Dorothy Neal White
Newsletter 43
November 2010

NOTICES – Christmas function

image of christmas decoration

Please join the committee for Xmas drinks and nibbles at

5.30pm on Wednesday, 8 December 2010

in the Archives New Zealand Training Room (10 Mulgrave Street, Wellington)

To be followed by seasonal readings by committee members. Feel free to bring your favourite Christmas book or poem to share.

National Library building redevelopment

A reminder that while the Library building is being redeveloped the Dorothy Neal White Collection is available on-site at the Archives New Zealand Reading Room, 10 Mulgrave Street, Wellington. To see books from the National Children’s Collection you can visit the National Library Reading Room at 77 Thorndon Quay, Wellington. If you have registered as a client, you can request your books on-line to be available when you arrive. Otherwise, you will need to await the next batch delivery (usually every 1.5 hours). The NCC will also remain available for inter-library lending. For more information, please refer to the National Library web site

NEWS – Prime Minister’s Award for Joy Cowley

On Monday 18 October it was announced that Joy Cowley had been honoured with a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement of $60,000.

In an email announcing the news to National Library staff, Penny Carnaby, the National Librarian, said:

A prolific author of over 600 books and stories for children and adults, Joy Cowley’s writing has had a profound influence over thousands of young readers in New Zealand schools. From the ‘little books’ for early readers, which almost every New Zealand child discovers during their first years at school, through to her many books for older children, Joy Cowley’s reputation as one of our best-loved children’s writers has now been cemented by her latest award.

You are on – FDNW WEBSITE

For up-to-date news about the Friends, visit the website. Illustrations included in the Newsletter appear on the website in colour.

Suggestions and contributions to the site are welcomed by webmaster Jeff Hunt -phone 04 479 6123, email or contact him through the website


Some Delights from the Dorothy Neal White Collection

On 23 September this year I gave an illustrated talk to the National Library Society introducing the Dorothy Neal White Collection. I outlined the origins and development of the Collection and then spoke about some particular themes and topics within it: some early works from 1782 to 1846; annuals and serials; adventure stories; illustration and colour printing in England in the late nineteenth century; Alice in the Dorothy Neal White Collection. The last topic was included in honour of the theme of the afternoon, which was a Mad-Hatter’s Tea Party.

For this article I have whittled down the content of the talk to a chosen few items, together with a selection of images.

Adventure Stories

As many of you will know, the DNW Collection has a large sample of adventure novels by notable authors in the genre. Adventure stories by British authors such as Kingston, Ballantyne and Henty became hugely popular in the Victorian era, at a time when Britain was developing as a naval and military power and expanding her Empire

Having once undertaken to read R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island in its entirety as part of an assignment, I can vouch for the fact that some of the content of this type of book (such as imperialist views, class consciousness and racial stereotyping) can be heavy going for the modern reader. However, when read with an awareness of the historical period in which they were written, they can provide a fascinating insight into Victorian social, political and religious attitudes.

One of the more unusual and charming examples of the adventure story genre in the DNW Collection is the wonderfully titled The boy travellers in Australasia : adventures of two youths in a journey to the Sandwich, Marquesas, Society, Samoan, and Feejee Islands, and through the colonies of New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia, by Thomas W. Knox, originally published: New York : Harper, 1889. Our copy is one of a batch of titles with a New Zealand connection recently purchased and donated by The Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection

The tale is one in a series of boy travellers adventures that combine adventure story and travel guide and in which our intrepid heroes, Frank Bassett and Fred Bronson, travel to all corners of the world. Mr Knox describes his research methods in the preface: “The author’s personal knowledge has been supplemented by information drawn from many sources – from books, newspapers, maps, and other publications, and from numerous Australian gentlemen with whom he has been in correspondence.” (p. iv). So, complete accuracy is in no way guaranteed.

In this illustration Fred and Frank enjoy the thermal area in New Zealand’s North Island: “At one village where we stopped for dinner there were twelve or fifteen springs of all temperatures from tepid to boiling; we bathed in one spring while the potatoes for our dinner were being boiled in another not a dozen yards away.” As well as informing the reader, the author never misses a chance to introduce some drama. Fred is almost overcome by sulphur fumes and narrowly escapes falling into a boiling pool.
In this illustration Fred and Frank enjoy the thermal area in New Zealand’s North Island
In this illustration Fred and Frank enjoy the thermal area in New Zealand’s North Island: “At one village where we stopped for dinner there were twelve or fifteen springs of all temperatures from tepid to boiling; we bathed in one spring while the potatoes for our dinner were being boiled in another not a dozen yards away.” As well as informing the reader, the author never misses a chance to introduce some drama. Fred is almost overcome by sulphur fumes and narrowly escapes falling into a boiling pool.

