349 35 8, £4.25
Wake up Bear, 0 907349 03 X, £4.50