Children’s Book Festival 2013

Author illustrator Lynley Dodd with a fan

Author illustrator Lynley Dodd with a fan

As a writer, I experience vicarious joy in the celebration of other writers. And celebrations don’t come more joyful than at the Children’s Book Festival, held annually in Melbourne by The Wheeler Centre in partnership with the State Library of Victoria.

It was standing room only at Sunday’s festival when New Zealand author-illustrator Lynley Dodd arrived on stage for an ‘in conversation’ with Michael Williams at the Wheeler Centre. Dodd is best known as the creator of the Hairy Maclary and friends series and, in the lead up to her appearance, all through the audience, people were reading the stories aloud in a John Cage-like symphony of animal noises.

It is 30 years since Hairy Maclary burst forth from Donaldson’s Dairy, the first of 20 books featuring the ‘bumptious and breezy’ terrier, his canine friends and his feline counterpart Slinky Malinki (‘rapscallion cat’), not to mention Scarface Claw, ‘the toughest tom in town’.

In a nice touch, children in the audience were invited to ask most of the questions during the session. Many asked about animals that inspired the various characters in the books. My favourite question from the floor: ‘Why is Bottomley Potts all covered in spots?’


Contributing to the Neverending Story

In response to a question about where she got her ideas, Lynley said she has ‘ideas antennae’ and collects ideas in notebooks. She recommended all aspiring writers keep ideas books.

Asked by one child in the audience to tell a story, Lynley recounted a true story from New Zealand of a baby seal that wandered out of the sea, along Welcome Bay Road, up to the back door of a house, through the cat-flap and into the lounge-room, where it made itself comfortable on the couch. The surprised home-owner contacted the SPCA, who took the seal away in the back of a van. But the seal escaped and made its way into the front seat, where it managed to turn on the radio.

‘But if I tried to write this up as a story,’ Lynley said, ‘people would say, “Oh, dear, she’s really lost it this time”.’

When my seven-year-old and I had the good fortune to cross paths with Lynley later in Little Lonsdale Street, she proved as delightful and gracious in person as she was on stage.


Bernard Caleo demonstrates the best thing you can do with your life ever.

This being the third year in a row we’ve attended the festival, my daughter and I are getting quite proficient at planning our day. We pore over the action-packed program in advance to set priorities and pace ourselves.

Her top workshop pick was comic book making with Bernard Caleo, director of Graphic Novels! Melbourne!, comic book artist and producer. Bernard began the session by telling the crowd of impressionable youngsters that ‘making comics is simply the best thing you can do with your life ever.’ By the end, I think many agreed with him.

While she wasn’t up to adding to The Great Wall of Comics assembled by 100 Story Building, my daughter did manage contribute to the Never Ending Story evolving from a marquee on Little Lonsdale Street, and wrote a book for the Kids Own Publishing Book Cubby.

We spent more time outside than in previous years, making the most of glorious weather, arriving late morning to witness Rhys Muldoon on the Stage Lawn at the State Library, winning hearts and minds with an upbeat song about poo.

We crossed paths with Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter, the latter reciting The Jabberwock to a rapt audience. This led us naturally to A caterpillar, a gryphon and the Jabberwock, an exhibition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books in the Library’s Cowen Gallery.

Later in the day we ended up back on the State Library lawns, grooving with Nikki Ashby and the Proppa Deadly Crew, followed by The List Operators, who had both of us laughing our heads off — and my seven-year-old’s not easy to impress.

More than twenty-four hours later, we are still re-living the highlights of the day. And singing an upbeat song about poo.

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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8 Responses to Children’s Book Festival 2013

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Angela – It sounds as though this was a really good experience. And I am a big fan of anything that connects young people with reading and writing so it’s good to hear there are events like this that draw children in.


  2. But for those of us so old that we’ve missed out on Hairy Maclary, you must tell us…why IS Bottomley Potts all covered in spots? 😉


  3. kathy d. says:

    Fabulous event. Seems like adults like it as much as children. Glad your fan had a great time and loves books and authors.


  4. kathy d. says:

    That’s fantastic. A romance with books starting so young and one can count on for a lifetime, always a book or two or three to read — and so many choices now.
    I must say I wish we had Hairy MaClary books over here. They sound like a lot of fun.


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