Illustration from The boy travellers in Australasia : adventures of two youths in a journey to the Sandwich, Marquesas, Society, Samoan, and Feejee Islands, and through the colonies of New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia (1889)

By the beginning of the 20th century some authors were beginning to write adventure stories that were set on a smaller, domestic scale. Arthur Ransome, writing in the 1930s is a good example of this development. His highly successful series of stories, starting with Swallows and Amazons in 1930, began the trend for the holiday adventure stories that were popular in Britain from around 1935 to 1960.

Image of Cover of Winter Holiday
Cover of Winter Holiday

There were twelve Swallows and Amazons stories altogether, four of which we have in the DNW Collection. Our copies were published in London by Jonathan Cape, but the titles were also published in Australia for Antipodean readers.

The illustration shows the original dustjacket of Winter Holiday, but more often than not the books are seen with only their distinctive dark green cloth binding, the dustjackets having long since been discarded.

These stories of everyday children enjoying sailing, camping, adventure and exploration remain in print today. For anyone who hasn’t read them, this extract from the jacket of Winter Holiday encompasses a typical plot:

“ ‘Well,’ said Nancy, ‘You know what it’s like. Dark at teatime and sleeping indoors: nothing ever happens in the winter holidays.’ Nothing – except a polar expedition, full of mountain rescues, blizzards, igloos, ice sailing and heroic work amidst the frozen wastes. For Dick and Dorothea, newcomers to the lake, meeting up with the Swallows and Amazons sweeps them into a wild adventure where they must prove their worth to the team.”

Landmarks in the adventure genre, Ransome’s books offer well drawn and believable characters, girls who play as strong a part in the action as boys, not to mention, for those who are interested, a wealth of detail about the finer points of sailing!

Illustration and Colour Printing in the Late 19th Century: Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott

Due to a combination of factors from around 1860 onwards, the latter part of the 19th century saw the publication of some of the most noteworthy books for children ever published in England. These factors included: improved living conditions meaning more children survived beyond infancy; the Education Act of 1870 increased access to primary education and led to improved literacy levels; improved manufacturing methods and the wider use of colour printing; the growth of the market for children’s books led to competition and higher standards of work.

Randolph Caldecott and Walter Crane both had a close association with the pre-eminent engraver and printer of the day, Edmund Evans, who printed their works and also commissioned works from them. Evans also worked closely with artists Richard (Dicky) Doyle and Kate Greenaway. Edmund Evans perfected the method of printing illustrations in colour using as many as twelve individually coloured wooden blocks. He did not invent the process, but raised its execution to a new level. This technique, chromoxylography, allows a variety of hues to be produced when colours are overlayed and thus mixed during the printing process.

Image of the Cover of The Fox and the Crane
The Fox and the Crane. Walter Crane was an accomplished artist who, as well as illustrating his very popular children’s books, also worked in other fields for adults including oil painting and wallpaper design.

Walter Crane was an accomplished artist who, as well as illustrating his very popular children’s books, also worked in other fields for adults including oil painting and wallpaper design.

This illustration from The Baby’s Aesop is a good example of some of the key features of Crane’s work. He liked to fill the whole page, and made good use of borders and framing to define areas within the page. He also liked to use the text as an integral design element. In this example he has, as he often did, calligraphed the text himself (rather than leaving space for typeface to be inserted), so the illustration and text work together as a visually unified whole. One of the influences on his style was the traditional Japanese woodblock print, which can be seen in his bold use of black line and his choice of clear, bright hues. He was particularly skilled at drawing animals, and spent some time drawing them from life at London Zoo.

Randolph Caldecott struggled for some years to be recognised as an illustrator, and it was not until he turned to children’s illustration that this recognition finally came. Sadly, he suffered from poor health and died in 1886 at the age of only 39.

Caldecott’s most notable achievement was his series of sixteen Caldecott’s Picture Books, engraved by Edmund Evans and published by George Routledge between 1878 and 1885. The first in the series was The House that Jack Built.

catIn this illustration from The House that Jack Built we can see the key characteristics of Caldecott’s work: confident and vigorous lines, energy and a sense of humour. His groundbreaking work in the picture book genre has had a far-reaching influence on other artists and it is very apt that the Caldecott medal for illustration is named after him. Maurice Sendak has said “To me, his work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. There is in Caldecott a juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before.”

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party : Alice in the Dorothy Neal White Collection

Lewis Carroll’s Alice books – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871) – are key works in the development of the fantasy genre in children’s literature and continue to be read, illustrated and adapted today.

Illustration by John Tenniel in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s adventures in Wonderland are among the most famous of literary illustrations. The original woodblocks from which they were printed are now held in the Bodleian Library.

One of the most interesting aspects of a research collection like the DNW is that it allows many editions of a classic work to sit together on the shelf, and looking through them is rather like an archaeological exploration, discovering different layers of intepretation over time. The DNW holds 34 different editions of the Alice books, many with the Tenniel illustrations, and a selection of the numerous editions illustrated by other artists.

