Book Review: The Singing Dolphin / Te Aihe i Waiata, by Mere Whaanga

Available in bookshops nationwide.
The Singing Dolphin / Te Aihe i Waiata, by Mere Whaanga is a finalist in this year’s Picture Book Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

cv_the_singing_dolphin.jpgInspired by Moko the Dolphin’s visit to Mahia over the seasons between 2007 and 2009, Mere Whaanga’s beautiful story The Singing Dolphin is a new tale told in the style of a traditional magical legend. Presented in te reo Maori and English, the story tells of Potiki, his brothers, and their wise woman Grandmother.

Reminiscent of Maui, Potitki has a sense of wonder and a touch of magic about him, while his brothers Tahi and Rua are expert in the more immediate workings of the land and sea. Their focus is set on their hunting and fishing, and they refuse to allow Potiki to help, telling him ‘No, you’re too little, you’re too noisy and you don’t know what to do.’ Determined to join them, Potiki follows and when he tires, rests and sings songs that draw the birds and eels.

His determination to join his brothers out at sea sees him hiding in their waka and in their anger at discovering him, they throw him overboard. Potiki’s song transforms him into a dolphin and the brothers return home, denying any knowledge of what happened to him. The birds and eels can’t tell Grandmother where he is either and it is a whale who tells her of a new dolphin that sings. In grief at what Tahi and Rua have done, she turns them to stone and sets them to guard the Pathway of Whales, where they must forever sing a song for Potiki to learn, one that will transform him once again into human form.

The lyrical text and rich illustrations draw you into the tale and invoke familiar legends and songs; so much so that in your head you can hear strong kuia calling, and stirring waiata mixing with sounds of the forest and shore. The purple and green watercolour landscapes and pencil sketch combination illustrations work well to enhance the mystical quality of the tale, and reinforces the strong and important connection of the people with the land and sea.

The mention of the land failing and the wetlands choking with weeds towards the end of the tale, acting as a cautionary note to look after the land and sea, slightly alters the flow of the narrative, if only for a beat, however the book remains a lovely addition to New Zealand’s treasure trove of unique stories and will be a welcome addition to many a bookshelf and classroom. It is a more than worthy finalist in the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults where it is a finalist in the Picture Book category.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Singing Dolphin / Te Aihe i Waiata
by Mere Whaanga
Scholastic NZ, 2017
ISBN 9781775434023

 

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