Festival Review: Pukapuka Adventures at AWF

Earlier this month the Auckland Writers Festival saw record-breaking attendance levels. Pukapuka Adventures—the children’s hub of the event—took over Level 5 of the Aotea centre and was brimming with activity. Attendee Annelies Judson describes her experience on the Saturday with three children in tow.

[Photo credits clockwise from top left: Boopsie Maran, AWF, AWF, Annelies Judson, AWF]

The Auckland Writers Festival looms large in the literary calendar, and it is great to see that such a notable event for adults also provides a family-friendly experience for the kinds of kids who will hopefully grow up to the AWF regulars. This was my first time attending the festival full stop, and I was impressed with the variety in the schedule of family events. Included in the list was a walk around the city centre, a disco themed around Dazzlehands, an open mic (for kids to share something they had written), an interactive Te Reo session with Stacey Morrison, a performance of Badjelly the Witch, an interpretive dance workshop based on Gavin Bishop’s book Atua, and an illustration demonstration/battle. This is really a something-for-everyone list. It also included a good proportion of activities related to Te Ao Māori, and also a couple of all ages events that delved into other cultures. An excellent effort from the festival organisers.

From left: Gislle Clarkson, Toby Morris, and Marianne Infante [Photo: Boopsie Maran, Places for Good]

The one thing I felt was lacking was a simple storytime/reading aloud event. In my experience, kids LOVE listening to books read aloud, and the excellent children’s area MC Marianne Infante would have done this admirably. A read-aloud would have been a great chance to expose kids to some more of the books being written in Aotearoa without there having to be an associated activity or workshop (or even the presence of the author or illustrator themselves). However, I don’t know much about the machinations of festival organisation, so it may well be that a reading session isn’t what the organisers are going for. If you’re reading this though, Te Kapa Hui Ahurei/Festival Team, I think it would go down a treat.

Unfortunately, unlike adults, few children can sustain the interest and energy required to go a full day’s worth of events, especially the younger ones. I took three children with me, aged eight, six and four. We were there from 1.30 until 5.30, and that was more than enough for the four-year-old. So this review covers only the Giselle Clarkson/Toby Morris illustrator showdown, the crafty activities provided in the children’s section, the Pipi and Pou interactive city walk, and the Family Quiz. (I mean, I could also review the icecream truck outside, which did take up a reasonable portion of our time at the festival, but I do think it lacked the literary chops to be included in my list.)

Illustrator Showdown

First up, the Giselle ClarksonToby Morris live drawing battle. This was neat. It was just the right level of interactivity, interest, and impressive illustration demonstration. Clarkson and Morris had a delightful rapport, and I can’t credit the aforementioned Marianne Infante enough for keeping the audience engaged. Essentially, Clarkson and Morris were doing an illustrator version of theatresports, where the audience gave them suggestions which they then drew, live. As an adult it was so cool to see their process, and the children in the audience seemed to love watching things come alive in front of their eyes. All in all, awesome.

Illustrations by Toby Morris (left) and Giselle Clarkson (right) based on prompts from the audience [Photos: Boopsie Maran, Places for Good]

Family Area/Action Stations

The illustrator showdown was held in the children’s area, which had craft/writing activities set up, as well as a quiet reading space (though it was one big room, so how quiet the reading space was I don’t really know). The activities (badge making, zine making, an eye spy hunt, a place to write a letter to your future self, among others) catered to a wide range of interests. Except, apparently, my children’s interests, because they didn’t care one bit and barely looked at the tables despite my encouragement. In part, this was because they had been promised an icecream, and viewed this as more important than making a badge. If this piece was a review of my children, they would have been found lacking. I don’t think it’s a reflection on the activities, which seemed very popular.

Pipi and Pou and the Forgotten Stream

Next up for us was the Pipi and Pou interactive walk. Well, technically this wasn’t next actually, because after their icecream my kids spent an age playing with the foam building blocks that were in the grassed area of Aotea Square. This appeared to be provided by the Writers Festival, and was a stroke of genius because there is no playground in Aotea Square but there were A LOT of kids. It had no literary connection whatsoever but on a beautiful May day in Auckland, it gave a bunch of kids who had been crafting and drawing and listening the chance to do something physical. 