John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s adventures in Wonderland are among the most famous of literary illustrations. The original woodblocks from which they were printed are now held in the Bodleian Library.

Lewis Carroll adapted his story for younger readers, and the Nursery Alice was published by MacMillan & Co. in 1889 with Tenniel’s original illustrations reproduced in colour by Edmund Evans.

Coloured Illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Coloured Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When the British copyright on Tenniel’s illustrations expired, the way was open for new illustrative interpretations of the story, the earliest being Arthur Rackham and W. H. Walker in 1907.

Below: Arthur Rackham (1907)

Note Rackham’ distinctive use of black line, and his subtle colour palette.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1907)  Note Rackham’ distinctive use of black line, and his subtle colour palette.
Arthur Rackham’s illustration in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907) Note Rackham’ distinctive use of black line, and his subtle colour palette.

W.H. Walker (1907)

Illustration by W.H. Walker (1907)
Illustration by W.H. Walker (1907) A quirky interpretation, complete with hare motif on Alice’s chairback and ears on the cottage roof!

A quirky interpretation, complete with hare motif on Alice’s chairback and ears on the cottage roof!

Gwynedd Hudson (1922)

Illustration by Gwynedd Hudson (1922)
Illustration by Gwynedd Hudson (1922) Here the artist has used a vibrant, earthy palette. The mood and concept of the illustration have now clearly moved away from the Victorian era.

Here the artist has used a vibrant, earthy palette. The mood and concept of the illustration have now clearly moved away from the Victorian era.

These images of a mad tea party conclude our brief tour through some of the many delights of the Dorothy Neal White Collection.

Selected Bibliography:

Carpenter, Humphrey and Mari Pritchard. Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Cope, Peter & Dawn Cope. Postcards from the nursery : The illustrators of children’s books and postcards 1900-1950. London: New Cavendish Books, 2000.

Hunt, Peter (ed.) Children’s literature : an illustrated history. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Whalley, Joyce Irene and Tessa Rose Chester. A history of children’s book illustration. London: Murray with the Victoria & Albert Museum, 1988.

Mary Skarott

Senior Research Librarian, Children’s Literature


Annual General Meeting 28 April 2010

Friends met in the Training Room at Archives NZ for this year’s AGM. Following the usual drinks and nibbles President David Retter conducted the meeting.

All committee members stood again and were re-elected with acclamation. Mary Skarrot, who is currently in the position of Senior Research Librarian, Children’s Literature (and who was introduced to members in the last newsletter) has also joined the committee.

Committee members are:

Patron: Margaret Mahy

President: David Retter

Treasurer: Janet Blake

Membership Secretary: Trevor Mowbray

Correspondence Secretary: Barbara Robertson

Minutes Secretary: Lynne Jackett

Newsletter: Joan McCracken

Committee: Audrey Cooper, Alison Grant, Emma MacDonald, Mary Hutton, Mary Skarott.

Following the Annual General Meeting in April 2010, Philippa Werry, Wellington children’s author, entertained Friends to ‘A Writer’s Journey’. Illustrated with images from her personal scrapbook, Phillippa talked about her childhood writing and the excitement of seeing her work on the Children’s Page of the Evening Post – and of earning the requisite 100 so her photo was also published in the paper! After completing her education she went travelling and during this time kept diaries, which she illustrated.

While at home with her first child, Philippa saw an article about The school journal and decided she would send them some of her writing. Although her work was not accepted at first, the Journal editors were very encouraging and she persevered. Since that time she has had over 70 articles published.

She has gone on to write several novels for children and young adults, including the very popular “The great chocolate cake bake-off” (Scholastic, 2007). Philippa ended the evening by reading from her latest novel “Enemy at the gate” Scholastic, 2008), a story set in 1936 about the effects of the polio epidemic on a Wellington family.

You can read more about Philippa on her website

Photograph of Philippa Werry presenting “A writer’s journey” to the Friends, April 2010
Philippa Werry presenting “A writer’s journey” to the Friends, April 2010

Philippa Werry presenting “A writer’s journey” to the Friends, April 2010 with the able assistance of President David Retter

Photograph: Joan McCracken


Dorothy Neal White: a personal recollection

Just over fifty years ago I applied for a position in the Dunedin Children’s Library. It was supposed to be a temporary job, lasting only until I could go to the Teachers’ Training College, but once there, I loved it so much that for ten years teaching was the ‘road not taken’. I wonder if I can begin to tell you what a wonderful place the Dunedin Children’s Library was to work in during the 1950s? I first worked in what was known as the Country Room with Miss Bartlett and it was there that I learned to mend books, thus breaking one of my firmly-held misconceptions: that I was no good with my hands. After this boost to my morale, I gradually mastered other skills needed in the libraries of that period: filing cards, remembering authors and titles, dealing with requests and – running up and down stairs. Upstairs was the Children’s lending library but the country and town school library services were downstairs. Children could borrow books from all sections, so from 3pm till after 5pm each day we ran up and down, up and down, achieving weight losses equivalent to those acquired nowadays by workouts in a modern gym. But apart from acquiring new skills, reading masses of books and losing weight, the great advantage of working there was the staff. Most of us were young (18 to late 20s), all of us loved reading and we all had well-developed senses of humour. Only twice in later life did I again experience such satisfaction and comradeship in the workplace.

