- Belonging and Differentiating: Aspects of New Zealand National Identity Reflected in the New Zealand Picture Book Collection (NZPBC)
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Although we all use the term “national identity” confidently, defining what constitutes an individual’s or group’s sense of how they belong to a place and a citizenship is not easy. Jeffries defines national identity as “a shared sense of belonging of a group of people that depends on a common area of named place, a common set of beliefs and values, and positive feelings for a specific named geographical area” (4). Fox defines it as the “characteristics a society (or nation) feels its members share that distinguish it from others” (44). Meeks describes national identity as a way of differentiating between “us” and “others,” and explains “the role that children’s literature plays in the development of children’s understandings of both belonging…and differentiation” (x). What all these definitions share is a rejection of a static, essentialist view of identity (not only of national identity, but also of gender and ethnic identity) and an acceptance that national identity is forged through interactions between individuals and their environment. “People are seen as being involved in continuous negotiation of different aspects of their identity…based on the new norms, practices and situations which they encounter in their everyday interactions” (Jamarani 2). This letter examines a collection of picture books from New Zealand in terms of how they reflect and thus contribute to the negotiation of the national identity of children.
To date, several researchers have indicated a strong link between New Zealand national identity and its children’s literature (Hebley et al). The recent A Made Up Place explores the reflection of New Zealand identity in young adult fiction through a series of topics including sport, money, religion, history and Maori Gothic (see the Reviews section of this issue of Bookbird for a fuller discussion). Hebley’s doctoral dissertation draws attention to the frequency with which two landscapes feature in New Zealand children’s fiction published between 1970 and 1989: seascapes (no New Zealander [End Page 73] lives more that 130km from the sea), and volcanoes (tectonic activity is a part of the national conscious as New Zealand lies on a fault line).
Moore explores national identity through the visual imagery used in The New Zealand School Journal, a magazine produced for use in New Zealand schools. She argues that, while the role of art in New Zealand has been discussed with relation to national identity, illustrations have not been included in such analyses. Yet as a longstanding publication for use in New Zealand schools, The School Journal “has offered us many ways to imagine ourselves as a kind of community of possibilities—always becoming” (23). Moore shows how this idea of a community that is “always becoming” is revealed through images of New Zealand’s flora and fauna, and through references to Maori visual culture.
Thus, to date, research has indicated a strong link between New Zealand national identity and New Zealand children’s literature in a number of ways including landscape (sea and volcanic), visual and textual references to flora and fauna, and visual and linguistic references to Maori culture. Jeffries’s examination of national identity in New Zealand children’s picture books has indicated that this is a poor category of literature for dealing with New Zealand identity. However, given my previous work with parents who reported on the importance of the picture book for developing the national identity of their children after a month reading a set of 13 New Zealand picture books to their children, I believe this warrants further investigation.
New Zealand has been inhabited by the Maori for approximately the last 1,000 years, and was “discovered” by a Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, in 1642. Whalers and sealers began traveling to New Zealand; a great deal of British activity then followed which led, in 1840, to the signing of a treaty between the chiefs of many (but not all) New Zealand Maori tribes and the British crown. The ethnic diversity of present-day New Zealand society grows with each census. The most recent census...