Book Reviews: Picture Books to Look Out For
As a general rule, March is a delightful time in the book industry, New Zealand. New releases are winging their way through the doors, writers’ festivals abound, and local and international awards are cracking their knuckles and revving their engines. Obviously this March has been a little different from usual – but Unity Books Wellington's Becky Popham snapped up a few exciting new titles to check out prior to lockdown. So read on...
Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary by Kat Quinn & Pānia Papa (Illustrated Publishing)
As a (wildly ashamed) non-te reo Māori speaker, I was excited and nervous about reviewing this pukapuka. Or rather, I was kiamo and āmaimai about reviewing this pukapuka, as I should say now that I know the right kupu thanks to the glorious A3 poster of ngā kare-ā-roto/feelings that accompanies this book!
I was kiamo and āmaimai about reviewing this pukapuka, as I should say now that I know the right kupu...
Kat and Pānia are an excellent duo who have been working together for a number of years. A lot of you will know Kat from her award-winning Kuwi the Kiwi series amongst other really rad things (like being an ambassador for the charity ‘Kiwis for Kiwi’). Pānia is an 'acclaimed Māori language consultant and advocate who has spent the past three decades devoted to the teaching and learning of te reo Māori'. You can also see her on Māori Television during the week on shows like AKO and Ōpaki. She’s also recently launched Kotahi Rau Pukapuka, a charitable project which, over the next decade, is aiming to release 100 books in te reo!
The large hardback format, being just shy of A3, makes it feel luxurious and special (and proper sturdy). This book is a must-have for every school, library and household, and it would reside perfectly on your bookshelves next to Stacy Morrison’s My First Words in Māori and all the other wonderful te reo resources out there.
There is a HEAP of content here and, to be honest, this book deserves to have an entire review dedicated to it so you can get the full picture and I can wax lyrical about all the cool stuff. It’s difficult to list all the different subjects covered but I can assure you they are vastly comprehensive – from basic pronunciation (including tribal variations) through to the home, feelings, numbers, ocean life, animals (current and extinct), school, food etc. Right through to ngā wāhanga o te wharenui (parts of the meeting house), te marae, te taonga/he whakarākei/he kākahu (traditional Māori objects/adornments/clothing), ngā pūrākau (creation narratives) and finally ending on he mihi ōkawa (formal greetings) and he kupu whakatau (terms of address).
It’s difficult to list all the different subjects covered but I can assure you they are vastly comprehensive.
It really is chock full. All of your favourite Kuwi characters are here too so there’s a fun 'spot your favourite Kuwi pal' game to be played alongside all the learning. Kat’s illustrations absolutely shine and really do help with comprehension.
Each page could be carefully removed and popped in a frame on the wall. My social media sources tell me that more A3 posters are currently in production and I want one of each! My particular favourites are the pages explaining all the parts of your te māhunga (head) and all the various rooms and objects in your whare (house).
I really had to work hard to give this an objective review but when something comes along that’s this well put together, it’s hard not to feel a little giddy!
Kuwi & Friends Maaori Picture Dictionary
by Kat Quinn & Pānia Papa
Hello! Kia ora! Welcome new friend! by Rachel Weston & Deborah Hinde
Author Rachel Weston and illustrator Deborah Hinde have teamed up to create Hello! Kia ora! Welcome New Friend!, an educational picture book designed to help tamariki who are just starting kindergarten/early childhood education (there are a few lessons in there that adults could do to remember, but we’ll get to that later).
Ruby is our main protagonist and she’s nervous about starting kindy. Her nerves are personified here, through Deborah’s simple but effective artwork, as a Martian; we can all relate to those feelings of alienation when starting something new, especially with a group of people we don’t know.
She thinks everyone is staring, that they don’t like her and they’re glaring – there is a fun rhythm and rhyme that you fall into during the book, although it does stumble a couple of times towards the end. It’s all a bit too much for Ruby and it threatens to overwhelm her but, fear not, Miss Riggs has taught the children well! The value of caring, kindness, thoughtfulness, smiling and sharing… as she says 'When you smile at someone, your smile says to them, Hello! Kia ora! Welcome new friend!'
