The House that Jack Built Activities

The house that Jack built

written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop

published by Scholastic, 1999

The House that Jack Built is a book with two strands. The main rhythmic text based on the well-known rhyme, This is the House that Jack Built, tells the story of Jack Bull, who travels to New Zealand from London as a new settler in 1798. As the story goes on we see that his dream of beginning a new life as a trader is devastated by war between the new settlers and the native Maori, who want to protect their land. The detailed contemporary illustrations using traditional Maori form tell the story from a Maori perspective – beginning with the myth of creation: Papatuanuku, the earth mother, Ranginui the sky father and their children as guardians of the land. As the story goes on and Jack’s house grows, Papuatanuku is shown in the illustrations to weaken and fade. This story holds a poignant environmental as well as cultural message and is a thought-provoking insight into the founding of New Zealand by the Europeans.

Please note that these activities are suggestions which have not yet been trialled. We welcome any feedback on how they play out in the classroom (see the feedback section).

Activity 1: MEASUREMENT (Mathematics/ Social Science)
NZ Curriculum Level 2 & 3

(see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies
  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and texts
  • relating to others
Activity On the second inside page of the book there is a list of “Goods to Trade”. In this activity, students will examine old units of measurement and compare them with the measurement units used today.

1. Look carefully at the list.

  • What is it? What does it tell us?
  • Why was there so much trading back then? Why do we not trade so much nowadays?
  • Do you ever ‘trade’ with your friends? What kinds of things do you trade?
  • What are the numbers and letters on the right hand side?

Establish that they are amounts and measurements of each item.

2. Look through the letters and discuss what they might be.

  • What do these letters mean? (doz, lbs, ts, yds)
  • Have you ever seen these used before? Where? When? For what?

Establish that these are old measurements, used by British settlers when they first arrived in New Zealand. It is called the ‘imperial system’. The units for measurement are: dozen (doz), pounds (lbs), tins (ts), yards (yds).

  • We don’t really see these measurements used today. Why is that? What do we use instead?

Establish that we use the metric system now: kilometres, metres, centimetres, kilograms, grams etc..

  • Talk about where students might have seen these units of measurement used (for example: grams are on food packets, kilometres are on road signs or on the car speedometer)

3.Make a list of old and new measurements and their abbreviations.

4. Tell students that we want to find out how much these quantities are. We want to convert the old measurements into today’s metric system measurements.

Show children how they can do this:

  • 1 pound (lb) is approximately 454 grams (g)
  • 1 yard (yd) is approximately 91 centimetres (cm)

Using this information, students can work out the quantity of each item using the metric system, that Jack had brought to New Zealand to trade:

  • 40 lbs of nails is how many kilograms?
  • 20lbs of malt is how many kilograms?
  • 80lbs of flour is how many kilograms?
  • 80 yds of red flannel is how many metres?
  • 50lbs of potatoes is how many kilograms?

5. Share and compare results – did everyone get the same result?

Taking it further
  • compare other units of measurement – feet, inch, league, microinch (Maths)
Curriculum Links Mathematics
  • create and use appropriate units and devices to measure length, area, volume and capacity, weight (mass) (Level 2)
  • partition and/or combine like measures and communicate them, using numbers and units (Level 2)
  • use linear scales and whole numbers of metric units for length, area, volume and capacity, weight (mass) (Level 3)

Social Science

  • understand how time and change affect people’s lives (Level 2)
  • understand how people remember and record the past in different ways (Level 3)
Activity 2: EXPLORING NEW ZEALAND HISTORY (Social Science)
NZ Curriculum Level 2 & 3

(see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies
  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and text
  • relating to others
Activity The pages in this book are loaded with history. In this activity, students look carefully at the detail within the illustrations in order to find out more about the history of New Zealand.

1.After reading the story, establish that this story was set in the late 1700’s, when many British were coming to settle and start a new life in New Zealand.

Look through the illustrations and briefly identify some of the changes as the story moves on.

(For example, the buildings, the clothing, shops are established and names of shops change, trading goes on – blankets, pipes, weapons, whaling and clubbing of seals, axes, more ships come as more British arrive, a church is erected as time goes by).

2. Organise children into small groups. Give each group a copy of one page from the book.

Ask students to look at the details in their illustration:

  • What are the activities you can see happening?
  • What are the Maori doing?
  • What are the British/ Pakeha doing?

3. Each group can report back to the class about what they have noticed. There will be further discussion as students continue to discover more detail in the illustrations, and make connections with their own page.

4. To finish the session, see if students can put the pages back in the right order (without referring to the book!). This will help them to consolidate their observations.

