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Hairy Maclary’s journey

The Life and Art of Lynley Dodd by Finlay Macdonald (Penguin, $50)
Reviewed by Nikki Slade Robinson

hairymclary The cover of this book, with its classic colours and comfortingly familiar animals, is fittingly reminiscent of a Beatrix Potter classic. And classics are what the Hairy Maclary books have become, so it’s delightful to see this biographical tribute released.

This book is written by Finlay Macdonald, well-known journalist, editor, publisher and broadcaster. He has successfully combined the elements of a traditional biography with a detailed insight into Dame Lynley Dodd’s imaginative world.

Chapter one introduces Hairy Maclary’s journey to becoming an iconic character in New Zealand children’s literature. Most parents can recite, with exhausted eyes closed, the entire text of Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy. And anyone who has read the first Hairy Maclary title is no doubt very familiar with the subsequent Hairy Maclary and Friends titles.

Many will also be familiar with Dodd’s very first title – another classic – My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes. Another of my (non-Hairy Maclary) favourites is The Other Ark with Sam Jam Ballu and his alternative ark full of unique creatures. All these superb books pop up here.

Macdonald then moves on to a more biographical section, before returning to examine where ideas come from, and to trace the steps from original sketches through to a finished, printed book. To accompany the text, there are plenty of photos and lavish illustrations: from working drawings through to finished art. Such a pleasingly visual presentation makes the book very accessible to a wider audience. Younger fans will enjoy dipping into the book even if they aren’t up to reading the full text. My 11-year-old daughter sat down absorbed for some time before I could get my hands back on it to continue reading myself.

MacDonald is very positive about Dame Lynley and her work, though at times I found the writing almost over-written, and occasionally a little repetitive. For example, one page mentions ‘animal casualties of various kinds’ then a few paragraphs later, ‘various animal casualties’

This minor gripe doesn’t detract at all from my enjoyment of the book. And as a children’s illustrator/author myself, I felt it accurately depicted the creative process that we are often asked about. People always want to know, ‘How do you get your ideas?’ They want to know how the pictures ‘are made’ and are often stunned at just how much reworking goes on before the final image is created.

This book clearly follows and explains that creative journey in detail. The steps Dame Lynley takes, the way her ideas start, the drafting of words and pictures, are all were so familiar. Even the old-school computer printer paper that she’s used to jot down drafts on is the same. It was also fascinating reading about her childhood, particularly to see how her experiences (again, not dissimilar to my own experiences) shaped her imagination.

This book would sit well alongside any collection of Dame Lynley’s titles, and would likely be re-read and referred to regularly. Beautifully produced and designed, it’s a definite recommend for a creative Christmas shopping list.