Friday, 17 November 2006

Kiwi Moon, by Gavin Bishop, 2005

KIWI MOON Gavin Bishop, Random House, Auckland New Zealand, 2005, 32 pages, hardback, NZ$29.95 ISBN 1-86941-674-0

This handsomely-presented picture book is Gavin Bishop’s most original work, a high point in his already distinguished career.

At first reading, Kiwi Moon is a poignant and sometimes lyrical account of an albino kiwi’s struggle to adapt to a forest world where his white colour means the insects can see him coming. Feeling a bond with the moon - Te Marama, complete with moko – he begs to be allowed to live with her, but she reminds him that he is only a bird. Little Kiwi finds his “glowing bright” appearance useful, when he drives off Maori hunting dogs that are attacking his mother, and when he leads a Pakeha settler’s lost child back to her farmhouse. Then a bushfire provides a terrible threat but also gives Little Kiwi a chance to achieve a mythic status.

Bishop’s beautiful illustrations work on several levels, with each scrutiny revealing more information. Contained within the pictures is a second story about the people whose activities affect Little Kiwi’s forest. While Little Kiwi, his mother, and the other birds are shown in muted nocturnal colours occupying the foreground, they are surrounded by smaller pictures – the monoprints that Bishop developed for Weaving Earth and Sky (2002) - showing fern fronds, leaves and the insects that Little Kiwi is hunting. Even smaller pen and ink drawings show night-time activities around a hilltop pa: warriors make a challenge, a chief dies and hunters pursue kiwi (yes, those kiwi) with blazing torches. Then the pa burns and the warriors face ranks of soldiers, the hillside is cleared, trees are cut down or burned and settlers graze cows among the stumps.
While the narratives deal with serious and sometimes sad matters, the conclusion is not a negative one. Little Kiwi watches fern fronds springing up from the soil while two girls – Maori and Pakeha – share a skipping rhyme.
I can see you, Kiwi Moon,
Will you make my wish come true
If I count to ten for you?
One, two, three, four, five…

Skilful blending of words and illustrations make Kiwi Moon a classic of the future, a book to be treasured and enjoyed on many levels.

Trevor Agnew

Originally published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, on Feb 11th 2006

Glossary of Maori words:
Kiwi: Flightless New Zealand bird, apteryx
Pa: Fortified site
Pakeha: Non-Maori person, European
Te Marama: The Moon (personified)

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