Kids' book expert throws support behind Dame Lynley Dodd after accusations Hairy Maclary outdated, lacks diversity

A children's book expert is throwing her support behind Dame Lynley Dodd after accusations the beloved author's work is outdated and lacks gender diversity.

Dodd, who has written 34 books, is best known for her story Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy, which was first published in 1983.

But a recent study from Perth in Western Australia has taken aim at several children's books, suggesting they "perpetuate outdated stereotypes".

The study by senior childhood researcher Dr Helen Adam of Edith Cowan University looked at several classic children's books and found many reinforced traditional gender roles.

In an article on Edith Cowan's website Dr Helen said books such as Harry the Dirty Dog, Where the Wild Things Are, Hairy MacLary and Possum Magic are fantastic classics, but they don't accurately reflect the diversity of the modern world.

"They're the same titles which have been sitting on bookshelves for decades – which my research has shown can raise some issues given they often portray a world which is far different from society in the 2020s," she said.

The study looked at frequently read books in day care centres in Australia and the US and found around 90 percent of them are not inclusive of diverse characters and are largely told from a white, male perspective.

"New research has revealed children's books are perpetuating outdated stereotypes of gender roles including boys playing sport, doing physical work and girls as passive onlookers," the study release on the ECU website said.

Dame Lynley was asked whether she was aware of the criticism 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 said.

Co-founder of children's book website 'The Sapling', Sarah Forster, told AM while she doesn't like when "political correctness" is blamed, she can't see an issue with Dame Lynley's books.

"I am not a big fan of the words PC gone mad, the reality is there are harmful stereotypes that have been harming children through their perpetuation for a long time. I am not saying they are in Hairy Maclary, I love Hairy Maclary, I think Dame Lynley is wonderful, but I am saying I think using the words political correctness is quite a dog-whistle way of putting it," Forster told AM's Ryan Bridge on Tuesday.

Forster also defended Dr Adams saying she's not telling people not to read Hairy Maclary, but is instead pointing out it's important to read other books as well.

"I did see Helen Adam speaking about it and she's saying she's not saying 'don't use those books, don't read those books'. She's saying, 'Read other books as well and create new classics'."

Forster said while some older books aren't appropriate anymore, Hairy Maclary isn't one of them.

"The emotional tie we have to our favourite books from childhood is really strong. I do believe there are books that, and again not Hairy Maclary, but there are books that probably don't need to be in everyday use anymore," she said.

"But these are mostly the books from the fifties and sixties. I found myself trying to read a book from that era to my childhood and going, 'Oh, no, I can't. I can't read that anymore, that's not something that I think they will understand or I'll have to have a whole conversation about this, about how things were'."

Forster said children's books do tend to contain stereotypes of boys being the lead and girls being sidekicks, but she said she's not sure Hairy Maclary needs to be of too much concern.

"I just want people to pay attention to that stuff occasionally when you're publishing a book or reading a book to your child… I don't think it's important to have all dogs be female or all dogs be male, but it would be great to have a little bit of both," she said.

Forster also credited Dame Lynley for putting New Zealand authors on the world stage.

"I think she's wonderful and a lot of people have her to thank for the fact that New Zealand children's books have an international profile."