Book Review: Awatea’s Treasure, by Fraser Smith

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_awateas_treasure.jpgThis book is a great delight to read.

Awatea, the main character, has been sent to stay with his grandparents and uncles in the country because his dad is not well. The story is set in the far north of New Zealand, and the atmosphere created by Fraser Smith’s writing is very credible and evocative of life in a reasonably remote area.

I was drawn in to this book from the outset. The uncles, prone to fairly rough practical joking, were scarily good and set the scene well for the development of the book.
It has everything – the already mentioned scary uncles, relaxed but firm grandparents, an empty – possibly haunted – house next door, and beaches and forests to explore, neighbours (a long way away) with a nutty parrot and an unseen son. Magic, adventure, what’s not to like?

It’s an excellent story and I don’t want to give away too much detail, but Awatea finds a tree house with some things which surely belonged to the boy who built it – but who is he? Where is he? Is the treasure really valuable? And where does the guy with the horse fit in?
Just read it! I am sure that like you won’t put it down till you have finished.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Awatea’s Treasure
by Fraser Smith
Huia Publishers 2016
ISBN 9781775502944

Book Review: The Marble Maker, by Sacha Cotter, Illustrations by Josh Morgan

 

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

the-marble-maker“Fire up the stoves! Wind up the cranks! Open the hatch! It’s marble-making time!” And what a marble-making session it is! The self-proclaimed Queen of the Marble Season is a girl on a mission – to be included as a marble-maker extraordinaire in the pages of The Book of Marbles. She has already created marbles following recipes in the book and her big dream is to join other Magnificent Marble Makers by coming up with her own creation.

But just what will be magnificent enough? Off she goes to her lab, joined by her trusty assistant Winston the sheep (because every inventor needs a sheep assistant!), and so begins a slightly chaotic and funny creative process. Readers will enjoy the crazy ingredients considered including: the teeth bling from a retired rapper, three pints of swooshy night air and one hefty snort from a yeti too tired to sleep. The colourful illustrations offer lots of action and details to giggle at, and the marble season scene under a pohutakawa tree evokes the author’s own childhood memories of school marble fun and magic – the inspiration for the story.

How brilliant! To see a young girl keen on invention and fully embracing her passion and dream. With concerns about the gender differential in STEM subjects (the number of girls continuing with science, technology, engineering and mathematics decreases as they progress through school), it is great to have an enthusiastic female inventor/scientist buzzing about her lab filled with beakers and cauldrons. Cotter and Morgan have shown that fun can be found in STEM fields and that it is cool to enjoy science – the Queen of Marbles displays her passion in the badge on her coat: an atomic whirl symbol containing a love heart.

Delivered with energetic and engaging text, there is a powerful positive message hiding within the fun language and crazy scenes:  a message of encouragement and of never giving up, even when you fail. Encouraging others to achieve, that they too may realise their dream is also a worthy message to pick up from Winston and also in the closing pages: “But there are lots of blank pages, too. That’s because there’s always room for more Magnificent Marble Makers. And you never know who might be next.”

This is the second collaboration by Cotter and Morgan; they have previously worked on the award winning Keys, also published by Huia and offered in Te Reo Maori and English. The Marble Maker is a fantastic creation; rich in detail, well written, fun and appealing – it’s sure to be a hit!

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Marble Maker
by Sacha Cotter, Illustrations by Josh Morgan
Huia Publishers, 2016
ISBN: 9781775502241

Book Review: Tuna and Hiriwa, by Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tuna_and_hiriwaOne of the joys of reviewing books is that I get first look at some wonderful adaptations of old tales, and a chance to see our Aotearoa stories being presented to the next generation. Tuna and Hiriwa is a superb example of this.

Set on the banks of the Rangitikei River we meet Hiriwa, the sparkling dancing glow worm. In contrast we then discover Tuna, the eel. He watches and wants what she has. Their conversation suggests a solution to him but his attempts fail miserably. His actions bring about a change for both of them and give a good explanation as why things are as they are. Of course there are always consequences for actions, as Tuna discovers.

