The Pōrangi Boy by Shilo Kino

Kids need books that are both mirrors and windows. They need to be able to read books that mirror their own life and experiences but also books that give them a view in to someone else’s life, someone different from them. It is so great to see more stories being published from the perspective of Māori kids, giving Māori kids the chance to see themselves in a story and for Pākēha kids to read a story from a Māori perspective. Shilo Kino’s new book, The Pōrangi Boy, tells the story of Niko, a Māori boy trying to prove he’s not pōrangi by carrying on the legacy of his Koro and standing up for what he believes in.

Like his Koro, many in his small town think Niko is pōrangi (crazy). Tū, Kaore and Hone call him pōrangi boy and bully him relentlessly. Niko loves his Koro and he seems to be the only one who doesn’t think his Koro is pōrangi. Niko’s Koro teaches him how to wield a taiaha to defend rather than attack, and he teaches him about Taukere, the taniwha that protects their town. There are plans for a new prison to be built in Pohe Bay and while many in the town are against the idea it is only Niko’s Koro who is prepared to do what he can to stop it happening. The prison would be built over sacred land, destroying Taukere’s home. When Koro dies the family gathers for the tangi and when Koro’s will is read out many of the family are unhappy. Niko decides that he must carry on his Koro’s legacy and fight for what he believes is right.

The Pōrangi Boy is an incredible story that I devoured in one sitting! The story reminded me of Taika Waititi’s best films (Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) because Shilo gives you a snapshot of life in Aotearoa, with the gritty reality but also some humour and great characters that you route for. From the first lines Niko’s voice is so clear and you get so completely caught up in his life that you have to keep reading until the end. As a Pākēha I found Niko’s story eye-opening and confronting at times, from Niko’s home life to the horrible bullying that he’s subjected to. The racism that Niko and his Koro experience is pretty shocking too. Niko’s teacher, Mrs Wobberly, is blatantly racist, calling the kids she teaches Mowrees and calling Niko the Mowree Shakespeare. Nico and Koro experience racism when they go to buy Niko a bike and the shop owner calls Niko a ‘dirty little Mowree.’

There is much speculation about the taniwha of the story, Taukere. The reason that Niko’s Koro is against the prison is because he has met Taukere and knows that he protects the town. Niko isn’t so certain that Taukere exists but when he and his cousin Moki end up in the river they encounter something with red eyes that saves them from drowning.

This is a story about community and relationships. Niko’s mother has a drug addiction, so she is often passed out on the sofa, and Niko’s dad isn’t around, so Niko often has to fend for himself. He has a good relationship with his aunties, who look after him, and his Koro. I really loved Niko and Koro’s relationship as they both took care of each other. Niko sometimes doesn’t understand what his Koro is telling him but he always makes him his cup of tea just how he likes it. They may both be called pōrangi but they make it clear that they’re anything but. Niko’s community is divided about having the prison in their town but the wider community come together to support the protest, including family that Niko never knew he had.

Language is such an important part of this story, from the te reo Māori that is woven in to the story to the way that the characters talk. Most of the characters are Māori so te reo Māori is spoken throughout the story, and this was an aspect of the story that I really loved. Some words and their meanings were unfamiliar to me at the start of the story but the more they were used the more familiar they became. The character’s voices sound authentic, with slang like hungus (hungry) and angus (angry) being part of the conversation. There are also some swear words used in a couple of instances but these fit with the situation (although don’t make the story ideal as a read aloud).

The Pōrangi Boy is one of the best Aotearoa children’s books of the year. This should absolutely be on the shortlist for the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win. Niko is 12 in the story but I think it is probably more suited to young adults (or mature Year 7/8 readers). I can’t recommend The Pōrangi Boy highly enough.

Avis and the Promise of Dragons by Heather McQuillan

Dragons are creatures of myth, but imagine if there was a dragon in your neighbourhood. This is exactly what Avis discovers when she takes a job as a pet-sitter for the local ‘witch.’ Heather McQuillan introduces us to Avis and Humbert the dragon in her latest book, Avis and the Promise of Dragons.

Avis is having a hard time at home and school. The school bully, Drake, is making her miserable and her dad and brother have changed since her mum left and shacked up with an ex-All Black. A ray of light appears in her life just when she needs it – Dr Malinda Childe. Avis dreams of working with animals and Dr Malinda offers her a job as her pet-sitter. These are no ordinary pets though. These pets are special and unusual and Avis makes a promise to keep them a secret. This isn’t the only promise that she will make over the course of a weekend and soon Avis finds herself bonded to mythical creature. A mythical creature that just happens to love chocolate. If Avis is to keep her promises she will need to shake her brother and father out of their funk because she is going to need their help.

