Once upon a time, when the land was new, and time
and memory were just beginning, a giant began to
grow out of the rich earth.
The Song of Kauri is a stunning picture book. It's a creative non-fiction story about a kauri seedling growing until its a giant - a kaumatua of the forest. From its great height it sees the changes around it - good and bad. Written in lyrical text - its a mythical and timeless tale. It will encourage children to be empathetic towards these gentle giants, which are in danger of Kauri die-back. A little note on the imprint page reminds us to scrub our shoes before going on forest walks and to keep to the tracks - to help prevent spreading the disease.
Scholastic have gone the extra mile with this book; it's hardback with a satin embossed koru on the front cover. The endpapers look textured - so much so you want to stroke it. The story itself is on glossy paper with illustration edges softened, with the koru and other symbols imprinted on the text page. The book is also available in te reo Maori.
Melinda Szymanik won the Children's Choice with her 'Were Nana' picture book in 2009 and she was shortlisted this year with her junior fiction novel 'On a Winter's Day in 1939' at the NZ Post, and the LIANZA awards.
The Song of Kauri is Dominique Ford's third picture book (Moonrabbit, Secrets). She is a new star in the illustration world. Dominique created the illustrations in collage, watercolour pencil, acrylic paint and digital media.
The Song of Kauri is highly recommended for Primary (Year 2 upwards) and Intermediate schools, and for lovers of beautiful books. Teachers could read it to start a unit on caring for the environment.
I asked Melinda Szymanik five quick fire questions:
1. Where did you get the idea from?
The inspiration for the story came from an animated short shown before a film festival movie I went to see years ago. The ending of this short film captivated me and became the ending of the book. As we walked out of the theatre I turned to my husband and said that it would make a great picture book. It just took me a few years to write it.
2. What did you think when you received the first proofs of the book?
I was stunned by the illustrations right from the beginning - they were beyond what I had imagined. Illustrator Dominique Ford did a fantastic job and the book designers, Luke and Vida Kelly then added their magic to make a beautiful book.
3. What underlying message do you think this book imparts to readers?
I wanted to show the beauty, strength and consistency of nature. How it transcends the changing needs and desires of humanity, and endures despite us. That nature may not continue to endure if we continue to ignore or mistreat it.
4. People will have different interpretations about what is happening at the end of the story. what were you thinking when you wrote the ending?
I think the ending 'is' open to a lot of different interpretations and I liked that. When I wrote it I was thinking about Kauri just letting go of his old life and trying something new. I liked the idea that the birds repaid his kindness by letting him experience their freedom. Nature too is a community. Or you could see this as the tree dying and its seeds being dispersed by the birds to grow new trees. You could see this as a cautionary note about what will happen if we fail to take care of the environment as Kauri will disappear. Humanity and everything associated with it is a burden on nature and perhaps one day nature will stop trying to persist. You could also see this in a religious framework, with death and ascension; or death and rebirth.
5. Where are you having your book launch?
I am having a book launch in the Dunningham Suite at the Dunedin Public Library on Friday August 1st at 5.30pm.
Reviewed by Maria Gill