Dorothy Neal White
Newsletter 24
March 1999



Books – Notes – Authors no. 7 Dorothy Neal White: a tribute is now available. The Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection, of which Dorothy was the first patron, have gathered together tributes from friends, former colleagues and her two daughters. The essays provide insights into a much loved and very influential librarian, whose contribution to children’s literature is incalculable.

The 52-page book has been handsomely designed by Margaret Cochran, and beautifully produced by Mallinson Rendel Publishers of Wellington. The Society gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance given by the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board towards the publication.

Copies of Dorothy Neal White: a tribute are available from Audrey Cooper, 32B Halswater Drive, Churton Park, Wellington, or from the National Library Bookshop. Copies are $12.50 each for members (plus $2.50 p&p) or $15.00 for non-members (plus $2.50 p&p).


Dorothy Neal White: a tribute was successfully launched at a function held at the National Library on the evening of Wednesday 16 December 1998. Members of the Friends, relatives and friends of Dorothy Neal White (Mrs Ballantyne), and other well-wishers filled the room to overflowing. John Cochrane, Wellington College of Education Librarian, launched the book. His address was warmly appreciated by the audience. His thoughtful comments about Dorothy and her influence were echoed and amplified by those contributors present: her daughter Vicky Feltham, and long-time colleagues and friends Mary Ronnie and Jen Glue who each contributed their own special memories, expanding on aspects of their informative articles. Ann Mallinson added some comments from her perspective as the publisher of the booklet, and Ian Jenkin responded to the open invitation to the audience with some interesting observations about Dorothy’s influence in education circles. Both Vicky and Ian were able to bring greetings and best wishes for the event from Dorothy’s elder daughter, Kerry Neal Wilson, who lives in London. The Committee was delighted that so many people were able to enjoy these tributes which added an extra dimension to the material gathered together in the booklet.

Mary Atwool


This is the text (slightly abridged) of the address given by Wellington College of Education Librarian, John Cochrane, when he launched Dorothy Neal White: a tribute, at the National Library of New Zealand on 16 December 1998.

First, let me say how grateful I am to be part of the occasion, greeting this wonderful little book. So warm thanks to the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection for this chance.

Second, can I explain my approach. In attempting to do justice to Dorothy within my prescribed time limit, I have assumed that most people here are familiar with the details and significance of her life. Apart, therefore, from highlighting some special aspects of her professional life, I thought I could best convey Dorothy’s uniqueness by relating my own experience of her influence and impact. There’s nothing special about me! But every speaker needs an angle, and mine will be to offer an experience of Dorothy for you to put alongside your own, and those in the booklet.

Before I get on with this, I want to recount an anecdote. I was talking about tonight with a Senior Lecturer in Reading, originally from Dunedin. Later, I wrote down what he said: “Mrs White! When I was a child she taught me how to read” – he meant she showed him what to read at the Library – “And when I was a baby teacher, out of College, she chose all my class reading for me for years…”. This links with something I will cover as I finish.

The chronology in the book gives a helpful timeline of dates, places, people, and events that are the map of Dorothy’s full life, from her birth in 1915. Each contributor offers unique insights into chapters of that life, and into Dorothy’s persona.

Mary Ronnie covers the dramatic period from the mid 1930s to the 1950s, which saw Dorothy being one of two to win a Carnegie Corporation fellowship in 1936 to study children’s librarianship in Pittsburgh for a year. And it is a dramatic story as Mary explains in her piece.

Outstanding accomplishments to follow included setting up, with A G W Dunningham, a library service to Otago country schools in 1938. This was the model for the national School Library Service. And the Dunedin Boys’ and Girls’ Library flourished under Dorothy – not suprisingly, as she put her discriminating knowledge of writing for children to work. Somehow Dorothy also fitted in substantial New Zealand Library Association work, and spoke tirelessly about books for children to teachers, parents, groups, and what we now call the media.

In 1940 the NZLA published her Junior books: a recommended list for boys and girls. This annotated list of 2000 titles became the starting point for the stock of SLS. At the same time Dorothy was writing the content for the Association’s Children’s Librarians’ Certificate, for which she was also tutor. Though the Certificate was discontinued the notes for it were developed into her first book.

