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Hairy Maclary controversy: Entrepreneur calls for diversity in new books instead of criticizing classics

Dr Helen Adam told Newshub while she’s a big Lynley Dodd fan, Hairy Maclary doesn’t reflect our more diverse culture in which attitudes to gender and cultural background have changed.

“It’s really important that children today see books that reflect today’s world as well. Keep the classics but ensure that the bookshelves are diverse and reflect different ways of being and different ways of living,” she said.

It’s a view backed by entrepreneur Nuwanthie Samarakone and The Period Place founder Danika Revell who told AM on Tuesday they both love Hairy Maclary, but it’s important to include more diverse books as well.

Samarakone said the study raised some really interesting questions.

“The points are really valid,” she said. “My view on that, though, is let’s not just dive into some of those wonderful books, let’s just leave them as is but go forward with some real thinking around inclusivity.”

Revell agreed, saying there are a range of fantastic books out there that parents can add to their kids’ libraries.

She said she reads Hairy Maclary to her sons almost every day but also makes a conscious effort to include more inclusive books as well.

“I’ve got… two little boys and I have made such a conscious effort to purchase books that have females as the main character because I want to try and get more diversity in the books,” she said.

“And I have found that… the animal characters always seem to be blokes so I just change the name or I change the pronoun or I ask – we were talking about Donaldson’s dairy – and I asked, ‘Who owns Donaldson’s Dairy? Is it Mr Donaldson or is it Mrs Donaldson?”

AM host Ryan Bridge meanwhile joked that perhaps the Hairy Maclary books were actually sexist towards men because of their portrayal of Slinky Malinki the thieving cat.

“There are]huge gender stereotypes going on here with him being a male,” Bridge joked. “Obviously, it’s implying that only males are thieves and I’m horrified by it.”

Earlier in the show AM host Melissa Chan-Green and fill-in newsreader Nicky Styris shared their views on the book as well.

“You can find fault in anything if you read it and look hard enough,” Styris said. “I think sometimes we are overthinking things. Just let kids be kids, let parents read to their children.”

Chan-Green agreed, saying she loved the book.

“It does seem crazy that anyone would have an issue with Hairy Maclary, it’s a lovely rhyming book that kids get a lot of enjoyment out of.”

But she also pointed out Dr Adam wasn’t saying the book couldn’t be read anymore.

“In [Dr Adam’s] defence, and kinda playing a bit of devil’s advocate here, because if you think about all the amazing books we have now, these modern-day books, a lot of those are more reflective of our diverse society,” she said.

“I think what she’s saying is as parents we tend to go to your classics and read the old books that we love, but there are a lot of new, modern books that are really reflective of our society and we should be making sure we are reading a wide range so we are also exposing our kids to the new thinking and the new books and new messages,” Chan-Green said.

Dame Lynley hit back at the criticism on the weekend, suggesting it was “crazy” and due to political correctness.

She was asked about the study in an interview with RNZ on Saturday.

“What stereotypes are they talking about?” she asked, to which RNZ host Kim Hill responded, “male and female.”

“Oh for goodness sake,” Dame Lynley told RNZ. “I have actually got a female… I’m just looking at the pile of books I’ve got on the table at the moment… I’ve got Susie Fogg [A Dragon In a Wagon] and also, one has to remember that lady dogs have certain times when they’re not supposed to be out gallivanting anyway,” she added.

“Isn’t it crazy, people are just too politically correct,” Dame Lynley concluded.

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