Book List: Matariki Picture Books

The rising of Matariki is just around the corner and councils, schools and organisations around the country are celebrating the occasion in all kinds of ways. But if you can’t get out to a Matariki event (whether it’s kapa haka, hāngī, star-gazing, tree planting, talent quests…), why not think about an easy way to bring some Matariki stories into your home in the form of a picture book? There are a bunch of different options out there these days, so here’s a quick round up of what you can check out!

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Melanie Drewery’s Matariki, published by Penguin, is a good place to start. It’s a whānau-focused story with lovely painterly illustrations from Bruce Potter, and introduces the reader to the idea that different iwi have different stories to explain the Matariki stars. ‘But which story should we believe?’ one of the kids asks.

‘Well,’ said Mum, ‘think of the story that feels right in your heart. That is the true story for you.’

The Seven Kites of Matariki / Ngā Manu Tukutuku e Whitu o Matariki is one of several different Matariki titles that Scholastic NZ have published in the last few years. This book is by Calico McClintock and Dominique Ford, and offers a simultaneously traditional and new approach to the stars of Matariki. Seven sisters make beautiful traditional manu tukutuku (kites), each with different sorts of shells for eyes and a beautiful array of colours – especially in the rainbow-coloured kite made by Ururangi, the pōtiki of the sisters.

The Stolen Stars of Matariki / Ngā Whetū Matariki I Whānakotia was written by broadcaster Miriama Kamo and illustrated by Zak Waipara. It’s a lovely story of a relationship between grandparents and grandkids, and brings cheeky patupaiarehe into its version of a Matariki story.

Kirsty Wadsworth’s The Promise of Puanga / Te Kī Taurangi a Puanga adds an important new element to Scholastic’s Matariki storytelling. Not all parts of the country are able to see Matariki, and so the star of Puanga represents the coming of the new year and winter for some of those iwi. Munro Te Whata’s illustrations are fresh and unique, and the story ties together a modern setting with some traditional twists.

All of these Matariki picture books from Scholastic – as with the majority of Scholastic’s New Zealand picture book publishing – are available in both English and Māori editions, with the reo Māori editions translated masterfully by Ngaere Roberts. As with all of Scholastic’s Māori publishing, there’s a solid glossary at the back of the book to aid learners in picking up new vocab.

From Huia, there’s The Seven Stars of Matariki / Te Huihui o Matariki​ by Toni Rolleston-Cummings, with illustrations by Nikki Slade-Robinson and translation by Hone Morris. Of the options on offer, this one feels the most traditional – which fits the publisher in question – and it’s definitely got a heavier story than any of the others, with some seriously evil patupaiarehe wāhine.

2016 NZCYA Awards Picture Book winner, The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, is a Nikki Slade Robinson creation, full of quirky, texturally interesting illustrations and simple but effective text. There’s good incorporation of reo Māori, and each of the characters (native manu with a bonus katipō) have their own little stories and focuses.

Daniel’s Matariki Feast / Tā Daniel Hākari Matariki is a sweet story of overcoming nerves and connecting to new people, by Rebecca Beyer and Linley Wellington, with illustrations by Christine Ross. Matariki is in some ways incidental to the plot, but it’s a strong choice of event to bring everything together. It’s a great read for kids struggling with the idea of starting school, and it has a nice little bit of gardening stuff in there too.

Together in Love: A Legend of Matariki is a fresh and vibrant tale written and illustrated by Xoë Hall, integrating Papatūānuku and Ranginui and their children’s pursuit of light beyond the love of their parents. It’s a beautiful way to weave Matariki with other aspects of te ao Māori storytelling.

There are a few different options in the sing-along realm too, all of which come with CDs to listen along to. Twinkle Twinkle Matariki | Tīrama Tīrama Matariki turns an old classic upside down with a Matariki twist – complete with star-voyaging spaceship! Rebecca Larsen’s story and illustrations are enhanced with Justin Kereama and Tania Solomona’s translation and the fun performance from Paul Inia and Richard Larsen on the CD.

Tāwhirimatea: A Song for Matariki is another offering from Scholastic, but this time Ngaere Roberts’ translation is bundled up in the same book as the English language version. This wee song by the talented June Pitman-Hayes and illustrated by Kat Merewether is not as Matariki focused as some other options, but there’s plenty of whānau celebration and seasonal change to tie into the occasion.

Sharon Holt’s Te Reo Singalong Books series has a sparkly addition in the form of Matariki. Another whānau focused story/song, this follows a whole day of Matariki celebrations. Illustrations from Deborah Hinde bring the song to life on the page, whether you’re singing or reading.

Briar Lawry is an English teacher and writer from Tāmaki Makaurau. She worked in bookshops for years, most notably Little Unity, and judged the NZCYA Awards in 2020. She was also one of the editors of The Sapling between 2019 and 2023.