And we do need to give thought to the vast professional impact of her two internationally recognised books: About books for children, published by the NZLA and the NZCER in 1946, and Books before five by the same publishers in 1954. The books were enormously well received here and overseas. As Marie Clay said in the Introduction when Books before five was republished by Heinemann Educational in 1984, “Dorothy Neal White knew a great deal about how children learn language and how important it is to develop understanding by taking time to talk about things. She knew that sharing books with a child provides opportunities for developing the intricate connections between experience, understanding, language, and eagerness to know more.”.

In this she was echoing H C D Somerset in the Foreword to the original edition, “…there is a masterly selection of significant detail…humane understanding…gives us a profound insight into the nature and development of children generally.”

After an interval devoted to her family, Dorothy returned to Dunedin Public Library as Head of Children’s Services, in 1957. In the book, Jen Glue gives us some wonderful insights into Dorothy at work. Typically Dorothy kept her life as extended and full as ever, including being Otago Branch President of the Institute of Public Administration, a year as NZLA Vice-President, and untiring work for the Historic Places Trust.

She retired in 1974, though not really. She continued to write and speak, and was a highly respected book reviewer for the Otago Daily Times, known for her supportive approach to authors. (Included in Laurie Bryant’s piece in the booklet is a description of Dorothy’s friendship with Janet Frame and the remarkable strength she was to Miss Frame when she was hospitalised).

The Dorothy Neal White Collection of children’s books published before 1940 was established by the National Library in 1980. (And Margaret Mahy in the book reminds us why this Collection is a “rare treasure”). In 1994 Dorothy was awarded, the QSO. She died in February 1995.

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Mary Hutton introducing John Cochrane before he launched Dorothy Neal White: a tribute at the

National Library of New Zealand, on 16 December 1998. Photo: Joan McCracken

I move now to my personal experience of Dorothy. As I can’t separate my own emergence as a young adult from knowing Dorothy and her family I will here do some scene setting. I first met Dorothy in the mid-sixties, in Dunedin. I was going out with a girl, my future wife Merus, who was a friend of Vicky’s. Before long I visited Vicky at 42 Littlebourne Road and met Dorothy, Dick and Kerry. (I might mention as an aside, but an important personal one, that Vicky is a lifelong friend, and our lives are very connected). At the time I was not long out of Otago Boys’ High School, and experiencing the kind of release that follows going from what we in the sixties considered a didactic penal farm, to the University of Otago. The campus at Otago was like an oasis after the desert.

Although I was not by nature an especially studious student, I quickly became an excited one via the teaching of lecturers like Margaret Dalziel, Jim Flynn, Lawrence Jones, Edwin Olssen, Angus Ross…. These were people of depth who were passionate about their scholarship. They seemed to know everything there was to know about their subjects, yet they challenged you, in the best way, to engage with them. All had the highest of standards and I quickly learnt that skating was… skating, and would always be detected. I also learnt that if you tried, if you worked at it, you would be treated with respect and regarded as a participant who had something to say, not an ignorant observer. You were part of the business of “finding out”.

When I first met Dorothy White, she became an important part of this theme of finding out. Initially, she seemed another remarkable adult, like some of the academics at University, but she was to be of greater influence on me, personally and professionally. At the time, I quickly realised what a lot she knew and what a stunningly intelligent, articulate person she was. And she was so interested in what you had to say, and so prepared to tell you about things she thought you should know. This sounds a double-edged compliment, but it is not. She let you know she valued what you thought, and would never put you down or patronise you. Dorothy had the knack of giving you her full attention, of conveying that what you were saying was the most amazingly interesting comment on the subject. Yet you usually went away very much better informed – not corrected, better informed – feeling you had made the breakthrough yourself. Being with her was developmental. It was a marvellous experience for a young adult – to be allowed into her world of knowledge and perspective with a safe passport. And in person Dorothy was enormously warm, witty, often delightfully arch, but unfailingly hospitable and entertaining.