Avis and the Promise of Dragons is a magical adventure that you want to gobble down, like a dragon with a block of chocolate. Heather takes a story of a family who have fallen apart and throws a mischievous dragon into the mix. There is lots packed into the story, from family issues and bullying to conservation and the impact of the media. Avis’ Dad is a broken man after Avis’ Mum walked out on her family to start a new life with ex-All Black Aaron Miller. He takes little notice of what is happening with his kids, instead wallowing in his self-pity. Avis’ brother Bruno hides away in his room constantly, eating rubbish food and just generally being unpleasant. Avis is the only one in the family who is showing any responsibility, but she is also bearing the brunt of Drake the bully’s torment. The pet-sitting job for Dr Malinda gives her something positive in her life. The dragon coming in to her life helps to mend her family too.

Heather will make you wish you had a dragon all of your own. I really liked Heather’s take on the dragon myth and how her little dragon evolved. This dragon may love chocolate but but he’s certainly not sweet. Humbert is a wild creature who could burn you if you don’t keep your promises. He needs more food than just chocolate and will gobble up a dove or twenty when he’s hungry.

I loved Avis and the Promise of Dragons. It would make a fantastic read aloud for Years 5/6 as it will have the kids hanging on every word.

Heather McQuillian has just been announced as the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence Fellow for 2021. Congratulations Heather! I look forward to reading what you create during your time in Dunedin.

Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep by Victoria Cleal and Isobel Joy Te Aho-White

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.

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.

Amazing Aotearoa Activity Book by Gavin Bishop

Gavin Bishop’s Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story and Wildlife of Aotearoa have been some of the best New Zealand nonfiction books for kids in recent years. They are books that myself and the kids at school come back to again and again, finding new bits of information every time. I was very excited to see a new activity book based on these books pop through my mailbox yesterday and I couldn’t wait to share it.

The Amazing Aotearoa Activity Book is bursting with Gavin Bishop’s fantastic illustrations and activities for all ages, based on the information found inside the nonfiction books. The book starts with activities that get kids to introduce themselves and their whānau. They can fill in their pepeha and draw their whānau. From here kids can travel back to the time of the gods or the dinosaurs, meet famous animals, create their own country and treaty, write stories, decipher secret codes, and colour in to their heart’s content.

The Amazing Aotearoa Activity Book will get kids (and adults) designing, creating, and imagining. It is an activity book so beautiful you almost don’t want to write and draw in it. It has been designed and produced with the same care and attention as Gavin’s previous Aotearoa books. There is something in this book for the whole family. Parents could work on the activities with younger children or older children could complete the activities themselves.

Like Gavin Bishop’s other Aotearoa books, te reo Māori and te ao Māori are incorporated into the information and activities throughout the book. This is one of my favourite aspects of the book as it exposes kids to Māori language and culture.

The Amazing Aotearoa Activity Book is released on 29 September, just in time for the school holidays. This would certainly make a great gift. It will give kids hours of entertainment.

Two wonderful new bilingual books to celebrate Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori

As someone who wants to use more te reo Māori in my everyday life books are a great way to do this. I read lots of books to the classes who visit my library each week and I try (especially during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori) to include books in te reo as read alouds. Bilingual books are especially great as I can read in both te reo Māori and English. Oratia Publishers have just released two wonderful new bilingual picture books – 12 Huia Birds/12 Manu Huia by Julian Stokoe and Stacy Eyles and Rona Moon by Tim Tipene and Theresa Reihana.

12 Huia Birds/12 Manu Huia is a bilingual version of the picture book originally published in English in 2016. It tells the story of one of our most beautiful birds and the circumstances that lead to its extinction. The author and illustrator convey an environmental message that highlights our impact on the world. This book has been particularly popular with the teachers at my school, both for the environmental message and the counting down from 12. The text in te reo Māori is a lovely addition to this book.

Rona Moon, written by Tim Tipene (translated by Stephanie Huriana Fong) and illustrated by Theresa Reihana is a modern version of the Rona and the Moon myth. While Peter Gossage’s retelling of the myth is ideal for younger children, Tim Tipene’s Rona Moon makes the story more relatable for today’s children. Rona is a young girl who gets angry with everyone – her brother, her Nana and her Papa. One day she gets so angry that she calls the moon stupid and she finds herself on the moon. She meets Whaea Rona and Whaea teaches her to use her anger to create change, not to attack others. Rona returns home with a new outlook.

