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"Dear Dot" book

News about Keith Scott 's new book: Dear Dot - I must tell you - A personal history of young New Zealanders.

This the story of the Children’s Correspondence Column in the Otago Witness told through the letters to “Dot” from Otago children and teenagers.

Dot’s Little Folk in the Otago Witness, one of New Zealand’s oldest and greatest newspapers that was circulated all over the country and overseas, was the first correspondence column for children in a New Zealand newspaper. It became the largest feature column of any kind in the history of New Zealand journalism, and it gave rise to a youth movement, that can only be called a culture.

The letters to “Dot” record the triumphs and tragedies of everyday lives. They are the thoughts and feelings of children, teenagers, and young adults of years long passed. Through their letters they created the first Facebook. At the turn of the twentieth century, they turned out the first Twitter.

This is a book of voices. It is the shouts of the boys out rabbiting on a Saturday. It is the laughter of the girls when they ambush the boys with snowballs. It is the self-conscious chuckling of young men over a rude joke when there are no parents to hear. It is the anxious questions of young women about becoming “ladies”, put to parents who can hear, but who are not listening.

This is a book of pictures painted with words. There are simple sketches of a local picnic, and there are canvasses, epic in proportion, of troop trains leaving the station, and ships filled with soldiers sailing from the shore.

This is a book of footsteps. It is the skip on the stair on a sunlit summer Christmas morning, and the trudging through the mud on a wet winter’s day on the long walk to school. It is the light step of a slipper in a waltz. It is the heavy tramping of boots, on the way to a war.

This is a book of lifetimes. It is 1896. A brother and sister settle at the dining room table. It is the night they write to Dot at the paper. The mantle clock ticks away the hour. Mamma appears at the door to tell them it is bedtime. It is 1916. The sister has managed a few moments of peace and quiet, her man is away at the war. He left with her brother. She settles herself at the dining room table and takes up pen and paper. The brother has no such quiet. Silence is not to be had on the Somme. But they are both writing, to Dot. It is 1926. The brother has returned, and is still trying to make sense of a world he no longer knows. The sister’s world has changed too, because her man did not come home.

But no matter where they are, or how old, it is always the same. Chins are cupped in hands, wondering how to begin. The smile comes, because something funny has happened, or the tears come, because something has been lost. Brows furrow and the world withdraws, as they write the first words that begin every picture they paint, every step they take, and every tale they tell.

Dear Dot, I must tell you…

About the Author:

Keith Scott holds a First Class Bachelor of Arts Honours in History and German from the University of Otago. He is a freelance historian and writer and lives in Dunedin. In 2009 he published Before ANZAC, Beyond Armistice, a social history of Central Otago and its soldiers during the First World War.

He was awarded a research grant (2011) by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to assist in the writing of this work.


Updated on 23rd July 2015