Looking back later, I realised that the deep conviction Dorothy had about taking children seriously – and their reading seriously – wasn’t an abstract thing, or a box that was opened selectively. Dorothy’s world view was an integrated one. She believed in helping people to find out; about themselves and about all the things out there. She wanted the best for everyone. Least I make her sound like a plaster saint, I am aware that her strength of personality and her sense of certainty about many things, made some of her relationships difficult. She could be very certain, if not polemic, about particular concerns. But I am talking about what I knew and, in retrospect, I am still struck that this person was so prepared to give what she did to others, especially to the young.

As I moved on from university Dorothy helped me decide what to do next. I discussed with her the jobs that a BA might let me do. In those days a generic BA had some value, just as a student could feel like a student and not an EFT. Possibilities bouncing around included the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation and the University Bookshop. Dorothy, with characteristic firmness, counselled against the NZBC (they’re always restructuring) and disposed of the UBS (a career if you own the store, otherwise just a job).

Dorothy asked if I had thought about library work. (I would like to say the rest is history, but realities, if not modesty, lead me to say it has worked out pretty well.) I loved libraries, but had reservations about some of the people who worked in them. Dorothy helped me get past this stereotype and showed me what a library career might mean. She persuasively pointed out that books were no use on their own; they were for people. Libraries had a premier job in bringing the right book to the right person, in the right place at the right time. She pointed out that many librarians liked books, but didn’t like people enough. Many librarians did not know how the world worked, or did not want to work with the world as it really was. She said libraries needed people who wanted to work with realities.

I immediately applied for a job as Library Assistant at Dunedin Public Library and loved it from day one. Mary Ronnie was the City Librarian, Euan Millar (now a leader in Australian librarianship) was her Deputy. Otago University had been a deliverance for me but the world of Dunedin libraries went one better.

After a year at Library School and three years at the National Library, I returned to Dunedin to work for Jock McEldowney in the University Library for 10 years, before coming back to Wellington in 1986. Jock, Mary and Dorothy remain professional icons to me for reasons people here will understand. And they are all part of the “specialness” of Dunedin.

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Dorothy Neal White’s younger daughter, Vicky Feltham, talking about her mother at the launch of

Dorothy Neal White: a tribute, 16 December 1999. Photo: Joan McCracken

One of the pleasures of moving back to Dunedin in the mid seventies was to visit Dorothy, and Robert Ballantyne, at 125 London Street with my young children. Her delight in reading to them and discussing books with them, and their delight in being with her, seemed to epitomise everything her personal and professional life had been about.

Looking back over Dorothy’s influence, on the existence of the Dorothy Neal White Collection as a symbol of that – and the fact that we are all here this evening – it’s impossible to over-estimate her effect on New Zealand’s consciousness about books, children and reading, in the home and in the school.

Just one example, close to here, of Dorothy’s legacy: the College of Education in which I work builds key aspects of learning and teaching around good books for children. This philosophy affects students being taught how to teach, in courses on books and reading and speech and language development. It ensures also that the lesson plan materials these emerging teachers take with them to schools will include quality books. Right across the curriculum children’s books, fiction and non-fiction, feature.

Our library spends a quarter of its book budget on books for children. These are chosen by senior Library staff working from reviewing journals and liasing with senior academic staff. Last year, issues of books for children accounted for 28% of our entire circulation. If issues for School Journals were added, children’s books would be a remarkable 35.7% of the total issue. And the Journals certainly answer Dorothy’s call in About books for children for writing that is “aware of the world … that looks the present in the face … that respects the audience …” This quote from Dorothy is a good place to wind up.

If we look at books for children in New Zealand today, we see that the best of those from overseas have now been joined by an indigenous literature; books written and illustrated by New Zealanders for New Zealand children. This is a literature with its own rigour, its own awards, its own identity.

When we reflect on where librarianship for children is in New Zealand we see the same thing. New Zealand children’s librarianship is an indigenous adaptation of a library tradition from Europe and North America. It has its own past, its own present and its own future.

Dorothy Neal White has her own special place where we have arrived, and the book we are honouring and welcoming tonight helps represent this.


This is the text of the address given by former National Librarian, Mary Ronnie, at the launch of Dorothy Neal White: a tribute, at the National Library of New Zealand on 16 December 1998.