Simple te reo Māori is used in the story and te ao Māori is woven into the story. Even those with very basic te reo Māori knowledge will be able to read the story in English, while more confident speakers could read the story fully in te reo Māori. I really love having both options in one book because it helps me to feel confident about giving the te reo Māori a go. I love how Theresa’s illustrations really show readers how angry and frustrated Rona Moon is, while also showing her transformation at the end of the story. The cover is fantastic and is sure to grab the attention of kids and adults alike.

Both of these books are must-have books for classrooms and school libraries. They will be regularly read by teachers and kids will pick them up to read the stories and learn some new te reo Māori words at the same time.

Interview with Des Hunt

Red Edge is the fantastic new book by one of NZ’s most prolific authors, Des Hunt. I’ve read many of Des’ books over the years and I love them because they’re set in New Zealand and focus on our unique wildlife. Des’ books are always fast-paced and action-packed.

After reading Red Edge, set in my home town of Christchurch, I wanted to ask Des some questions about the story. Check out my interview to learn about the inspiration for Red Edge, how Des decides what wildlife will feature in his stories and his secret to writing a page-turner.

As someone who has grown up in Christchurch and has lived around the area where much of the story is set I feel like you’ve really captured my home town. Did you visit Christchurch and some of the locations when researching the book?

I visited Christchurch on four different occasions over a period of three years: two to visit schools and two to do specific research such as visiting Riccarton Bush. I searched the suburbs that had been most affected looking for one that would best suit the ideas I was having for the story. I chose Avonside because I found several houses around there that hadn’t been repaired – the Horton House in the story is based on a couple of those.

Cassi and Quinn are both kids that were young when the earthquakes occurred. They are still affected by them, even now, 9 years later. Have you met kids like Cassi and Quinn when you’ve visited schools?

Yes. That was always the main impetus for the story. At the time I was doing workshops where I asked the children to write a short backstory of themselves. Almost every one of those featured the earthquakes, particularly emphasising the number of houses they’d lived in, and the multiple schools attended. To me it was clear that growing up with instability in home and school was having an affect on these kids, especially their relationships with others. They would have had to make and break friends so regularly that it was sure to influence their dealings with others.

This is your first time writing a female lead character. Did Cassi’s character come easily to you?

I was surprised how it came together so readily. Probably my contact with readers during school visits helped, as girls are usually more willing to share emotions and personal information than boys. She’s a character that I got to like a lot, and I’m hoping she’ll appear in some more stories.

Matiu the tow-truck driver is one of my favourite characters in Red Edge. He helps Cassi and Quinn when they need it the most. If you could have someone handy like Matiu to help you out in a tricky situation who would you choose?

I’d choose someone just like Matiu. They would need to have good sense of humour, be willing to help people, work hard, and have a positive outlook on life. It would need to be somebody much younger than me as most of the problems I experience are age related. I know there is no shortage of such people in Aotearoa as I meet many of them during my travels.

Your books often focus on criminal activity and the kids who bring the criminals down. Do real events inspire your stories?

Very much so – I am an avid collector of news stories. As an example, the story of the lunchbox full of dead lizards in Red Edge came from a newspaper report in August 2017. That got me thinking of using wildlife smugglers as the bad guys in the story. There have also been several court cases involving scammers targeting ’quake victims. I try to get into the heads of these sorts people in the hope that I can make my antagonists more real.

Red Edge is a tense, action-packed read. What is your secret to writing stories that make readers want to keep turning the pages?

One of the things I don’t like reading in a book is lengthy descriptions of people or clothing or buildings or towns – in fact, almost any description of a thing. This has carried over to my writing, where I give very few descriptions of faces or places, unless they are relevant to the story. I like my readers to get a feel for a person through what they do and think, along with some idea of the locations through what happens there.  This helps increase the pace of the story. Then, after the first draft is finished, I start cutting out anything that doesn’t contribute to one of the following: developing a character, progressing the story, contributing to the climax. I also make sure there is a good mix of slow- and fast-paced parts, so the reader can catch breath at times, especially after major action scenes.

Many of your books feature our wonderful New Zealand wildlife, including Albatross, Huia and Weta. How do decide which animal will feature in each story?

