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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
House that Jack Built (The)
by Gavin Bishop
Age Range: 6-8
New Zealand author and illustrator Gavin Bishop uses a familiar nursery rhyme ,This is the House that Jack Built to tell the story of Aotearoa, (New Zealand) in the 19th century. When Jack Bull arrives from England in 1798 he brings goods to trade with the Tane Mahuta (indigenous people, the Maori). Jack builds his house from trees stolen from the Maori and over the coming years more Pakehá, (new settlers) put pressure on the Maori to give up their land so that they can build more houses, farms and towns. The settlers tempt them with their iron pots, nails and woollen blankets that they have for sale but the prices are often too high. Eventually the Maori land is divided and sold; they often succumb to the terrible European diseases that have been brought into the country and as a result thousands die. In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi fails to bind Maori and Pakehá together leading to the Land Wars.
Bishop has created a picture book with two strands - the text is based on the nursery rhyme telling the story of Jack Bull’s arrival in New Zealand and British colonisation while the detailed contemporary illustrations give a Maori perspective of what happened to their land and culture. Symbols of Maori mythology appear throughout. The eyes of the gods that stare out of each page belong to Papatuanuku, the earth mother, Ranginui the sky father and their children who are guardians of the land. As the story progresses and the settlers’ presence becomes stronger so the eyes become smaller showing Papuatanuku’s spirit to weaken and fade.
The illustrations are stunning with their brown hues combined with the rich primary colours charting the growth and development of the British settlement. Bishop creates elaborate borders on each spread to tell Maori myths in both illustration and text, some of which is in the Maori language. The last pages of the book show the struggle between the Maori and Pakehá that was recorded on the walls of a wharenui (a communal house of the Maori people), in a folk-art style blending traditional Maori and European art forms.
This is a beautiful and unusual picture that holds a poignant environmental as well as cultural message. There is so much symbolism in the visual narrative on every page making it a thought-provoking insight into the colonisation of New Zealand as well as the history of the Maori people. An ideal book to use in the classroom and there is an activity sheet available to download from the Gecko Press website http://www.geckopress.com