Photograph of Dorothy Neal White at work
Photograph of Dorothy Neal White at work

For me the arrival of Dorothy Neal White in 1957 only served to make the library even more exciting for I had never before encountered anyone like her. When in 1953 I joined the library, the Children’s Librarian was Renate Rex. After she left in 1954 or 1955 there was an interim period with only supervision from the main library by Miss Fache and Miss Ronnie. Then Phyllis Macdonald was the Children’s Librarian for a short time before she moved to the Training College Library. All of those named were excellent librarians from whom I learned mammoth amounts, but with Dorothy White, someone arrived who was to be one of the most important influences in my life.

‘A shilling life will tell you all the facts’ declared Auden, who lived before the arrival of the ubiquitous Google, which, for nothing, will tell you the same thing. What follows are facts with some additional comments. Although, in my mind, Dorothy is only associated with Dunedin (she called it ‘my Dunedin”) she was born in Christchurch in 1915. She attended the Avonside Girls High School and later went to work as an assistant in the Canterbury Public Library in 1933. From the start, her capabilities were recognised and in 1936 she was one of two young librarians (Kay Harvey from the North Island and Dorothy from the South) who were awarded a Carnegie Training Fellowship. This enabled her to study children’s librarianship at the Institute of Technology in Pittsburg. The award of the fellowship was linked to her joining the Dunedin Public Library as Children’s Librarian on her return from the United States. The machinations of the far-seeing and brilliant Archie Dunningham had much to do with this happy result. In modern football terms, Archie had acquired a David Beckham for the children’s library. On the arrival of Dorothy Neal, the Dunedin Children’s Library was transformed from a room full of books with dull black and brown Chivers binding, to one full of shining fiction and non-fiction. A witness to Dorothy at this time was the young Mary Ronnie. ‘No-one quite like her had come our way … She was a dashing figure, full of verve. I wasn’t the only person who thought so. Ngaera Mercer … remembered her arrival, with her black cloak swinging and her large and shady hat proclaiming more sophisticated origins than ours.’

But Dorothy did not just transform the books in the library by her judicious selection of both American and British writers, she set about making the library more like some of the splendid children’s libraries she had seen in the United States. My first visit to the library occurred in 1948 after Dorothy had left to bring up her children but I still remember the wonderment I felt at the vast range of books. My only quibble at the time was about the rule that restricted the borrower to two books: one from the fiction room and one from the non-fiction room. Even that was overcome when I discovered the 398s, the fairy tale section, where there was a seemingly unending number of legends and fairy tales from all parts of the world: from China, Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe, Africa, Scandinavia, Ireland, India – name a country and you would find a sample of their tales. Never again have I come across a collection like it. I was too old to notice the books for the very young and it was only later, when I worked in the library, that I discovered the picture book section. There can have been few libraries in the world then, or even now, with such a magnificent display of picture books. At that time most of the best artists were American: Lois Lenski, the d’Aulaires, the Hollings, Margaret Wise Brown, Marjorie Flack and the inimitable Maud amd Miska Petersham whose book The Christ child is one of the most beautiful religious books for children ever produced. In Books before five Dorothy tells of her daughter Kerry’s fascination with The Christ child and declares that it was one of her own first loves among American picture books.

But transforming the Children’s Library was no the only task undertaken by Dorothy White. With the encouragement and help of others, especially Mr Dunningham, she introduced a library service for country schools. Every term, wicker baskets of varying sizes would be sent to schools. Neither of us then realised that Dorothy’s influence on my life had really begun with those wonderful wicker baskets some ten years before. In the first half of the 1940s I was a pupil at Dunback School in Central Otago where the number of pupils was so low that we were all taught in the same room. The teacher taught us using a version of the Montessori system so we progressed from one level to another depending on what we had learned, not by age. I learned to read very quickly because I loved the Whitcombe Primer books used in schools then – so much better than the dreary Janet and John primers that replaced them. But having learned to read, I found there were few books, either at school or at home, I could move on to. It was therefore like a gift from heaven when the first baskets arrived (the smallest of the three sizes of course, but I did not know that). Each time a new one arrived I would happily forage through the books, deciding on the order in which I would read them. To this day I can still remember some of them – though not always their titles. This is when I became a reader as defined by C S Lewis in An experiment in criticism

A reader is firstly, one who will read favourite books many times; secondly, they are compulsive readers who will suffer withdrawal symptoms if they do not read for a period of 2-3 days; thirdly, the reading of some books is ‘so momentous that only experiences of love, religion or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison. Their whole consciousness is changed.’ And finally, what they have read becomes a permanent part of their minds, characters are as vivid to them as friends and with other people of the same ilk they will discuss books for hours at a time

Tucked in one of these precious baskets was The old nurse’s stocking-basket by Eleanor Farjeon. After I read it I was hooked. I walked on air for days and I could not wait until I found another like it. I now had an unfailing escape from unhappiness, boredom and worry. An escape that remains to this day.

