Kidsarus 2 (K2)

1978 – c.1985

Kidsarus 2 (K2)

1978 – c.1985

Theme: Arts and crafts

This essay written by Pauline Reynolds Neale was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

Kidsarus 2 Incorporated (K2 to its members) was a feminist collective which, between 1981 and 1984, produced high quality, award-winning picture story books for New Zealand children. The collective grew out of a Wellington writing group of Pākehā women and men, friends and neighbours, who were concerned that New Zealand's cultural diversity was rarely reflected in the few books produced locally for young children. A related issue was the need for such books to be not only well written but also well illustrated, in full colour. The cost of such production was, however, prohibitive, and government help was limited at that time to one annual printing subsidy from the Literary Fund.

The best way to get the desired result was to provide established book publishers with attractive cash subsidies. Money was also needed to pay illustrators a worthwhile advance on royalties, so that they could make a reasonable time commitment to one book. Excellent stories were of course essential too.

In 1978, about six people from the writing group formed Kidsarus 2 as an incorporated society, in order to obtain funding, seek out scripts and sample illustrations, and persuade commercial publishers to work with them as co-producers. They took their name from Kidsarus, a Wellington feminist collective which in 1976 had published The Red Overalls, a non-sexist children's picture book with black and white drawings, in a cheap, stapled format, sold by mail order. [1] Kidsarus's pioneering work made K2's task much easier. Former collective members passed on their files and remaining stock of The Red Overalls, which K2 sold for operating funds; it also used the book's popularity to demonstrate the need for the type of book it planned.

When lobbying for funds, K2 members argued that children's minds are as important as their bodies, and that cultural deprivation is as serious as physical neglect. They envisaged that their books would be non-sexist, non-racist, non-ageist (they later used 'counter' instead of 'non'), and set in modern multi-cultural New Zealand. The members were acutely aware that these goals sounded 'abysmally worthy – all propaganda and no literature', [2] but they touched a chord with hundreds of teachers, parents, people in government and business, and would-be writers and illustrators.

The response was hugely encouraging. The flood of scripts and sample illustrations nearly overwhelmed the small group of volunteer workers – by this time all women, working collectively. Financial and practical support also flooded in from many sources. [3] Perhaps inevitably, this brought resentment from some quarters, because the K2 women were total outsiders to publishing. Further complications arose when the group's ideas and idealism clashed with the traditional caution of commercial publishers.

Cover of the Kuia and the Spider

Penguin Books NZ

Cover of the English language edition of The Kuia and the Spider/Te Kuia me te Pūngāwerewere, written by Patricia Grace and illustrated by Robin Kahukiwa. Originally published in hardback in 1981 by Kidsarus 2 in association with Longman Paul Ltd, and later in paperback by Penguin Books NZ, this classic of children’s literature in Aotearoa New Zealand remained in print in 2019.

In all, K2 co-published four children's picture story books. [4] Two of the stories were Māori in content, by Māori writers. However, it proved surprisingly difficult to find illustrators, Māori or Pākehā, who were willing and able to depict Māori characters realistically, not in a caricatured or abstract way. More arguments and more subsidies were needed to get the stories published in separate Māori translations, with the same high quality formats as the English versions.

By 1985 K2 had achieved all its aims and become dormant. Although its philosophy was seldom fully evident in subsequent New Zealand children's books, the group's success could be measured by the many high quality picture story books with local settings being published here in the early 1990s, and the substantial funding then available for children's book writing (including original writing in Māori), illustration, and publishing.

The work of Kidsarus and Kidsarus 2 was commemorated by a New Zealand children's book purchasing fund at Wellington Public Library.

Pauline Reynolds Neale

Postscript

In 2018–9, The Kuia and the Spider/Te Kuia me te Pūngāwerewere was adapted for the stage by writer and director Jamie McCaskill and translated into te reo Māori by Hōhepa Waitoa. The resulting theatre show, Te Kuia me te Pūngāwerewere, told the backstory with an environmental turn, revealing:

. . . the real reason why the old lady and the spider are constantly arguing about whose weaving is superior. Travelling back dimensionally into the spider world, Kui and Pūpai must solve the request of the PPP, Pāpāpangopuku, to find out how to save the spider world from human proliferation. [5]

The show was performed entirely in te reo Māori, with the actors employing gestures and movement so that non-Māori-speakers could follow along. Originally staged at the Auckland Arts Festival in March 2019, it then toured nationally for ten weeks.

Anne Else

Notes

[1] Written by Jane Buxton, illustrated by Kathryn Algie.

[2] Kidsarus member Marian Evans, speaking to the Pacific Rim Conference on Children's Books,Melbourne,Australia, 1979.

[3] Financial supporters included the International Year of the Child Telethon Trust, New Zealand Literary Fund, Māori Education Foundation, and QEII Arts Council; practical supporters included IBM New Zealand Ltd, Independent Newspapers Ltd, the School Library Service, and The Women's Gallery (which provided office premises). Professional help, e.g. from editor Juliet Raven, was employed for short periods through the Department of Labour's Temporary Employment Programme.

[4] Patricia Grace, The Kuia and the Spider, illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa, Longman Paul/Kidsarus 2 Inc., 1981; paperback, Puffin Books/Kidsarus 2 Inc., 1981; translated into Māori as Te Kuia me te Pungawerawera, Syd Melbourne with Keri Kaa, Puffin Books/Kidsarus 2 Inc., 1981. Joy Cowley, The Terrible Taniwha of Timberditch, illustrated by Rodney McRae, Oxford University Press/Kidsarus 2 Inc., 1982. Miriam Smith, Kimi and the Watermelon, illustrated by David Armitage, Brick Row/ Kidsarus 2 Inc., 1983; translated into Māori as Ko Kimi me tana Mereni, Sonny Huia Wilson, Brick Row/Kidsarus 2 Inc., 1983. Sue Freeman, The fudge that jumped out of the bath and ran away to see the world, illustrated by Barbara Strathdee, Coromandel Press/Kidsarus 2 Inc., 1984.

[5] Awarau, Aroha, ‘Beloved book The Kuia and the Spider adapted for the stage’, Stuff, 11 January 2019, https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/books/109854431/beloved-book-the-kuia-and-the-spider-adapted-for-the-stage

Unpublished sources

Spiral, The Women's Gallery, Kidsarus and Kidsarus 2 collections, 1975–1990, ATL, Wellington

Recollections of Lyn Ciochetto, Marian Evans, Helen Forlong, Keri Kaa, Anna Keir, Pauline Neale and Juliet Raven

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