The publication which we are here to celebrate will tell of the Dorothy White whom we all knew in somewhat different ways. But there are perhaps a few comments which should be made about the Collection and its significance in the context of its location here in the National Library, which is a kind of focal point for the library system of the whole country.

Dorothy herself was a woman who had travelled early in her adult life, indeed had been to tea with Eleanor Roosevelt, but who became devoted to Dunedin and Otago as the place where she wanted to live.

In her Dunedin she expected to have access to the important literature of the world. In her professional capacity she expected the children of Dunedin (and of New Zealand) to have something of the same wide literary riches.

She would not, of course, in her public library, have had a collection like this one. Indeed she threw out what she thought of as boring and outdated. But she was delighted when the National Library set out to collect the books from the past which showed where we came from and allowed us a sufficient mass from which to take comparisons. Such a Collection was nicely placed in the nation’s central library.

But we should also not forget that Dorothy’s extra-ordinary and brilliant judgement of children’s literature was supported by wide reading in other fields. Rightly she took seriously the genre of fiction and took for granted that the publications important in that and other fields would also be available both locally and at national level.

I can remember the happy days when she was generating and bringing up Kerry and Vicky. Her lively visits to the Library gave us the chance to discuss modern novels of importance – what’s more I can remember a quince cake which was somehow taken from the pages of an Elizabeth Jenkins novel.

So we should, I suggest, be aware of this Collection not simply for itself, but also as an example of the kind of collecting policy which is so suited to the National Library, where the business of caring about the nation’s access to the world’s literature is quite as important as the capacity to winnow the chaff from the grain in the harvest of information systems.

So my hope is that this Collection in Dorothy’s name will flourish, and will serve as an example of what is and has been important in children’s literature, and that it will also be a pattern for thinking about other aspects of our intellectual history.

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Frontispiece and title page of Dorothy Neal White: a tribute


In July last year Janet Maconie, a long time member of the Society, passed away after a short illness. Janet had had a notable career in school and children’s librarianship and even in retirement worked tirelessly for schools and the Mary Patter hospice library. It would be difficult to recount all the aspects of Janet’s life in this short piece as she had diverse interests and friends and always followed up everything with great energy.

Three parts of her work are particularly worth recalling. She worked as a reference librarian in Lower Hutt Public Library specialising in work with young people at a time when there were few people making any attempt to cater for this age group. Later she worked as a school librarian at Naenae College when the library assistant scheme in secondary schools was started and quickly turned what was meant to be a clerical and technical job into full scale librarianship. She published pamphlets and booklists and assisted at many courses for school library staff.

Finally she came to the staff of the School Library Service as a secondary library advisor where she had responsibility for a number of schools in New Zealand as well as helping to produce the publications intended to help school library staff.

The staff of the Service looked forward to the time when Janet returned from her working trips because she always had a good story to tell with her observant eye and ear for language. She carried out the first tenet of good library service to children, the right book for the right child at the right time. She went to no end of trouble to track down information that children wanted and she read so much herself that she was always able to suggest a good title for a reluctant reader.

Janet Maconie was certainly an exponent of everything that Dorothy Neal White had pioneered.

Trevor Mowbray


In recent months I have had several opportunities to promote both the Dorothy Neal White and National Children’s Collections. Visiting groups have included the University of the Third Age and the Auckland Historical Society. Malcolm McKinnon interviewed me about the Dorothy Neal White Collection, as part of his investigations for the National Library’s millennium project. In January Sydney Shep brought a number of Wellington-based MLIS students to visit the collections. Five students have since used the collections when researching assignments.

A Children’s literature collections Fact Sheet was produced in early October. The Fact Sheet describes the size and scope of the Dorothy Neal White, National Children’s and Susan Price Collections and the children’s literature resources held by the Alexander Turnbull Library.

In mid September Lisa Mullis began working part-time on the project to upgrade bibliographic records for the Dorothy Neal White Collection. This project, initiated with the award from the Macklin Bequest Fund, is continuing under a Trustees Research Grant. From mid November Lisa has been working full time.

