Sometimes a book has to wait to be found. It has to bide its time until the child falls in love with it. It has to put up with rejection after rejection until at long last, there is a slight stirring of interest one day that quickly morphs into an intense fascination, and then it will be as if the rest of the world has ceased to exist, for there will be only the book and the child, a little mind and a life filling up with the story and its characters and the wondrousness of it all. Until the next such book comes along.
Wacko Kakapo by Yvonne Morisson and Donovan Bixley is one such book. A retelling of “The Sky is Falling”, the book arrived at our doorstep back in May 2017, all the way from New Zealand, a gift from my dearest friend and D’s Godmother SM, when D was just a month away from turning a year old. (SM first met D when he was just a week old!) But it was only last autumn that the child came to form a relationship with the book, first loving it, then fearing parts of it, then attempting in his own way and at his own pace to move past that fear and enjoying the story.
The singsong names of the characters were what drew D to the book in the first place. Wacko Kakapo, Peewee Kiwi, None-Truer Tuatara, Go-Getter Weta, Never-Fear Kea, and Quick-as-a-Wink Skink go in search of Tane Mahuta to let her know that the sky is falling. On the way, they are tricked by Gotta-Gloat Stoat into entering his den where he plans to feast on them.
There’s a picture of Gotta-Gloat Stoat in front of a fireplace with a ladle and a pan in his hands, an evil grin plastered on his face, as he reveals to the cowering sextet what awaits them. The image reminds D of the wolf in a story of three little pigs, one with a house of hay, another with a house of sticks, and the third in the house of bricks. The wolf easily kicks down the houses of the first two pigs, who run to the third for shelter. Unable to knock down the house of bricks, the wolf sneaks in through the chimney. The third pig sets the wolf’s tail on fire that sets him flying out of the chimney and far away, saving the three little pigs.
D started to snap the book shut whenever we reached the page with the stoat and his evil grin. He said the “wolf” “scared” him. One evening, he asked KrA to read the book and hid behind him as KrA reached the much feared page.
A few such readings, and D realised that the protagonists with their tongue-twisting names defeat Gotta-Gloat Stoat and escape his den. Since then, he insisted that we start reading the story from the page that he once dreaded the most. He adores the skink, and I think this may also have something to do with the tactic that the skink employed to bring the stoat to his knees. The skink races around the stoat in tight circles, causing the skink to spin and fall down dizzy. This is something D learnt at his ex-school (a long-ago thing); he spins like a whirling dervish and stops to see the world spin around him. After the stoat falls down dizzy, Peewee Kiwi gives him a mighty kick. D attempted to kick the grinning stoat once, and I had to alternate between doubling up with laughter and discouraging him from kicking a book!
This also means that I must keep secret from D a little longer my own terrifying experiences with skinks back when we were living in Australia. Once a skink found its way into our bathroom and we spent days scouring shops for lizard-traps of the kind that were available in plenty in Singapore. No such luck! It’s probably illegal down under! On another occasion when my parents were visiting, we were about to set out for a little walk with D when we saw a huge skink on the steps outside our apartment. My father had to chase it all the way down three floors before I could muster enough courage to emerge out of our apartment with D. Obviously, now that D watches me more closely than any God does, I have learnt how to hold back my own fears so that I don’t taint his worldly experiences with my own biases and apprehensions. At some point, I do want him to spend part of his childhood in the land of his birth. But for now, I am content to live in the Great White North, away from the skinks and the snakes and the ginormous spiders of the land down under!
I also Googled “stoat”. Wikipedia says that stoats are in fact native to the northern hemisphere and were let loose in New Zealand to contain the rabbit population but turned out to be a menace to the native birds!
The alliterative names quickly got D playing with words. The other day KrA asked D to “go get your roti”, and D replied, “Go-Getter Weta!” Never-fear Kea quickly became “Nefka”, a name that SM declared was a hybrid of an ancient Egypt queen and some extra-terrestrial being. And for a while, D insisted on being addressed as “Wacko Kakapo”.
I often wonder where these thoughts pop into his head from … and then I tell myself the answer to that is also the answer to the eternal question: “Where do writers get their ideas from?” From nothing and from everything. From nowhere and from everywhere.