Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea by Tania Roxborogh

Kids love reading about myths and legends. Greek myths and legends are always popular with kids and authors like Rick Riordan have hooked kids on mythology. Tamariki in Aotearoa grow up reading and hearing stories of Māori mythology, but you’ve never seen them like this before. T. K. Roxborogh has just released her latest book with Huia, Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea, that brings the Māori gods to life. I’m certain that this book will do the same for Māori mythology as Percy Jackson did for Greek mythology. You’ll want to clear a few hours though because once you start Charlie Tangaroa you won’t want to stop.

Charlie has grown up not knowing much about his father who disappeared at sea when he was younger. He does know that he feels at home in water though. He lives with his mum, his brother and his grandfather in Tolaga Bay. While exploring the beach one day Charlie and Robbie find what they believe is a mermaid. They rescue her and take her home, and Charlie discovers that he can communicate with her. Pō-nuia is a ponaturi, a sea goblin, who is trying to flee from Tangaroa’s domain, the sea. Pō-nuia tells Charlie that he is special and that his missing leg is a sign. Tangaroa doesn’t care about this though. He just wants revenge on Tāne for the careless actions of humans who pollute his domain. He will send Rūaumoko with earthquakes and Tāwhirimātea with winds, rain and hail to punish Tāne and his people. It’s up to Charlie, with the help of Robbie and Jenny, to make the gods see sense and end their squabble before it’s too late.

Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea is an action-packed adventure story that had me hooked from the first page. This is quite simply one of the best Kiwi children’s stories set in New Zealand. Personally, this is now my favourite New Zealand fiction book for kids. It is such a fantastic read that I read the whole thing in a day and was reluctant to put it down to spend time with my family.

Tania’s writing is superb and she sweeps you up in the story straight away. You can feel the tension in the air and the sense of impending doom, so you just need to keep reading to find out what happens. Charlie’s voice is so authentic. He feels like your best friend talking to you and telling you the story. Charlie has a disability but he doesn’t let this rule his life. He is thrown into the middle of this fight between the gods but is determined to make things right. All of the characters are nicely developed, from Charlie’s brother, Robbie, to their new friend Jenny, and their grandfather. Tania has also woven an environmental theme through the story, with Tangaroa being angry because of the way humans pollute his domain. Charlie and Robbie regularly try to clean up the beach but there’s also mention of whales being washed up and dying because of the plastic inside them. Jenny’s father is over from America checking up on the new port that is being built and the characters talk about the affect on the oceans being just as much from logging and transporting the logs as an oil spill.

The book has a real New Zealand feel to it, from the landscape of Tolaga Bay that Tania conjures up in your head, to the wildlife that inhabit the domains of Tāne and Tangaroa, and the Te Reo Māori and Te Ao Māori that is an integral part of the story. Te Reo Māori is used throughout the story in such a way that those with a basic knowledge of the language will recognise some words but also learn new words. Waiata play an important role in the story and Charlie’s grandfather has taught them to him since he was very young. Māori gods wreak havoc in the story, with Tāne, Tangaroa and Tāwhirimātea going head to head. I really liked the way that the gods manifest in the story, using the aspects of their domains (birds or the ocean) to show their physical form.

Phoebe Morris’ cover is stunning and really draws you in. I’m a huge fan of Phoebe’s illustrations and they are such a perfect fit with the story. I have to admit to not even noticing Charlie’s leg until it was mentioned part way into the story.

I implore everyone to read this book! I will be recommending it to everyone and encouraging both kids and teachers to read it. It would be a perfect read aloud for Years 6-8 because it would hook every kid. Thank you Tania for writing this story and to Huia for publishing it. We need more stories like this for our tamariki.

Picture Book Nook: Luther and the Cloud-makers by Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson

What would you do if a choking, thick, black cloud of pollution covered your home?  Would you sit back, worrying, and wait for it to go away and for someone else to sort it out, or would you want to find a solution?  In Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson’s new picture book, Luther and the Cloud-makers, this is the issue that Luther and his family face.

At the end of a wide, green valley lies a secret village, full of laughter and singing…until one day the clouds come.  As the clouds gather, turning day to night, Luther sets out to find the cloud-makers and make them stop, before it’s too late.  He meets many cloud-makers along the way, but can he convince them to see the error in their ways?

LutherLuther and the Cloud-makers is a powerful story with an ecological theme, about a boy who stands up for what he believes in.  It shows children that even one small act can make change happen and make the future brighter.  When everyone in his village is sitting around feeling sorry for themselves, Luther decides to do something about the problem and make the cloud-makers stop.  It’s a unique take on the ecological and environmental theme that will entertain and educate readers.

The story is full of Kyle Mewburn’s characteristic word-play and he paints a vivid picture with his language.  I love the way he describes the air in the valley as ‘so fresh your skin soaked it up like an old, dry sponge dropped in the sea,’ and he describes the pollution cloud as ‘tongue-tingling, nose-crinkling.’  Kyle makes the cloud-makers sound so menacing by using words like ‘rumbling,’ ‘belching, booming,’ ‘roaring’ and ‘crackling.’

Sarah Nelisiwe Annderson’s illustrations for Luther and the Cloud-makers are superb and really suit the tone of the story.   I love the way that Sarah has contrasted the colours throughout the book.  At the beginning of the book there are lots of bright and vibrant blues and greens to highlight how clean and fresh the village is.  Then the oozing black clouds appear and bring darkness to the landscape.  When Luther meets the cloud-makers Sarah has used lots of red, orange and black to highlight the danger and evil nature of the cloud-makers and their pollution.  When he finally gets to the city, almost all colour has disappeared, to be replaced by grey and black.  It’s on the last few pages that Sarah gives your eyeballs a wake-up call.  One of the things I really like about Sarah’s illustrations is the way that she frames them and uses different panels on the page.  One of my favourite examples of this in the book is when everything goes dark in the village and the animals become confused.  This style will certainly appeal to older children who like graphic novels.  I’d actually really like to read a graphic novel (or even a wordless picture book) written by Sarah.

Luther and the Cloud-makers is a wonderful picture book to read to children young and old, and it’s a must-have book for teachers.