Read in paw and claw, Barbara Murison

The Truth At Last about the Little Red Hen
Hugh Price; illustrations by Isabel Lowe
Steele Roberts, $9.95,
ISBN 1877228192

The Immigrants
Alan Bagnall; illustrations by Sarah Wilkins
Mallinson Rendel, $24.95,
ISBN 0908783728

Abraham The Builder’s Cat – Adventures on Arapawa Island
Gideon Couper; illustrations by Kelvin McMillan
Pawprint Press, $14.95,
ISBN 0473090856

Hairy Maclary and Friends – 4 More Lynley Dodd Stories
Lynley Dodd
Mallinson Rendel, $29.95,
ISBN 090878368X

Schnitzel von Krumm, Dogs Never Climb Trees
Lynley Dodd
Mallinson Rendel, $24.95,
ISBN 0908783698

Cats, dogs, and birds rub paws and claws in this assembly of children’s picture books from the past 12 months.

Hugh Price, whom I have always associated with more esoteric titles, lays an exuberant spoof before us in The Truth At Last about the Little Red Hen. Remember her? She was the one forever bustling around doing all the work and complaining that no other animal would lift a finger to help. It turns out that Oink, Ratty, and Woofer (who tells this story) were working even harder just to keep the household turning over and running smoothly. Miffed when they saw the original story (the text of which is helpfully included to refresh one’s memory), they decided to set the record straight.

The point is made, without moralising, that not everything seen in print is true, and that there may be another side to every story. Energetic illustrations by Isabel Lowe match the spirit of the telling. But be aware, this is a subtle spoof and not a picture book for small children.

Shortlisted for the 2003 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, The Immigrants is produced in more serious, formal style. Here is Maria, a feisty and practical heroine, who crosses the wild Tasman Sea in 1856 in a small but sturdy sailing boat, The Toroa, accompanied by a flock of silvereyes, which she nurtures and cares for until, at landfall, they fly off into the green forests of Aotearoa. Themes of history, biculturalism, and straight-out adventure, plus the stylish illustrations, are all cleverly placed in a story that will appeal to children from eight years up. Teachers, too, will enjoy building theme programmes around this book.

Abraham, in Abraham The Builder’s Cat – Adventures on Arapawa Island, is a real cat, and his owner, Gideon Couper writes the text. Abraham was first written about and drawn by Gwenda Turner in The Builder’s Cat (Puffin Books, 1999) as an unusual animal which accompanied Gideon, and supervised activities on building sites around the country.

Couper carries on with an account of Abraham’s activities while they were on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds. The sentence structure is simple, the story merely a collection of happenings during a few days’ visit, the stylistic watercolour pictures by Kelvin McMillan as different from Gwenda Turner’s realistic drawings as it’s possible to imagine. The simplicity of the book, however, is deceptive. Within its 24 pages, one is given a unique look at the friendship between man and animal, and senses the loneliness of the area, as the barge carrying Gideon and Abraham grinds and crushes up the stony beach. It is a charming, gentle story that will be enjoyed by pre-school and early primary children.

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy has been a publishing phenomenon for Mallinson Rendel, and this year Hairy turns 20. I wonder if Ann Mallinson and creator, illustrator and writer, Lynley Dodd, imagined back in 1983 just where this character would lead them. Hairy Maclary now has his own merchandising business, several musical stage-shows under his collar, and overseas publishers; has appeared in many TV ads, and has a global audience of readers and listeners. Has this gone to his head?

It seems unlikely, as he and his friends have always remained true to their original characters. At a time when dogs are getting a really bad press, when muzzles and restraints are appearing in public places, Hairy Maclary, Bottomley Potts, Muffin McLay, Hercules Morse, Blitzer Maloney, and Schnitzel von Krumm must be excused from all this. “Breezily bad” they may be; “jittery, skittery, mischievous mad” sometimes they will be. But vicious? Untrustworthy? Never.

Hairy Maclary and Friends – 4 More Lynley Dodd Stories contains Schnitzel von Krumm’s Basketwork (Schnitzel is separated from his much-loved basket bed); Hairy Maclary, Sit (mayhem at the local Kennel Club Obedience School, and featuring all the “friends”) Schnitzel von Krumm Forget-me-not (Schnitzel is left behind when his family starts off on a camping holiday); and the last story in the collection, which is one of my favourites and apparently that of some of the many children with whom I have shared it: Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack (Hairy shows his Achilles paw when a small but perky yellow duckling turns him into a frightened wimp).

Schnitzel von Krumm stars again (how does Hairy feel about this, I wonder?) in Schnitzel von Krumm, Dogs Never Climb Trees. We find, in spite of the title, that if the catalyst is powerful enough, maybe sometimes they do – and the publishers have the photos to prove it.

Twenty years of keeping Hairy Maclary and his friends true to character in both text and picture is a great achievement, but even greater is the never-failing cadence of Lynley Dodd’s rhyming text – text that is as enjoyable for adults to read aloud (and, maybe, enjoy on a different level) as it is for the pre-school to early primary children who continue to clamour for these stories.


Barbara Murison is a children’s book consultant who lives in Wellington.


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