The aforementioned eight, four, and six-year-olds on the blocks in Aotea Square [Photo: Annelies Judson]

After dragging my children away from that, we started the Pipi and Pou digital adventure trail. It used the PickPath app, which has an easy-to-use interface, and is designed for creating self-guided tours/walks of all types. The creation of the Pipi and Pou tour was supported by Heart of the City and was specifically made for the AWF by PickPath and Tim Tipene, and it worked perfectly as part of the programme. 

The app takes you through a story where you follow the main characters (Pipi, Pou and Nana, from Tim Tipene’s series) as they discover Waihorotiu Stream, the awa that has been “undergrounded” down Queen Street, and has recently been given prominence in the urban design and art along its route. This was a really great way to get to know a largely unknown piece of the history of Tāmaki Makaurau, as well as take a nice walk around the city. However, a word of warning: the advertised 30-minute experience is not 30 minutes—or, not with children, which is after all the point of it. Allow extra time. How much extra, I’m not sure, but at least fifteen minutes (not including downloading the app). We actually didn’t get to finish it because we had to race back for…

A Bookish Family Quiz

The Family Quiz was a pub-quiz-style trivia challenge with five rounds. It was excellently MC’ed by Kura Forrester, who balanced the appeal-to-kids and appeal-to-adults parts of the job very capably, and took it all sufficiently seriously, but not too seriously. There were about 20 teams, which was great, but I was surprised at the number of empty tables given that the event was technically sold out. At a price of $16 for a table it was very affordable, but also probably quite easy to drop if you or your kids weren’t up to it by the time 4.30 rolled around.

The questions covered a good range of stories, from the classic to the modern, and picture books through to novels. It was advertised as being for four- to ten-year-olds, which wasn’t entirely wrong in the sense of the book choices, but my four-year-old was already flagging at the start and apart from a couple of questions there was really nothing he could contribute. I think probably a six-to-twelve age range would be a more accurate positioning of the quiz, though even my eight-year-old, who has read a lot in his life, wouldn’t have been able to answer the majority of the questions. It definitely required at least one well-read adult or older child to be able to have a chance of competing.

Staged reading of Badjelly the Witch [Photo: Auckland Writers Festival]

I had originally intended to go to the Badjelly show as well (on at 2.30) but had forgotten it was a paid event and it sold out before I bought tickets. In hindsight this was a blessing because I think that three events was more than enough for kids at the younger end of the audience spectrum. It gave time to relax in between, and not be pressured to get too quickly from one place to another, or conversely be left with those awkward kinds of half-hour gaps that are never quite enough to really do anything but also annoyingly too long to do nothing. I also appreciated having the self-directed Pipi and Pou experience, which not only could you do at any time (allowing you to fill in a gap, or work it around lunch/toilet breaks) but also could be stopped and started again if, say, you needed to get McDonalds fries in the middle of it because we are hungry and we can’t walk any further Mama. (I even checked out the app tonight and it has retained our last position. I’m currently 11,341 metres from the next checkpoint.)

The staff at the festival were ace, both the people on the floor helping direct/take tickets/usher and the MCs.

I’ll finish on one final note for anyone who would like to go next year. The staff at the festival were ace, both the people on the floor helping direct/take tickets/usher and the MCs. Although the event is clearly directed at and provided for adults, everyone was very thoughtful and understanding about all the children and families there, which I appreciated. I will note that it’s a reasonably loud and busy place, so probably not right or the more sensation-sensitive kids. But for your run-of-the-mill kids like mine, it was a fun way to spend some time on the weekend, and no doubt an even more fun experience with older kids who are better to appreciate all the activities on offer, and also don’t need to get to a toilet within two minutes of saying that they need one.

Annelies Judson

Annelies Judson writes book reviews and poetry for children, among other things. Her many loves include cooking, cricket, science and the em-dash. She can be found on Twitter/X and BlueSky @babybookdel, and on Instagram @babybookdeltest.