Book Review: Huia Short Stories 11, Contemporary Māori Fiction

cv_huia_short_stories_11Available in bookshops nationwide.

If life is like a box of chocolates as Forrest Gump says, then a good box of chocolates will have something for everyone, and a few surprises. Huia Short Stories 11 is a good box of chocolates – I think readers will find something within that will engage them, and it won’t be the same thing for every reader.

Authors published in the anthology are finalists from the 2015 Pikihuia Awards for Māori writers, with short stories written in both Te Reo Māori and English, and also novel extracts. The topics, themes and writing styles are diverse, as you might expect with 19 pieces written by 15 authors.

I can only read very basic Te Reo Māori, and unfortunately that isn’t enough for me to be able to read the handful of stories that are written in Te Reo, so I will have to leave those for another reviewer.

Some of the stories are light of heart; ‘Kingdom of Maisey’ by Aaron Ure had me laughing at loud as the narrator slowly succumbed to the will of a household invader. Others are pretty heavy; the judgement that is ignorantly heaped upon the narrator of ‘Tired Eyes’ by Anya Ngawhare made me cringe; the despair felt by the job seeker in ‘The Job’ by Lauren Keenan will resonate with many people who’ve had to negotiate their way through an unforgiving job market; ‘A Picnic with the Bears’ by K-T Harrison is a reminder that all may not be what it seems.

Some of the stories are hard to read. This is not a criticism; the stories need to be told. Stories like ‘A Picnic with the Bears’ and ‘Aroha’, by Ann French, are going to hurt the heart of all but the hardest readers, and ‘Old Totara’ by Robert MacDonald was also an emotional read. ‘Hands of Time’, Ann French’s other story in the anthology, started sad, but offered more explicit hope.

So, as far as boxes of chocolates go, this anthology isn’t just soft centres. Some of the stories will give you something to chew on. Some will make you smile with recognition, and some will make you cry. But they are all worth tasting, you may just find something new that you like.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Huia Short Stories 11
Published by Huia Publishing
ISBN 9781775502043

Book Review: Matariki, Me Haere and Maranga Mai, written by Sharon Holt and illustrated by Deborah Hinde.

These three Te Reo Singalong books are an interesting and educational way for childrencv_matariki to learn Māori, and were an instant hit with our toddler. They follow a similar structure to the children’s book series published by Huia Publishers in the early 2000s, with simple verb conjugation and tense-use, using colourful pictures to make it clear to the reader what the subject of the sentence is. The repetitive sentence structure is an easy way to learn te reo, and the glossary at the back useful for parents when stuck on a particular word.

cv_me_haereMy son was particularly taken with the bold illustrations, especially the vehicles in Me Haere! and the animals in Maranga Mai. Indeed, the art is appealing due to its use of colour. The art is also uncluttered and simple, which is necessary for a book designed to teach children words in another language as it allows them to easily see what the words mean. Matariki isn’t as colourful as the other two by virtue of its subject matter, making it much less appealing for younger children. It will appeal to slightly older children, though, especially during the Matariki period.

Tcv_maranga_maihe singalong CDs are a nice companion to the books, although as the songs aren’t particularly catchy they aren’t essential to enjoying them. The CDs nonetheless allow the books to be promoted as more of a package rather than simply a book, and will probably make them more appealing to parents and early education centres. It also sets the books apart from the Huia series I mentioned above. The best of the three CDs we listened to is certainly that which accompanies Maranga Mai, as it is complete with animal sounds. A compilation CD would be useful as well, to allow parents to play the CDs consecutively without disturbing the children’s learning.

As a minor note, the translations in the back are sentence by sentence rather than word by word. For the purposes of this book and for people learning basic te reo this makes perfect sense. However, in some cases it would be beneficial for a more detailed translation, especially if the books are being aimed at people with minimal knowledge of te reo who intend to use them as a stepping stone to learn more. Te reo Maori is an incredibly nuanced language where one word can mean a number of things depending on the context; for example, the word ‘runga’ is used in Me Haere, and the translation notes that it means ‘by’ in the context of the sentence. Runga when used in conjunction with ma, however, is also used to mean ‘on’. This is perhaps a minor detail when the intended audience are preschoolers, but it would be a shame for future confusion should arise when talking about, for example, whether a cat is ‘on’ or ‘by’ a box.

I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more books in this series, and if reasonably priced may even become a go-to gift for children’s birthday presents in the future.

Reviewed by Lauren Keenan

written by Sharon Holt and illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by the Writing Bug Ltd
ISBN 9780473274238

Me Haere!
written by Sharon Holt and illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by the Writing Bug Ltd
ISBN 9780473242459

Maranga Mai!
written by Sharon Holt and illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by the Writing Bug Ltd
ISBN 9780473214913

Book Review: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

cv_fangirlCath is an identical twin embarking on her first year at university. While her outgoing twin, Wren, embraces the more hedonistic side of university life, shy Cath buries herself in writing Fan Fiction instead. Fangirl is a well-written yet easy-to-read book about Cath’s freshman year, and her various trials and tribulations as she navigates life there.

There were two things that particularly appealed to me about Fangirl. First, it was easy to read. Second, in spite of it being easy to read, it had interesting and clever themes. Of particular interest to me was a sub-plot about the role of fan fiction, and whether or not it constitutes real and worthy writing. Unlike some other books in the Young Adult genre, Fangirl is accessible without talking down to the reader. There is also something very real about the characters, with Cath in particular striking the perfect mix of flawed and endearing.

I would recommend this book to teenagers and adults alike, especially those who fancy an easy yet satisfying read. I’ll certainly be looking out for more Rainbow Rowell books in the future.

Reviewed by Lauren Keenan

by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781447263227

Book Review: Lilli-Pilli’s Sister by Anna Bradford, illustrated by Linda Catchlove

Lilli-Pilli’s Sister is a very sweet book about a cv_lilli-pillis-sisteryoung pixie preparing herself for her younger sibling’s birth by searching for items to make the baby’s crib comfortable. My two-year-old was instantly taken with this book, and has asked to be read it many times since.

The narrative is, on the whole, good, although some of the turns of phrase used feel a little clunky when read aloud. It’s the illustrations, however, that make this book a special one.

I especially enjoyed the Australian twist on traditional stories about pixies, and the art truly captures the imagination. I recommend this book for children, especially those whose mothers’ are expecting a younger brother or sister.

by Lauren Keenan

Lilli-Pilli’s Sister
by Anna Bradford, illustrated by Linda Catchlove
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781921977589