Reviews: Five Fresh Picture Books


Tia Haira reviews a varied selection of picture books, covering te ao Māori, an auto-driver in Chennai, manatee antics, experiencing eczema, and the joy of being yourself.

Because I’m Māori | He Māori Ahau, by Nicolla Hemi-Morehouse, illustrated by Story Hemi-Morehouse (David Bateman)

This is a simple but effective book, enjoyed by myself and my tamariki for a quick bedtime read. Bilingual in Te Reo Māori with English translations, Nicolla Hemi-Morehouse takes you on a journey of what it is like to be Māori. It is written from the perspective of a group of Māori tamariki and tells the story of their connection to their lands, marae and whānau. The beautiful illustrations throughout by Story Hemi-Morehouse tell a more detailed story of Māori culture and identity.

Spread from Because I’m Māori | He Māori Ahau

Starting in the marae, the children wake up in the morning next to each other on mattresses (a fond childhood memory most Māori can connect to), happy and ready to start the day with their cousins and all other tamariki at the marae. Some children set off with a guitar and poi to do kapa haka, another sets off with his pāpā to go fishing, and some stay out front of the marae putting on their shoes (a subtle way of showing tikanga Māori through illustration—beautifully done if not intentional).  The story shows the essence of life for Māori: the mountains, the seas and waka all belong to you and you to them. Intergenerational connections and whānau working, living and sharing kai together are well demonstrated.

Spread from Because I’m Māori | He Māori Ahau

Young tamariki Māori (such as my daughters, aged six and eight) will connect well with this book. It tells us that being Māori is to be smart, to be strong and to be proud of your culture and heritage. We enjoyed this book and it left us wanting more!

Because I’m Māori | He Māori Ahau

By Nicolla Hemi-Morehouse

Illustrated by Story Hemi-Morehouse

Published by David Bateman Ltd.

RRP: $22.00

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Asha the Auto-Driver, by Aruna Shekar, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Tulika Books)

This story walks us through the busy city and life in Chennai, from a young girl’s perspective. The story takes us from Monday through to Sunday in the life of Asha, who is a taxi driver. Over the week she waits for passengers, talks to passengers, and takes them to their destinations. In her spare time she makes a long bud chain out of jasmine. This had me thinking about making daisy chains back when I was young and wondering what one made out of jasmine would look like. 

Spread from Asha the Auto-Driver

Every day is a new adventure for Asha: some customers are regulars, others new, and the city looks colourful and dense with a lot of people and places to see. Asha sells her jasmine flower string to different people that catch her taxi as she goes about her week. The community seems to take well to her creations and thank her for the ride. After a busy week she goes home to spend time with her family.

Endpapers from Asha the Auto-Driver

I enjoyed reading this book and would probably read it again. The pictures are bright and colourful. I felt like this book showed us the hardworking nature of a Chennai city-dweller. It made me think about and find joy in the small things in life, and the story had a smooth flow to it and a satisfying ending. 

Asha the Auto-Driver

By Aruna Shekar

Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

Published by Tulika Books

RRP: $10.50

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Bubbles The Zooting Tooting Manatee, by Minky Stapleton (Scholastic)

This book, written by Minky Stapleton, was unique, interesting, and piqued my curiosity. It tells the story of a young manatee that just wants to live a little differently to everyone else. Through the story we discover what manatees are, where they live in the world, their habitat or environment, how they live, and what they enjoy eating. Who would have thought that manatees use flatulence to guide them to either the top or the bottom of the ocean!

Spread from Bubbles The Zooting, Tooting Manatee

The main character, Bubbles, discovers this skill and uses it differently to others. Manatees typically use it to move elegantly and slowly, but this young manatee uses her unique skill to move fast and swim with the fishes. After many controversial opinions from the young manatee’s mother and peers asking for this behaviour to stop, one day the young manatee saves a group of friends and from then on is accepted for their uniqueness. With a fun and witty story accompanied by colourful and bright images, it was easy to enjoy and maintain focus while reading. 

Spread from Bubbles The Zooting Tooting Manatee

Throughout the book there are French words, some of which I struggled to pronounce correctly. However I appreciated that a small snail in the corner of the pages provided translations for the French to English. With that said, I think very early French language users or young people speaking French may connect well with this book. At the end the writer provides some fun facts about manatees that I will probably never forget!

Bubbles The Zooting Tooting Manatee

By Minky Stapleton

Published by Scholastic NZ

RRP: $22.00

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Mitchell Itches, by Kristin Kelly & Amelina Jones (EK Books)

This story is about a young boy named Mitchell and his journey living with eczema, which he has had since he was a baby. The author Kristin Kelly takes us through the good and bad times Mitchell faces. We learn of his endurance and the challenges he encounters due to his skin condition. He discovers things that make the itching and scratching worse, and other things make it better. His doctor, parents and friends help him through some tough times he has when managing his symptoms; he tries all sorts of remedies and creams, but it never goes away entirely. 

Page from Mitchell Itches

He experiences bullying by some of his peers but soon learns how to cope with this through finding things he enjoys doing. He learns to play the guitar from his uncle and from that day practices and becomes really good at it. He uses this as a distraction from scratching. Soon all the children at his school see his talent at the school band auditions and they are all wowed.

Spread from Mitchell Itches

This story would connect well with children who have eczema, and children who may have friends or know someone who has eczema. This story helps the reader become more understanding of what that person might be going through, and that ultimately they are just people and we don’t need to treat them differently. At the end there are some helpful tips for families on how to manage symptoms.

Mitchell Itches

By Kristin Kelly

Illustrated by Amelina Jones

Published by EK Books

RRP: $27.99

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Let Me Be Frank: The joy of being yourself, by Jessica Urlichs, illustrated by Minrui Yang (Little Moa)

The story follows two children, Frank and Quin, and the adventures and fun they have while on a playdate together. They enjoy nostalgic childhood games together like cops and robbers, climbing trees, making paper planes, and hide and seek. They do everything and anything their hearts desire. 

The story is creative, as the author Jessica Urlichs makes every verse rhyme in a clever and unique way. Frank and Quin enjoy dressing up, acting like doctors, artists, dancers and chefs; then they start to think about what they will become when they grow up. Subtly but gracefully the story takes a wee twist into what makes a person beautiful: is it their looks or is it more? There certainly is more to a person than just what they look like—many qualities make a person beautiful, such as being friendly, kind or smart—and this book describes just that. In the end they embrace their uniqueness: Frank just wants to be Frank and Quin just wants to be Quin, and then they wave each other goodbye.

This story takes you back to your childhood and reminds you of all the special moments you had as a child and how priceless those memories really are. As a child you are free and curious about what’s around you without any worries in the world. It is about embracing and appreciating what makes you you and appreciating differences in people and what makes them uniquely them.  

Let Me Be Frank

By Jessica Urlich

Illustrated by Minrui Yang

Published by Little Moa

RRP: $22.00

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Tia Haira

Tuhourangi, Ngati Whakaaue, Rangiteaorere, Ngati Pikiao, Tuwharetoa
I am a biomedical scientist currently working as a science leader in forensics research and development at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR). I am passionate about driving research innovation, and expanding horizons of knowledge to improve healthcare delivery and services in Aotearoa. I am a māmā to two beautiful girls who are my absolute world. In my down time you can find me at a crossfit gym, netball court, spending time with my daughters, or at one of their sporting events. We also commit time to giving back to our people through engagement and support with our kura, kura whānau, marae and whānau trust.