Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker, Little Love, 2021
Kate Parker’s Kōwhai and the Giants gets three big ticks from me. Unlike many children’s books it provides details on the illustrations along with an author bio. I like this. I wish all children’s books did it. Two very big ticks. The third big tick is really a whole forest of ticks because the writing and the illustrations are dreamy and gorgeous and important.
Kate Parker is of Ngāti Maniapoto, English and Greek descent, and grew up riding horses and bush roaming in Kāeo, in the Far North. She is a theatre-maker and an artist living in West Auckland. A perfect place for someone who loves wildlife, the bush and the sea.
Kate’s artworks for the book were created during an artist’s residency at Anawhata and were displayed at the Arataki Visitors Centre in 2017. The work is back up at the Centre until May 3rd. The images were made from hand-cut paper, put in plywood boxes and lit from behind (see image above). As illustrations in a book they work so beautifully – magical, luminescent and, like much poetry, they offer complexity and simplicity. A sweet sweet combination in a picture book.
I live in a house in a clearing in the bush and can see the tail end of the Waitākere ranges. Our cabbage trees are in flower at the moment and the kererū are going crazy for the blooms. They whoosh and flap, fast and loud, from one tree to the next. In the bush where we live the kauri and tōtara are growing up amongst the mānuka and kānuka. The regenerating bush is something to protect and to celebrate.
A kōwhai tree is at the centre of Kate’s book. We see everything through the tree’s eyes. The story begins when Aotearoa was rich in tree and bird life, but without people. We are then carried along to the the arrival of the first people (the Māori), and later to the arrival and hunger of the second comers (the settlers). So many forests were wiped out after the second comers arrived, the natural habitat of the birds threatened.
Three words resonate for me: breath, birdsong and hope. The story is so exquisitely crafted: simple, poetic, vital. My ears and eyes look and listen harder. I am reminded of the way the forest is a living breathing entity. I am reminded of the way we can stand still in the bush and hear native birdsong. I am also reminded of how stories and poems breathe and sing. Kate’s story is alive with breath and song – and out of that comes hope. I love that.
Kōwhai called out, and her voice
was mist and wind and rustling wings.
Some heard her. Others did not.
She held her arms wide, but she could
not stop the great giants falling.
I am feeling such terrible sadness at what we have lost and are still losing as I read this book. Tree sadness. Planet sadness. BUT this is a story of hope. Yes I am still feeling morning sadness but HOPE is in the carried seed, the planted seed, the little actions that are the tiny steps to help our planet (okay I know we need the bigger steps that Governments must put in place) but little steps can help too. Hope is in the native birds dropping seeds on the bush where I live.
Kōwhai and the Giants is clearly written by an author and artist who cares about our planet and wants to do something to help. An information page tells you to be native-plant detectives and discover more about planting native seeds / seedlings in whichever neighbourhood you live in. Once upon a time all kinds of ferns and trees and vines would have lived there!
So YES a FOREST of TICKS for Kōwhai and the Giants. It is an essential book to share with children. It is a terrific starting point for discussions – and a springboard for plantings both in the soil and in children’s own stories and artwork. A sublime gift gifted out of aroha and mahi. Thank you.
$3 from the sale of each book goes to Forest & Bird. You can find more information and activities and their website.
Kate Parker website
Little Love page
Kōwhai and the Giants FB page