If I had to pick one picture book that is quintessentially New Zealand, I would choose Gavin Bishop’s The House That Jack Built. Gavin’s multi-layered story, based on the traditional rhyme, contains our history within it’s pages, told from both a Maori and a Pakeha perspective. It is a picture book in which you discover something new or get a slightly different meaning from each time you read it. Now, thanks to the wonderful Gecko Press who have reprinted the book in a stunning new format, a new generation of New Zealanders can enjoy this important book.
On the surface, it’s the story of Jack Bull, who travels to New Zealand from London as a new settler in 1798. This is one of those brilliant picture books where the words tell a completely different story from the illustrations. The end papers show us the reality of Jack’s life in London in 1798 and we see him with his cart of possessions and the red door that comes to symbolise Pakeha society. In the next few pages we follow Jack’s ocean voyage on a map and see the list of goods that he has brought to trade with the natives. Throughout the rest of the story Gavin portrays the effect that Pakeha colonisation had on the local Maori, from trading land and food for clothes and weapons, to the loss of culture and the deaths in the New Zealand Wars.
The House That Jack Built is a book that should be in every home, school, and library around New Zealand. It’s an important book to help us remember who we are and where we’ve come from. For those readers not in New Zealand the story will also be relevant as it applies to any colonial history. Gavin Bishop is our master of the picture book and this is the best example of how he gets his message across visually. He weaves the Maori and Pakeha strands of the story together and shows us through the illustrations, how Maori were assimilated into the Pakeha world. The publisher, Gecko Press, deserves a huge amount of praise for, not only bringing this book back into print, but also for producing a gorgeous edition in a larger format than the original and printed on high quality paper. Buying a copy of The House That Jack Built and sharing it with your family is the perfect way to celebrate Waitangi Day on 6 February.
5 out of 5 stars
The House That Jack Built is being published to coincide with Waitangi Day (6 February) and will be launched at the Porirua Festival of the Elements on Waitangi Day 2012 with author/illustrator Gavin Bishop.