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


Book Review: Tangaroa’s Gift, by Mere Whaanga

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tangaroas_giftScholastic has published a new edition of  bilingual classic Tangaroa’s Gift, by Mere Whaanga, which tells the story of a sad and lonely sea creature named Paua, who ended up with a gift that changed his life.

The book has the Māori and English text on facing pages so will be welcomed by those who are fluent in Māori as well as those who want to learn.

Paua was sad because he could not find a friend. There weren’t many like him and it was hard to find others because they all had to hide from the hungry fish. He so ached with loneliness that Tangaroa, the god of the sea, asks him what is wrong.

Paua tells how the fish and other sea creatures taunt him with their beauty and speed and laugh at his ugliness. Tangaroa decides Paua deserves something special, so he makes Paua a beautiful shell. Tangaroa made Paua so beautiful the other sea creatures were curious and poked and prodded his shell until it lay in pieces and he was alone again.

When he saw what had happened, Tangaroa again took those beautiful colours and layered them until the shell was so strong it could not be broken.Instead of making Paua happy, this made him even sadder because all the others were jealous.

Tangaroa saw his gift had made Paua sad, so he added a layer of drabness so Paua would once again be able to come and go as he pleased without being bothered. He still had the beautiful shell but only he knew of its beauty. It is only at the end of his life, when Paua’s empty shell washes up on the beach, that his inner beauty is revealed to others.

The watercolour illustrations, also done by Whaanga, are delightful and could be used to keep the interest of younger children who may not yet be able to follow the text. This is a lovely book with a touching message that will continue to be a popular resource for a wide age group.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Tangaroa’s Gift
by Mere Whaanga
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434122