Ruth Lightbourne, Collection Development, has selected a new display of books from the Dorothy Neal White Collection. This display contrasts the kinds of books that were available to children through their public libraries in the 1920s with those of the late 1930s, showing changes in content, style of illustration and physical appearance. Dorothy Neal (later Dorothy Neal White), in Dunedin, and Kathleen Harvey, in Wellington, were largely responsible for these changes in Library collections. Both had been awarded a scholarship in 1936 to study children’s librarianship at the Carnegie Library School in Pittsburgh, and were New Zealand’s first specialist children’s librarians. The display can be seen in the Dorothy Neal White Collection case in the foyer of the National Library building, near the entrance to the Reference area.

Lynne Jackett

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Illustration by Walter Crane from The cuckoo clock, by Mrs Molesworth (London: Macmillan, 1919) p72,

currently on display in the National Library foyer.


Books – Notes – Authors no 7 – our new publication celebrating the life of our namesake and founding patron Dorothy Neal White (see notices elsewhere in the newsletter), will make an excellent gift for all those interested in children’s literature in New Zealand.

Greeting cards featuring work of New Zealand illustrators Robyn Belton, Ruth Paul, Tracey Moroney, Philip Webb, Jill McDonald, Karen Oppatt, Gwenda Turner, and Caroline Campbell are available from the National Library Shop at a cost of $2.75 each or $19.80 for a set of eight. Work by these artists was featured in the National Library Gallery exhibition Show me!

Wellington Children’s Book Association has produced a set of five bookmarks. Illustrated by Bob Kerr, Christine Ross, Clare Bowes, Kerry Gemmill and Penny Newman, they are available by mail from Bea Hamer, 256 Cockayne Road, Ngaio. Please enclose $2.00 for each set, together with a suitably sized stamped addressed envelope.

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Illustration by Karen Oppatt, from Far away moon by Jane Buxton (Wellington: Learning Media, 1996).

Produced as a card in conjunction with the exhibition Show me!, by the National Library Gallery, 1998.


We congratulate our patron, Margaret Mahy, for her achievement in winning in 1998 the first A W Reed Lifetime Achievement Award.


The AGM of the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection will be held on Monday 15 March 1999, in the Auditorium foyer, Lower Ground Floor, National Library Building (entrance off Aitken Street). Proceedings will begin at 5.30pm with drinks and nibbles, followed by the AGM at 6.00pm. After the meeting Friends will have the opportunity of touring the new home of the Dorothy Neal White Collection, guided by Curator Lynne Jackett and former Curator Mary Atwool. To conclude the evening’s activities the will be a sale of books.

As usual the agenda will include the appointment of officers. All current members of the committee are happy to stand again, but nominations for new committee members are very welcome. If you are interested in supporting the Friends in this way please contact the President, Mary Hutton (475 9268), or Secretary, Alison Grant (476 4320), for further information.

Also to be discussed is the proposed change to the Society’s financial year (see note below from Trevor Mowbray), subscriptions, the year’s events, and future publications. If you wish to add any other matters to the agenda please contact Alison or Mary (numbers above).

The current committee:

President:Mary HuttonSecretary:Alison Grant

Treasurer:Trevor Mowbray

Other committee members:Mary Atwool, Audrey Cooper, Julie Eberly, Lynne Jackett, Carmel Jones and Joan McCracken.


The committee proposes that the financial year of the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection be changed. In fact we wish to revert to what it was originally and what is set out in the Constitution – that is from 1 April to 31 March. It was changed some years ago to 1 July to 30 June fit in with the government department method of accounting. As this is no longer relevant, and is confusing to members, we believe changing back to the former method will benefit the society.

The practical effect of this is that we will extend the last subscription year from 1 July 1997 to 31 March 1999, and we will start collecting subscriptions for the new financial year from the date of the AGM on 15 March 1999. The few people who have paid new subscriptions since 30 June 1998 will be considered to have paid for the 1999 year.


For those unable to attend the Annual General Meeting we have enclosed a Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection leaflet which includes a subscription form. Please complete and return it to the Treasurer, PO Box 12-499, Wellington. The Society’s numbers are falling so please encourage your friends and family with an interest in children’s literature to join.


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