14 September 2008

Katarina is a classic

Katarina, one of Gavin Bishop's early picture books (first published in 1990), is back in print, now as one of Random House's New Zealand Classic series, and rightly so too.
This is the true story of Gavin's great aunt Katarina, a young Maori woman living in the 1860s, the time of the goldrush and the Maori wars. She falls in love with a Scot and follows him to Otago, leaving her family behind in the Waikato. She learns to live the pioneering way, but somehow never forgets her roots. She makes a trip home as the land wars are breaking out and must quickly find her way back to her new home.
Gavin's illustrations are sensitive and evocative of the times, sketched in pencil and sepia watercolours that take you back in time to share the experience of Katarina as she goes through the great changes in her life. The illustrations let us see the changes in accommodation - from whare to tent to colonial weatherboard. There's just the right scattering of Maori language - I understand what is meant even if I don't know the exact words. The final phrase - Mate kainga tahi, ora kainga rua - A person is lucky indeed to have two homes rather than one - sums up Katarina's life - she's moved into the new colonial ways, but never forgotten where she came from and the old ways. May we all go on remembering, thanks to those like Gavin who ensure we will always have stories to help us do so.