Book Review: The Life and Art of Lynley Dodd, by Finlay McDonald

This book is available in bookstores now

This is a beautifully produced book, and when I finishedcv_the_life_and_art_of_Lynley_Dodd reading it, I wondered idly how much of that was due to Lynley and possibly Ann Mallinson!

Finlay has done real credit to a national icon – Lynley, I mean, not Hairy Maclary – in the way he has clearly planned and then compiled this work. The biographical information comes through in various ways – sometimes using direct quotes from Lynley, other times simply related by the biographer, and by clever use of sketches, pictures and quotes from Lynley’s work.

However the other, previously-mentioned national icon comes through loud and clear also.
Lynley’s passion for words and metre, wit and (if I may) oddity of all kinds, and her extraordinary artistic talent struck me when, as a young librarian working in a public library, Hairy Maclary fell into my hands. I must have read that story to thousands of kids and never once did any child fidget or get restless. They were hooked from the first line. You can’t say that about many picture books. Hairy Maclary, and all the stories which followed, have that magical ability, and it’s no accident. The reason lies in the brilliance of the detail, the scan of each line, the clever rhymes, the repetition, and of course the wonderful characters you meet.

So it’s only fitting that a book about the creator of Hairy and all his mates reflects that.
One of the aspects of the book which really appeals to me is that on every page there’s a t least one illustration, and one gets such pleasure from exploring these and finding – in the case of illustrations from the books – new things to see; because these are not in the context of the whole work, I find that I had maybe missed (or more likely forgotten) some of the quirkier bits.

Lynley’s sketches, which are liberally sprinkled throughout the book – drafts, bits she noted in her workbook, part of letters, give another dimension to the text – enhancing and demonstrating the story of her life and art. I am particularly taken by the drawing on P. 73 of a worn-out mother – I think it should be part of a home-care kit for stressed parents!

I don’t want to retell work so well-told by Finlay Macdonald – all I will say is this: It’s a beautiful book, to hold, to read and to look at. It has balance, both in content and in design. It engages the reader in many ways – there is lots of insight into Lynley’s childhood and growing up, into her happy, almost-accidental relationship with Mallinson Rendel, into the highly professional way in which both Lynley and Ann Mallinson managed the enormous popularity of the Hairy Maclary stories and the music, dance and stage shows which came therefrom.

If your only knowledge of Lynley Dodd is because you read Hairy Maclary to your toddler, pick up this book and read it. You’ll be entranced, much as your toddler was when you read Hairy Maclary!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Life and Art of Lynley Dodd
by Finlay McDonald
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143567967