The Clay Woman is a beautiful retelling of how the first woman came to be and the beginning of human life on Earth. The story begins when Tāne Mahuta has created the birds, insects and trees of Aotearoa but feels something is missing. He turns to our Earth Mother, Papatūānuku for help. In turn, she takes him to the scared place of Kurawaka. There he sculpts a women from the red clay earth, Hineahuone, and breathes life into her.
Xoё Hall uses her vibrant, pop art style to illustrate the story. She brings a modern take to Māori art and the illustrations are simply stunning. The artist captures the strength and power of the important characters of Tāne Mahuta, Hineahuone and Papatūānuku. I particularly love the little forest friend fairies with their monarch butterfly wings and Māori ancestry!
Xoё treats our ancestor’s story with reverence, she has not retold the legend but woven it anew. The sacredness is passed on through the beautiful words to the reader. I found myself slowing down and becoming quieter as I read it aloud to my class, and the children responded in turn.
The author does an amazing job describing the breath of life that brings the clay woman to life. However, even with my limited te reo Māori, I kept waiting for the author to include hongi to describe the action and the important words tihei mauri ora. Perhaps a glossary at the back would allow this cultural knowledge and language to be passed to all readers.
Peter Gossage’s retellings of Māori legends have been the go-to books for teachers in recent years but Xoё Hall is making a name for herself in bringing a modern take to the stories of our land. We hope she continues to weave the stories of our ancestors with her unique illustrations. This book enchanted us from the front cover and is now very much loved by all.
Reviewed by Sara Croft
The Clay Woman
Woven and illustrated by Xoё Hall
Published by TeacherTalk