When Dame Lynley Dodd meets her young readers, she seems to learn an awful lot about what their pets get up to.
The under-5 crowd are always keen to tell her about what Mittens or Fluffy did when they caught a mouse last week, the celebrated children's author says ahead of an exhibition of her illustrations in Lower Hutt.
"Most of the questions the very young ones ask are not questions at all. If I say what my cat does, they'll put their hand up and say what their cat does.
"Then their teacher will say, 'Hold on a minute, that's not a question.' But I love hearing those stories."
Connecting with her young audience is important in order to keep the ideas fresh, she says.
"It's always nice to meet the youngsters because what I do is pretty solitary. It's important to know who your audience is."
With her career now spanning four decades, more than 100 of her illustrations will be on display in Lynley Dodd: A Retrospective at The Dowse Art Museum this weekend.
While Hairy Maclary is sure to be represented, there will also be illustrations from early life studies, other children's books and some from her latest books.
It is nice to be able to show work beyond the motley crew of Hairy Maclary and his doggy friends, she says.
"I think it is quite important because they are not the only ones I do. But everyone tends to get locked into Hairy Maclary and forget that.
"Although Hairy Maclary is pretty special, because he started so much of my other work."
The 1974 book My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes, written by Dodd's cousin-in-law Eve Sutton, was the first children's book she illustrated, and still holds a special place in her heart.
"It was the first book for both of us. That was special simply because neither of us ever thought we'd be published. It was a wonderful feeling to get that out there."
That picture book is still a favourite with young readers and is still in print four decades later.
Part of keeping the ideas flowing is listening to the stories of friends and family, Dodd says.
"Usually the best stories come from what one observes around us, whether it's people or animals or nature. I store up those things when I see them or think about them as a seed to come back to."
Lynley Dodd: A Retrospective is at The Dowse, 45 Laings Rd, Lower Hutt, until October 28.
This Sunday, July 22, Dame Lynley will be at The Dowse for a children's book signing from 11am.
Call The Dowse on 04 570 6500 to make a booking.
- The Dominion Post
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