Dorothy also published lists of recommended books for children, initiated a Children’s Library Certificate Course and was involved in giving talks and reviewing and writing both for radio and for magazines such as New Zealand libraries. All this work when she was in her early twenties! She also found time to get married in 1939 to Dick White, manager of Newbold’s Bookshop. She retired from the library work in1945 when her daughter Kerry was born but she did not retire from children’s books for in 1946 About books for children was published by Oxford University Press. In her preface Dorothy writes: ‘this book grew out of ten years’ experience of children’s library work, but more precisely it developed from the New Zealand Library Association’s correspondence course in children’s literature which I prepared in 1940-41, and a series of articles for National Education which were written intermittently from 1940 to 1946.’ Many books about children’s literature have been written since then but in 1946 Dorothy’s books was – while not alone – a ground breaker. Years later my husband told me that in 1958 when he was setting up a library in Townmead, a new secondary school in London, he depended very heavily on About books for children to help with his book selection. He was quite impressed when I told him that I worked for her.

In order to write this paper I re-read About books for children. I was surprised to discover how well it had stood the test of time, despite the fact that many of the books mentioned are no longer in print or, in the case of non-fiction, have long been superseded.

What qualities does About books for children have that make it still worth reading?

First, it is very well written and therefore very easy to read. It has a very distinctive voice. Open it at almost any page and it is as if Dorothy is speaking directly to you, the reader, even though it is not written informally. Nor is it a politically correct work: she reveals her personal likes and dislikes in no mealy-mouthed fashion, quite often in the form of asides. Here are her words on the subject of picture books.

‘They will be among the most beautiful books he will ever see, because it is a charming commentary on our civilisation (one of few such) that artists and authors have conspired and contrived to make the pucture books for the under-sevens a thousand times gayer and more attractive than all the books that fall to the lot of any other age-group readers.’

And later on the same page:

‘Long before a child can read, when words and phrases are but aravesques among the drawings, he can listen to a story and trace the action of the plot in the pictures when the reading is over.’

Note how the parenthesis ‘one of few such’ conveys her personal opinion while the elegance of the arabesque metaphor allows the style to rise above the mundane. There is also humour, often in the form of irony, as well as the recognition that adults and children think different things are funny. This is notable in the Babar books and in Katherine Hale’s Orlando, the marmalade cat. When discussing the Arthur Ransome books she notes that ‘no small brother can be a nuisance once he is named the ship’s boy, and grown-ups are tolerable once called “the natives” ‘ (89). A few pages further she is commenting on Noel Streatfield’s The circus is coming. ‘It has been said that “you can smell the circus in it”. (The statement was intended as a compliment).’

One last example, this one of her refreshing ability to disagree with an eminence such as Walter de la Mare when he praised Jan Doorly’s The insect man. ‘For children with a born interest in insects … the book has a definite appeal, but it will not make any converts to natural history.’

Secondly. Reading About books for children now, after I have been a teacher for thirty years, I can use my won experience of teaching and children to appreciate how well Dorothy understood children. This is particularly noticeable in her chapter on poetry.

‘Children like poetry. Grown men who have had the taste for it killed by over-athletic schoolmasters or over-sentimental schoolmistresses may doubt the wisdom of this statement. They should look at the begrimed little books in a children’s library that prove that children when free to choose and select poetry for their reading and learning, really enjoy it. Every child’s bookshelf should hold at least one anthology.’

As a teacher I can endorse that judgement. I have often met students who declare that they hated poetry and I have found that this hatred has almost entirely been caused by poor teaching. It is possible to reverse their judgement with the right approaches and the right poems. Other comments also reveal her understanding of children and the best educational methods. For example ‘Children … learn by doing.” Or, regarding realistic stories: ‘ … after eight children are becoming aware of the world outside their home; they are delighted with the novelty of different manners and customs in books like The Dutch twins.’ (68) Dorothy goes on to point out that a child identifies with the children he reads about in other lands and to quote again: ‘From reading such books … children do literally become citizens of the world. If there is any hope for lasting world peace, that peace may come when children of all countries have read about one another …’ (69)

The third point concerns Dorothy’s wide knowledge of books. This knowledge goes beyond the ability to summarise succinctly the plots and concerns of a work, but includes perceptive evaluations and the ability to recognise outstanding authors from their first worls. She praises Dr Seuss’ first work And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street for its psychological correctness; Tolkien’s The hobbit is not only highly praised but she shows her percipience with this remark: ‘Need one add more, except to say it looks extremely likely that the hobbit will become one of the immortals along with Alice and Toad of Toad Hall.’ How right she was.