This is a simple tale, told in a clear sequential style. The illustrations match the text well, showing the muted colours of the river and the shimmering light of the moon and Hiriwa. I read it to my 10- and 11-year-olds, and they enjoyed the story, but also caught on to the moral of the tale. “Be careful what you wish for”.

Tuna and Hiriwa builds on the growing number of Maori myths and legends which have been produced for our next generation. It is heartening to see authors and illustrators working to ensure teachers and parents have access to good New Zealand picture books. Huia Publishers continue to play an important part in this process.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Tuna and Hiriwa
By Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502272

Book Review: Breaking Connections, by Albert Wendt

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 
cv_breaking_connections
I really enjoyed reading this new novel from Albert Wendt. It’s set mostly in New Zealand, and of course is steeped in Samoan and Maori references.

Daniel, the main character, is a university lecturer and poet. As a child, his Samoan parents moved to NZ so that Daniel could be successful – his mother was particular that he should be competent and comfortable in the palagi system, and she used every means she had including a remarkable acting ability, to make him do as she wished. She had largely turned her back on Samoa, although the family values remained strong.

At school, Daniel forms strong and lasting friendships with a disparate group of kids from other Maori and Pacific backgrounds. The Tribe are family, whanau, aiga to one another and remain loyal despite their differences

By university days, the Tribe is still together and the deliberate inclusion of Laura ( a pakeha) by Mere startles them for a time, but Mere is determined to have her friend be part of the Tribe and Laura is accepted. The connection which forms between Laura and Daniel is too strong for them to ignore – although they try! – and they marry. As things go, eventually they split up and Daniel ends up teaching in Hawaii, which is where the novel starts. Wendt then fills in the backstory.

The connections are many, varied and fascinating. They are made and broken inside and between families and family members, in relationships and marriages – but throughout the connections between members of the Tribe are maintained. Even though all of them are aware of Aaron’s criminal connections, they are never spoken about.

The novel deals powerfully with loyalty, love, and relationships. Wendt shows the great force of human emotion – damaging, dangerous, resilient, passionate, supportive – and just how difficult it can be to face up to unpleasant realities in ourselves and others. He is a superb storyteller and I found myself carried along with the characters, by turns truly irritated with Daniel, sorry for his father, angry with Aaron, in awe of Mere and Laura – in short, I was captivated and could not put this book down.

Read it!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Breaking Connections
by Albert Wendt
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502104

Book Review: Tamanui the Brave Kokako of Taranaki, by Rebecca Beyer & Linley Wellington

cv_tamanui_brave_kokakoAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

Rebecca Beyer and Linley Wellington are two New Plymouth authors helping to bring back the Kokako to Taranaki.

There was a time when Kokako had no predators and could fly freely, but then the rat and possum were introduced. Numbers were severely affected with this native bird species nearly being wiped out to the point of extinction.

This is a story of Tamanui, a Kokako who tries to fly to the top of the tallest tree and is always showing off. His brother Poutama defended him telling the others that Tamanui was clever and brave. The only time the young birds were still was when they were listening to Nanny Kokako. She would tell them stories of their heroic ancestors who came from far away to make their home in the Taranaki bush.

Rats and possums came to New Zealand on boats and as a result there were less and less birds. The Kokako numbers drastically declined because they couldn’t fly well and built their nests on low branches so they were easy prey. The rats ate the birds and possums ate the eggs. Both having sharp teeth and strong claws they made short work of the birds. The birdsong of the forest was quieted.

Further into the story, we learn of how man intervened to save this wonderful bird before it became lost forever.

Reading this to 4-year-old Abby I had lots of questions about why the rats and possums came to New Zealand and why they liked hunting and eating the Kokako. We had a long discussion on why we needed to protect native birds from predators. “What does predator mean Grandma?” My explanation seemed to satisfy her.

Royalties from this book will go towards the Tiaki Te Mauri o Parininihi Trust. This Trust was set up by Ngati Tama and aims to catch predators and re-establish the native bird in the White Cliffs area.