Each of Ruby’s new kindy pals encourages her to open up, play, laugh and explore. From Reta asking Ruby to help stir an imaginary soup to Mahirangi giving her a sweet painting of a mouse or Fetu making her laugh by showing her that his tongue can touch his chin. It’s uncomplicated and gentle, and the story always arcs back to the main sentiment: when you are warm, caring and inclusive you can help someone new settle in – a message from which everyone can take a kernel of wisdom.
It’s uncomplicated and gentle, and the story always arcs back to the main sentiment: when you are warm, caring and inclusive you can help someone new settle in – a message from which everyone can take a kernel of wisdom.
For those waiting to go a little further, there is a more academic section at the back of the book. Twenty four different ways to say ‘Hello’ in various languages, a brief explanation of body language and prompts, and questions exploring the book’s themes and one's own experiences.
This would sit well in any kindergarten, school and library. The AKA (Auckland Kindergarten Association) gives it a sterling review and 'recommends this book to whānau and tamariki in supporting the settling process of children new to early childhood education'. Admittedly, this is not something I would normally be drawn to personally, but it certainly has its place amongst picture books focused more on education than classic storytelling. It’s a good aid for Early Childhood Teachers to help those less sure of themselves, and to build compassion and empathy amongst the kids already enrolled.
hello! Kia ora! welcome new friend!
by Rachel Weston & Deborah Hinde
Kia Kaha! Together, Standing Strong By June Pitman-Hayes, Minky Stapleton, Ngaere Roberts, Pio Terei (Scholastic New Zealand)
The trio that brought us Kia Ora: You Can Be a Kiwi Too and My Kiwi Gumboots have now created an empathetic, inclusive, bilingual picture book celebrating the power of community and compassion. A lot of thought and attention has been put into this and the characters that reside within.
I particularly enjoyed the full page spreads of all the families interacting with one another and the ages, ethnicities and physical abilities represented. With the 1 year anniversary of March 15th so close, the message presented here is a timely reminder that Aotearoa is a land of rich diversity and the mana and strength of it’s people is infinite. 'Kia kaha! Kia kaha! Together standing strong. We join our hands in friendship, that’s how we get along. All around our gentle land, no matter where we’re from… we’ll show each other how we care and sing our kia kaha song!'
I have been a big fan of Minky Stapleton since the super rad picture book Things in the Sea are Touching Me and the gorgeous cover she did for Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith’s middle-reader book Dawn Raid. Stapleton’s illustrations for Kia Kaha! are energetic and entertaining and each person she has created feels authentic. There is also a lot going on in the background of each page so it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for the fun little scenarios that unfold throughout.
Stapleton’s illustrations for Kia Kaha! are energetic and entertaining and each person she has created feels authentic.
As with Hello! Kia Ora!... there is an easy rhythm which you fall into when reading this aloud – especially after listening to the bonus CD which Pitman-Hayes and Pio Terei sing in both English and Māori (there is also a third purely instrument track so you can belt it out karaoke-style).
I must admit, on more than one occasion, I have internally cringed at the thought of the musical CDs that come with some picture books. So it was with some trepidation that I popped this one into the CD player (yes, I still have a CD player; forever a 90s baby) but I was pleasantly surprised. Both June and Pio have gorgeous voices and the smooth acoustics really lend themselves to the sweet sentiments of the book. It’s quite catchy and I find myself singing it throughout the day. It’s not Baby Shark catchy, praise be, but the melody and words are easy to remember.
Both June and Pio have gorgeous voices and the smooth acoustics really lend themselves to the sweet sentiments of the book.
I especially loved the te reo song as it was a huge help – as a non-te reo speaker -to hear the correct pronunciation whilst reading along. Speaking of, there is a really cool glossary on the last page to give you that extra boost.
Kia Kaha! Together, Standing Strong
by June Pitman-Hayes, Minky Stapleton, Ngaere Roberts, Pio Terei
Scholastic New Zealand
Becky Popham is an artist and bookseller based in Pōneke/Wellington. By day she works at Unity Books, and and by night she makes wonderful and/or weird creations and artworks.