Illustration from Milly Molly Mandy books
Illustration from Milly Molly Mandy books

I particularly enjoyed Dorothy’s descriptions of the Milly-Molly-Mandy books by Joyce Brisley because they are the books that made me fall in love with England when I was about seven years old. She mentions all the qualities that made me love those books. Her descriptions of dolly’s tea-sets, of learning to swim and the importa nce of food, chime directly with the interests of a young child. But Dorothy makes a further cogent point, the kind of comment which raise her work well above the common place review: When M.M.M. goes fishing the reader is given a description; ‘not only of her lunch … but of all her gear – a new tin mug to drink out of, a bottle for drinking water, a jam-jar to carry the fish in. This is a trick which Defoe knew and demonstrated in Robinson Crusoe. It is a trick which satisfies a real human need. Older people have a delight in looking through their mail-order catalogues, in reading recipes … in making lists of clothes to take on holidays … It is this passion for itemisation which leads ultimately in the highest circles to the classification of species and the advancement of science …’

It is characteristic of Dorothy to be able to link Brisley with Defoe and I would like to add a further reason for the listing of things. It adds to the realism of the tale. We believe Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked; we believe that M.M.M. did go fishing.

The last reason why I think that About books for children is still an important work is the way in which she frequently laments the lack of children’s books written by New Zealanders. At the end of the chapter on Social Studies she hopes that young people all over New Zealand will begin to write about New Zealand rivers, fauna, trades and so on. She hopes that ‘We might in time produce a New Zealand children’s literature.’ In the chapter on art books she states: ‘I think the first art publishing job to be done in this country is the making of a collection of pictures by New Zealand children.’ Mary Ronnie has told me that the publication of New Zealand children’s books has flourished, so Dorothy’s hopes have now been realised.

Many of the comments made about Dorothy’s first book apply equally to her second: Books before five. It too is well-written (though in a different style) and is easy to read. Again it reveals Dorothy’s wide knowledge of children’s books and her understanding of children. It is a book that all child psychologists and children’s librarians should read. One of the fascinating insights it gives is of how life and leisure intermingle. What Kerry, Dorothy’s daughter, reads infiltrates her everyday activities. Once, when Kerry was asked why she had wrapped her little sister in a pillowcase, she replied: ‘I wrapped Vicky in swaddling clothes.’ This was after several readings of The Christ child by Maud and Miska Petersham. Shortage of time prevents me doing justice to this delightful book where all the characters come through so clearly and sympathetically.

To return to Dorothy, and her influence on my life. The ways in which she analysed books helped greatly in developing my own knowledge and literary appreciation; her conversations on art, history and philosophy were a revelation to me, which her advice on what to read opened up to me the wonderful worlds of Nancy Mitford, Barbara Pym and E M Delderfield. Her taste in literature was impeccable – I have met very few other people whose taste I could so implicitly trust. Her insistence that I should give talks at parent-teacher meetings and on the radio were of enormous value when I later had to teach students and give workshops to teachers. She threw me in the deep end, but I survived, and it is a method that I used many times with my own students. She even passed on to me advice on how to shine in examinations: treat them as a vehicle for showing off your knowledge, not as a place to hide your ignorance. She was an expert at PR.

She could be utterly charming and entertaining but she could also be maddening, unpredictable and baffling. As her daughter Kerry has stated in Dorothy Neal White: a tribute, there were some subjects she did not ‘do’. She had a number of sayings (I once had a list of them but sadly it seems to be lost) of which I remember a few: ‘WRN’: meaning ‘wool round needle’ was a comment that indicated the discussion had become too full of boring technical details; ‘dropped womb country’ – she did not like conversations about illnesses; ‘the crow makes wing to the rooky wood’ – I’ve forgotten what that referred to but I think it was a reference to it getting late. We younger members of staff spent hours discussing her behaviour but time and a dodgy memory have wiped out the content of most of those discussions. She could be quite stern and disliked lateness or what she saw as skiving. In the toilet she put up the cover of a book called The time garden as a hint to a member of staff she thought was spending too long there. She once told me that she always had three people she hated: one at an international level, one at a national level and one at a personal level. I will only reveal that at time her international hate was Eisenhower – one wonders what she would have thought of recent US presidents!