  • Several copies of the book / photocopied pages
Resources This website gives 4 different perspectives of the history of New Zealand – Radical, Moriori, Whakapapa and European.
Taking it further
  • Look online and in history books to find out more about New Zealand’s history (Social Science)
  • Go in depth to look at early trading in New Zealand (Social Science)
  • Summarise information in a report or poster (Social Science/ English)
Curriculum Links Social Science
  • understand how time and change affect people’s lives (Level 2)
  • understand how places influence people and people influence places (Level 2)
  • understand how the status of Maori as tangata whenua is significant for communities in New Zealand (Level 2)
  • understand how people view and use places differently (Level 3)
  • understand how people remember and record the past in different ways (Level 3)
  • understand how early Polynesian and British migrations to New Zealand have continuing significance for tangata whenua and communities (Level 3)
  • understand how the movement of people affects cultural diversity and interaction in New Zealand (Level 3)
Applications for Level 4 and above This book could be use very effectively at all higher levels. At Level 4, students explore how people pass on and sustain culture and heritage for different reasons and that this has consequences for people. At Level 5, students consider how the ideas and actions of people in the past have had a significant impact on people’s lives. At Level 6 and above, students understand how the causes and consequences of past events that are of significance to New Zealanders shape the lives of people and society. They begin to understand how people’s perspectives on past events that are of significance to New Zealanders differ.
Activity 3: SYMBOLISM (English)
NZ Curriculum Level 2 & 3

(see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies
  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and text
  • relating to others
  • participating and contributing
Activity Gavin Bishop’s illustrations in this book are rich in visual language. In this activity, two aspects of Bishop’s use of visual language are examined:
  • the use of ‘eyes’ and Maori mythology themes which run through the illustrations;
  • messages protrayed through Bishop’s use of borders around the illustrations.


After reading the story, look back through the illustrations and identify places where eyes can be seen in the background of the picture. Notice that the eyes are different on each page:

  • sometimes the eyes are large and part of a face
  • sometimes the eyes are on their own with no face
  • on some pages there are many pairs of eyes, on other pages there is only one pair.

Help students to notice that at the beginning of the story there is one set of very large, strong eyes, and many many smaller eyes. As the story goes on, the larger pair of eyes become smaller and less defined and the smaller pairs of eyes become fewer.


  • Who do the eyes belong to? (the large ones? The small ones?)
  • Why do you think they become less, and smaller as the story goes on?

Discuss thought as a class. Students may recognise that the eyes are similar to those seen in traditional Maori art – therefore they may represent Maori gods.

After the discussion, refer to the back page of the book, which gives a detailed description of Bishop’s use of ‘eyes’ in his illustrations.

The ‘About This Book’ description explains that the eyes belong to Papatuanuku (Earth Mother), Ranginui (Sky Father) and their children.  As the story progresses and British presence becomes stronger, Papatuanuku’s spirit weakens and fades. So in this way the ‘eyes’ present a Maori perspective of what is happening with land and culture.

Ask the students:

  • Do you think Bishop’s use of ‘eyes’ in his illustrations is an effective form of visual language?
  • How has his use of ‘eyes’ helped our understanding of the story?


After reading the story, discuss briefly Bishop’s use of borders in the illustrations. Notice that some border have words telling maori myths, and others have pictures.

Organise students into small groups and give each group a different border to examine. They need to consider:

  • What are the images/ words used in the border?
  • What is significant about these words/ images in the context of the story?
  • What do you think the author’s message is in using these words/ images in the border?

When students have had time to discuss in their groups, share together as a class. Do others agree or disagree? Share reasons.

Refer to the ‘About This Book’ at the back of the book to find out more about the author’s message in using the borders.

In this section Bishop explains that the main pictures are from a European perspective, while the borders give a Maori perspective. The words tell of Maori myths – perhaps what the Maori gods might say about British settlement. The images show the development of British settlement – the first settlers and early trade items, planting the potato, farming, guns, boats and pipes, ships carrying more and more people from Britain, cattle and carts.

Taking it further
  • Explore use of visual language in other books (see links to other NZPBC books) (English)
  • Find out more about the British settlement in New Zealand – what are the facts? How accurate is Bishop’s account of what happened? (Social Science)
Curriculum Links English

Listening, Reading and Viewing

  • show some understanding of how language features are used for effect within and across texts (Level 2)
  • show a developing understanding of how language features are used for effect within and across texts (Level 3)

The Arts

Visual Art

  • share ideas about how and why … others’ works are made and their purpose, value and content (Level 2)
  • investigate the purpose of objects and images from past and present cultures and idenitfy the contexts in which they were or are made, viewed and valued (Level 3)
Applications for Level 4 and above The richness and detail presented in this book make it extremely useable at higher levels. In English, students should begin to recognise more complex themes within visual language and understand that authors have different messages and styles.

In Visual Art, students should begin to research and analyse the influences of contexts on the characteristics and production of art works.

Links to other books in NZPBC Nobody’s Dog

Every Second Friday

– both these books are also very rich in visual language