This is a great book to introduce young readers to the idea that as New Zealanders, we need to do everything in our power to protect our surviving native bird species. The illustrations by Andrew Burdan are wonderful and work well with the story.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Tamanui the Brave Kokako of Taranaki
by Rebecca Beyer & Linley Wellington
Illustrated by Andrew Burdan
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502067

Book Review: HAKA, by Patricia Grace, illustrated by Andrew Burdan

Available now in bookshops nationwide.cv_haka

Flicking through HAKA is like flicking through a picture book illustrated by C. F. Goldie. Andrew Burdan has used all of his considerable skill in bringing this story to life, sending the great Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha fleeing across the pages as you are drawn into Patricia Grace’s tale of the composition of ‘Ka Mate’.

While I will admit we don’t watch very much rugby in our house, we have watched a good number of haka on YouTube, as our children adore watching this display of fierce resistance, in whatever context. My 5-year-old, Dan, gets caught up in the theatricality of it, and both of my boys like to try and perform.

Reading this book with Dan has given me a way to talk with him about Maori traditions and the way that they are honoured in everyday life here; and how unique we are in having this rich history. While I was aware of the legacy of Te Rauparaha, I wasn’t aware that he was the inspiration for, and composer of ‘Ka Mate’. The story of him hiding in a friendly tribe’s vegetable pit was fascinating for both of us.

The build-up of the actions as Te Rauparaha returns to his tribe to tell them about his narrow escape is beautifully rendered; and shows clearly that every member of the tribe was involved, not just men, but women and children. The development of ‘Ka Mate’ into something we recognise now is simply portrayed by a series of shadows across the spread, with the simple words ‘They taught it to their children, who taught it to their children’ repeated across the pages.

This book is necessary, and pertinent, with the Rugby World Cup currently at the front of many people’s minds. Please buy this book for your whanau, and spend time with the younger members to teach them about this important part of their history.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

HAKA
by Patricia Grace, illustrated by Andrew Burdan
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502074

A version of this title is available in te reo Maori
Whiti Te Ra!
ISBN 9781775502098

Book Review: Meariki: The Quest for Truth (the Matawehi Fables), by Helen Pearse-Otene, illustrated by Andrew Burdan

cv_meariki_the_quest_for_truthAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

This book has come a long way since its first inception. First it was published in Maori in 2013, then in 2014 it was translated and published in English, and now in 2015 we are so incredibly lucky as it comes out as a graphic novel.

For those not in the know, today’s graphic novel is akin to comic book styles of the past, pictorially anyway. It isn’t just words and accompanying pictures. The pictures, or, graphics to use the correct terminology, are an integral part in telling the tale.

We are introduced to Meariki, an unfortunate slave to the Kuwai Village Chief’s daughter, Hineamuru. Meariki is forced to follow Hineamuru and her warrior boyfriend Pehi to the river, where the ignorant young warrior insults the poor slave and then loses Hineamuru to the evil Tanekikiwa who intends to make Hineamuru his reluctant bride. Thus begins Meariki’s adventurous journey to rescue Hineamuru from the clutches of the black magician. As a small and unadorned heroine she meets influential characters along the way, travelling with the transformed trouble-maker Pehi, and ultimately discovering her own unique destiny.

Graphic novels are new to me, however, I found myself quickly turning pages in order to discover Meariki’s fate. I found the story and how it was woven very attractive. The graphics are stunning and well-executed, making me want to carry on and read more of the tale when I closed the cover at the end. I want to read more of these Matawehi Fables, having enjoyed the modern interpretation of a myth, complete with cleverly depicted ghoulish creatures.

I thoroughly recommend Huia Publishers’ latest offering by the collaboration of writer Helen Pearse-Otene and graphic artist Andrew Burden. It is a graphic novel that would make great reading for readers of all ages, especially those who are never keen to pick up wordy tomes to read.

Reviewed by Penny M Geddis

Meariki: The Quest for Truth (The Matawehi Fables)
Written by Helen Pearse-Otene,  Illustrated by Andrew Burden
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775501718