She could take against people and unfairly dismiss their abilities but I was lucky in that she liked me. At least I assume she did for at one time I always had to constantly follow her around; that way I sat in meetings (some with Archie Dunningham were an education in themselves), met interesting visitors – many figures in the literary and publishing world made tracks to her door – and heard her views on every subject under the sun. I was her shadow to such an extent that Alison Grant (I think it was Alison) misquoting Shelley, declared one day: ‘If Dorothy comes, can Elizabeth be far behind? Dorothy was very generous to me. When I left for England she wrote me a wonderful reference and before leaving introduced me to the Collins who was then head of Collins publishing and suggested he could give me a job. Another road not taken. When I returned to New Zealand in 1988 I went to visit her with my husband. He had just published his doctorate; it was a comparison of two best-sellers, Enid Blyton and Ian Fleming, and we gave her a copy. She read it and within two days summoned us again to her house where she had organised an interview with a reporter from the Otago Daily Times. Yet again, she had shown how kind she could be. Pragmatic, generous, charming.

When I heard of her death in 1995, the words that came to my head were those of Charmian, Cleopatra’s attendant:

‘So fare thee well./ Now boast thee Death, in thy possession lies/ A lass unparallel’d.’

Elizabeth Druce (neé Brook), September 2008


It is with great sadness we note the passing of Jocelyn Chisholm, born 1928, died 17 September 2010, aged 81 years, Librarian & historian

Jocelyn was a supportive Friend of the Dorothy Neal White Collection, and a regular visitor to the reading rooms of the National Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library. Her research interests were wide, and she published a number of books including Brind of the Bay of Islands: some readings and notes of thirty years in the life of a whaling captain (1979, republished 2009) and Robert Coghill, Otago artist: a memoir (2000). In addition she wrote several biographical articles for the Dictionary of New Zealand biography.

Our sympathy is extended to her family and friends.

Alice Patricia Wrightson, born 21 June 1921; died 15 March 2010, Writer

Patricia Wrightson Photograph: Penguin

(Alice) Patricia Wrightson Photograph: Penguin
(Alice) Patricia Wrightson Photograph: Penguin

Patricia Wrightson, who has died aged 88, was one of Australia’s most distinguished children’s authors. Her writing career having begun with traditional adventure stories in the 1950s, her reputation came to rest largely on her magic realist titles. Her books, including the widely praised The Nargun and the Stars (1973), were among the first Australian books for children to draw on Aboriginal legends. As fashions changed, she later received criticism for doing so.

The third of a family of six children of a country solicitor who educated his children in “literature, philosophy and wonder”, she was born Patricia Furlonger in Lismore, New South Wales. Her formal education came largely through a state correspondence school set up for children in the country. During the second world war, she moved to Sydney and worked in a munitions factory before becoming a hospital administrator in Bonalbo in the mid-1940s. She married in 1943 and had two children, Peter and Jenny, before a divorce in 1953.

In the mid-60s she became assistant editor, and later editor, of School Magazine, a literary publication for children. By then, she had begun her career as a writer with The Crooked Snake (1955), which was soon followed by The Bunyip Hole (1958). Both were conventional, realistic stories very much within the tradition of children’s fiction of the time.

As it developed, Wrightson’s work revealed two key characteristics: her use of Aboriginal folklore, with its rich fantasy and mystery, and her understanding of the importance of the land. She used both to good effect in The Rocks of Honey (1960), a story about the friendship between Eustace, an Aboriginal boy, and Barney, a white farm boy. Their search for a mysterious stone axe, which according to Aboriginal legend has been hidden because it is cursed, takes them beyond realism and into a kind of fantasy. While Eustace accepts the mystery of the legend, Barney is frightened by it as things begin to go wrong.

Wrightson continued to write adventures, including The Feather Star (1962), Down to Earth (1965) and I Own a Racecourse! (1968). The latter, with its strong contemporary Sydney setting, was popular in the US and Britain as well as Australia. The fusion of old and new, which Wrightson herself described as “the use of Aboriginal folk-spirits to enrich Australian fantasy”, was never far away.

There are invisible spirits at work in An Older Kind of Magic (1972), despite its inner-city setting, and in The Nargun and the Stars, the eponymous character is an ancient creature born of rock and fire, representing the oldness of the Australian landscape in contrast with contemporary society. In the novel, Wrightson introduced other characters from Aboriginal legend including Potkoorok, the swamp-living trickster, the tree-dwelling Turongs and the Nyols, who live in mountain caves. How these creatures from another time and place help the orphaned Simon to heal and to banish the Nargun makes a powerful fantasy.

In a later title, A Little Fear (1984), Wrightson tells how an old lady who has run away from an old people’s home to live on her own in a remote cottage is scared by a Njimbin who, like the Nargun, is an Old Thing of the Earth. How the old lady and the powerful Njimbin battle it out is amusing and tender, but Wrightson is in no doubt that, like the Nargun, the Njimbin has an older claim that stretches far back into the Australian past.

Wrightson was always respectful of Aboriginal culture. According to her editor Max Macleod: “She was trying to create a kind of pan-Australia – a whole new Australian mythology which was part non-indigenous and part indigenous.” Initially, Wrightson’s books were well-received by the Aboriginal leaders because of her care for their traditions. However, according to Macleod, “her stories became more prone in recent decades to be branded exploitation and misappropriation of Aboriginal culture”.

