The Colossal Squid has long been one of Te Papa’s main attractions, especially for young children. Now, thanks to Victoria Cleal, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White and Te Papa Press we now have a wonderful children’s nonfiction book all about this creature.
Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep takes us on a journey with Whiti, from an ant-sized egg under the ice of Antarctica to the dark depths of the ocean, from the hunted to the hunter, finding a mate and having babies of its own, and finally to a carcass that feeds the wildlife of the Antarctic. Along the way we learn about the colossal squid’s bioluminescent karu (eyes), its hooked tentacles, its beak and its doughnut brain. We also learn about other creatures in the Ross Sea, including the parāoa (sperm whale), the dumbo octopus, the snailfish, and Kākahi (killer whales). New Zealand’s role as kaitiaki (guardians) of Antaractica is also explained.
Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep is a fantastic exploration of this incredible creature that has fascinated so many people. The format of the book, with small chunks of information, a conversational text and stunning illustrations make this a nonfiction book for readers of all ages. Readers can follow the story of Whiti’s life, learning about the squid’s life cycle and the environment in which it lives, while also discovering more about how the squid came to be on display in Te Papa. The double page spreads that fold out in several places in the book make this book feel extra special. I know that children are going to love discovering these and taking in the scenes. Isobel’s illustrations bring Whiti to life, with detailed diagrams showing us the various parts of the squid. I especially love the image of Whiti’s waru shining out in the depths of the ocean.
One of my favourite aspects of this book is the way that te reo Māori and te ao Māori have been woven into both the text and illustrations. Victoria explains that ika means fish at the start of the book and continues to just use ‘ika’ throughout the book. She does the same with ngū (squid), wheke (octopus) and other te reo Māori words. I love this because it helps those words to become part of your vocabulary. The importance of us being kaitiaki of the moana shines through in this book too. A koru motif follows Whiti as it travels through the book, having a similar appearance to Whiti’s arms and tentacles.
Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep is a must-have for all school libraries and would make a wonderful gift for any children who are fascinated with wildlife. It is one of the best New Zealand nonfiction books for children this year.