Jackie Clark is a woman who gets stuff done. She may be familiar to readers of The Sapling as the founder of The Aunties, a charitable organisation providing material and emotional resources to vulnerable people, around 500 whānau a year, particularly women who are seeking to heal from the effects of domestic violence. What many people may not know, however, is that before The Aunties became her full-time job, Jackie was a kindergarten teacher for years. So we asked Jackie to share a standout book from the books she read with 'her' kids.
When I was asked to write about children’s books, my mind went blank. I’m in my mid-fifties and the only books I remember reading as a younger child were poetry books, one in particular that my Uncle Jack gave me. When I was a bit older, I really gravitated to all kinds of books, but none more than the Katy Did... series. Katy went to boarding school, so I decided I wanted to go too.
Jackie as a young girl growing up in Tāmaki Makaurau.
I’ve never had children, but as it happens I know a lot of children’s book. Because before this life I have now, I was a kindergarten teacher in South Auckland. As a teacher, there was one series of books that had the most sway over me, that I most enjoyed reading to the kids and that they enjoyed reading with me. And that series was the Pasifika dual language books that the Ministry of Education used to send all kindergartens in a big box once a term.
I remember getting really excited when the books would come, to see the new releases, and which languages they were in. Samoan, Tongan, Tokelauan, Cook Islands Māori, Niuean, they were all there.
Samoan, Tongan, Tokelauan, Cook Islands Māori, Niuean, they were all there.
Along with the books came the liner notes – basically the book text in English. So I would painstakingly cut out the English text and glue them into one of the books, so we’d have an English language copy – sometimes you got the English version but not often – as well as those in other languages.
And then, at mat times, most often I would read them aloud in their original languages. I’ve got pretty good pronunciation but the kids would sometimes laugh at me, or stare at me as I read these books in languages that belonged to them, but that sometimes they didn’t speak themselves. Or even if they did, they didn’t recognise that those languages were what I was reading to them.
Pasifika dual language series title My Cat in Cook Islands Māori, Gagana Sāmoa, Vagahau Niue, Gagana Tokelau and Lea Faka-Tonga
Sometimes, the cheeky buggers would say ‘Read it in English!’, so I would. I vividly remember when one of the kids asked me what language I was reading in, so I said Samoan, same as she spoke at home. She laughed very loudly and said ‘Jackie! THAT’S NOT SAMOAN.' Okay, point taken, kiddo.
She laughed very loudly and said ‘Jackie! THAT’S NOT SAMOAN.' Okay, point taken, kiddo.
But I kept reading them, because the kids loved hearing about people that were the same as them: kids that looked like them, and concepts that were so familiar to them. About swimming, and going to school for the first time, and your sisters and brothers, and dancing...
I’ve read a lot of books to thousands of children over my life, but I think those will always remain my favourites, because they took me into a world I wasn’t – as a Pākehā New Zealander – that familiar with when I started teaching. More importantly, it took me into the worlds of the kids I taught, most of them Pasifika, and all of them these competent and shining learners. I think I learned more from those books than the kids ever did, to be honest. In English medium kindergartens, it was a place we could all meet. And I’ll always treasure that.
I think I learned more from those books than the kids ever did, to be honest. In English medium kindergartens, it was a place we could all meet. And I’ll always treasure that.
Jackie started The Aunties 7.5 years ago to meet the needs of women in a refuge in South Auckland.
She works on the ground with around 40 women, and remotely with another 300 women, walking alongside them as they figure out how to live in their power.
She is a widow, a survivor of domestic violence and was the supreme winner of the 2018 Women Of Influence award. She was awarded a QSM in May 2019.