Wrightson wrote 27 books and, along with Ivan Southall and Joan Phipson, was instrumental in creating vibrant postwar fiction for children in Australia. She was awarded the Australian Book Council children’s book of the year award for The Crooked Snake and went on to win the award three more times. She was appointed OBE in 1977 and won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen medal for children’s literature in 1986.

She is survived by Peter and Jenny.
Julia Eccleshare,, Sunday 9 May 2010


2010 Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards

The winners of the 2010 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards were announced at an Awards Ceremony in Auckland on Wednesday evening, 19 May 2010.

Awards – chosen by adult panel


E3 Call Home

Janet Hunt

Random House New Zealand ISBN 978-1-86979-276-3 pb RRP $24.99

Target age 7+


The Loblolly Boy

James Norcliffe

Longacre Press ISBN 978-1-877460-25-8 pb RRP $19.99

Target age 10+


Blood of the Lamb: The Crossing

Mandy Hager

Random House New Zealand ISBN 978-1-86979-150-6 pb RRP $19.99

Target age 13+



Image of Cover of Old Hu-Hu
Image of Cover of Old Hu-Hu

Old Hu-Hu

Kyle Mewburn & Rachel Driscoll

Scholastic New Zealand ISBN 978-1-86943-897-5 hb RRP $29.99

Target age 4+

Hū-Hū Koroheke (Te reo edition)

translated by Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira

ISBN 978-1-86943-518-9 pb RRP$18.99


The Word Witch

Margaret Mahy & David Elliot, edited by Tessa Duder

HarperCollins Publishers ISBN 978-1-86950-707-7 hb RRP $44.99

Target age 6+


The Bone Tiki

David Hair

HarperCollins Publishers ISBN 978-1-86950-734-3 pb RRP $19.99

Target age 12+

Children’s choice Awards


Dear Alison

Simon Pollard (editor)

Penguin NZ ISBN 978-0-14330-460-9 hb RRP $30.00

Target age 5+


Friends: Snake and Lizard

Joy Cowley & Gavin Bishop

Gecko Press ISBN 978-1-877467-26-4 hb RRP $ 29.99

ISBN 978-1-877467-25-7 pb RRP $19.99

Target age 6+



Brian Falkner

Walker Books ISBN 978-1-921150-95-1 pb RRP $19.99

Target age 12+

Cover of Wonky Donkey
Cover of Wonky Donkey



The Wonky Donkey

Craig Smith & Katz Cowley

Scholastic New Zealand ISBN 978-1-86943-926-2 pb RRP $24.99

Target age 2+

Margaret Mahy Medal 2010

Dunedin publisher Barbara Larson is the 2010 winner of New Zealand’s top award in children’s literature, the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal. Given annually by the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust, the award recognises Barbara Larson’s specific and outstanding contribution to the important genre of young adult fiction.

‘Barbara’s continuing personal commitment to publishing high quality novels for teenagers for more than a decade has been remarkable,’ says Storylines Trust chair, Dr Libby Limbrick.

Image of Barbara Larson
Barbara Larson

‘Her company Longacre Press has attracted not only some of the best established authors in the country – among them William Taylor, Jack Lasenby, Joanna Orwin and Kate De Goldi – but solidly put its faith in nurturing a generation of new writers.’

‘These have included Bernard Beckett, Ella West, Anna MacKenzie, Sandy MacKay, Fleur Beale, Penelope Todd, Lorraine Orman, Ted Dawe and Tania Roxborogh. Novels by this extraordinary stable of authors have figured prominently in children’s literature awards for the past 15 years. Many have also been published, and won acclaim, internationally.’

Established in 1994, Longacre Press quickly became recognised as a leading independent publisher, producing at least six works for young readers a year as well as award-winning high-quality non-fiction. In late 2009 the company was purchased by Random House New Zealand.

‘We are pleased that Barbara, though based in Dunedin, will become a roving commissioner of new fiction for Random,’ says Dr Limbrick, ‘so that her extraordinary instinct for spotting and nurturing new talent will continue.’

Barbara Larson is the second publisher to win the Margaret Mahy Medal since its inception in 1992, joining Ann Mallinson, Wellington-based publisher of Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary books.

Barbara Larson will be presented with the Margaret Mahy Medal, and deliver the annual Margaret Mahy lecture, at Storylines’ annual Margaret Mahy Day in Auckland on Saturday 27 March 2010.



The 2010 Annual General Meeting agreed to hold the subscription rate at $20 a year. Members might also like to make a contribution to a special Scholarship fund that will allow us to continue and / or increase the amount we are able to offer a student at Victoria University doing research based on the DNW Collection. A separate line has been included on the form for those Friends who would like to make such a donation.

The Treasurer will be delighted to receive your subscription payment at the next meeting, or by post to:

The Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection

PO Box 12499



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *