Batkiwi by Melinda Szymanik and Isobel Joy Te Aho-White

It’s official – Melinda Szymanik is a genius! She has taken our most famous flightless bird, and an internationally recognised symbol of New Zealand, and turned it into a superhero. But we all know that the greatest superheroes can’t save the world alone. They need a super friend to help them. That’s where Bat comes in. Together they are Batkiwi!

More than anything in the world, Kiwi really wants to help others. When he hears the cries of animals in distress he races as fast as his little legs will carry him, to do what he can to help. He’s pretty fast, but never fast enough. When he arrives he’s either too late or he doesn’t have the abilities needed to help. After trying but failing to help, over and over again, Kiwi feels down. He slinks back to his cave, and it is here that he meets Bat. Two is always better than one, and Bat wants to help. Together they become the dynamic duo of Batkiwi, and they are finally able to help save the day.

Batkiwi is a gem of a picture book that proves what we can all do if we work together. My daughter summed Batkiwi up perfectly, saying ‘it’s a story about being kind.’ Kiwi is an incredibly kind creature who just wants to help others, but he gets quite deflated when he just can’t help. Being unable to fly and having short legs really sucks, especially when Kiwi sees what the other animals can do.

Melinda Szymanik’s story is filled with gorgeous language and lots of repeated phrases that will encourage children to join in. Each time a hero is needed, Kiwi runs ‘as fast as his sturdy legs could carry him. He was pretty fast…but he wasn’t fast enough.’ Isobel Joy Te Aho-White’s illustrations are evocative of the New Zealand bush, which comes alive in the moonlight. I love the way that she has given the animals real personality, while making sure they still look like those animals. Kiwi, for instance, looks determined and excited as he runs off to help, and Isobel has given him a koru design on his face. One of my favourite images shows Kiwi running (from front on) with a burst of colour behind him. You can almost imagine a superhero cape flapping behind him as he runs.

Another aspect of this book that I really love is the design. Although the story takes place at night, white space has been cleverly used. Sometimes this means the text drifts across the page on tendrils of mist or smoke, and on the second page, some of the text is on the moon. On other pages, Melinda’s text has been perfectly cocooned by Isobel’s illustrations.

Batkiwi is a picture book that will be enjoyed over and over again. It’s a must-have for the family bookshelf, preschools and school libraries.

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