This is often dictated by the location and the animals that are found nearby. Giant wētā were always in my mind for a story and, at first, I couldn’t see how it would fit in with Christchurch. I did visit Mt Somers near Methven to look for wētā, but I found it difficult to include the location in the story. Then the Kaikoura earthquake occurred and I knew there were species around there, so giant wētā became the main animal in the story. I like writing about our endemic animals as many of them are pretty special zoologically. Also, in the back of my mind is the thought that people who have respect for animals are good guys, and those who abuse them are bad.

You are especially good at creating the villains in your stories. Who is your favourite fictional villain?

I’ve been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing since I was about 11, so Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes stories is my number one choice. Amongst more recent writing I would choose Lord Voldemort from J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In my own stories I particularly like the gang leader Skulla from Cry of the Taniwha.

Check out my review of Red Edge and get a copy from your library or bookshop now.

Red Edge by Des Hunt

I’ve only read a handful of books set in my home town of Christchurch. James Norcliffe’s Under the Rotunda was read to me at primary school and it stuck with me because I recognised the places that the characters went to. Recent kids books set here have focused on our earthquakes, including the wonderful Canterbury Quake by my good friend and fellow school librarian, Desna Wallace. Des Hunt’s latest book, Red Edge, has just been released and this story is set in Christchurch in the present day, a decade since the earthquakes. Red Edge really resonated with me and it feels like one of Des’ best books yet.

Cassi Whelan has just moved to a new house, close to the Red Zone in Christchurch, the area of cleared land that was once full of houses and streets. Cassi has moved houses eight times since the September 2010 earthquakes but she’s hoping this will be the last time. She lives next door to an abandoned house that is known as the Haunted House. However, with the help of her new friend and neighbour, Quinn, they discover that it’s not ghosts they should be worried about. Dodgy people are visiting the garage next door, there are wetas crawling around in there and large amounts of money appear in the letterbox. Cassi and Quinn know that something illegal is going on and they’re going to find out the truth. When they do discover what is happening they know it is up to them to stop it and bring the criminals to justice.

Red Edge had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through and I couldn’t stop until I knew how it all ended. Des Hunt really knows how to tell a story that draws you in immediately and keeps you furiously turning the pages. It’s fast-paced and some parts are quite nail-biting, especially in the second half of the book. Des makes you worry for his characters and hope that they can bring the bad guys down.

As someone who has lived in Christchurch my whole life I thought Des really knew my city. He doesn’t live here but it feels like he has driven the streets and knows the layout. He has clearly done his research. He has captured what it is like to live in this city and how years of earthquakes have affected us all. I’ve lived in the area where much of the story is set so I could picture everything so clearly.

The characters felt very real, from Cassi and Quinn to Lou and Raven. Cassi and Quinn are kids who were quite young at the time of the first earthquakes but it’s clear to see how they have affected their lives. Both Quinn and Cassi share their experiences of the September and February earthquakes and this part of the story made me choke up because their stories felt so real. Cassi prefers to be out in the open, running through the Red Zone because she knows that nothing can really fall on her if there is another big quake. She also sleepwalks which Quinn thinks might be tied to her cat running away during the earthquakes. Quinn is the target of vicious cyber bullying and the affect of this shows in his character. He is initially untrusting of Cassi, especially when it comes to her needing to text or call him. One of the girls at school has previously sent horrible texts to him and this starts up again after an incident at school. The adult characters in the story are wonderful too, especially Jim Maclean the ex-reporter, and Matiu the tow-trucker driver, who made me laugh every time. Des Hunt writes great villains and Lou and Raven are no exception. They’re nasty and sneaky and prepared to do anything to get their way.

Red Edge would make a fantastic read aloud for Years 7-9. It is a story that hooks readers straight away and keeps the tension high. This is New Zealand fiction for kids at its very best!

Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble

A new book by Bren MacDibble is a cause for celebration. Each of her books are unique but you always know it is going to be a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. You also know that you are going to meet kids who are trying to get by in an environment that has been dramatically altered by human neglect. Pollution has caused the bees to die off or noxious weeds have spread causing crops to die. In Bren’s latest book, Across the Risen Sea, sea levels have risen hugely, sending cities under water and humans scrambling for hills and mountains that are now islands.

Neoma and Jag live in a small community on what was once the high ground and that is now their island. They live a gentle life, taking little from the land and scavenging what they need from things that remain of the old world. The risen sea provides them with fish and tinned food can be found in the wrecks of skyscrapers. Their peaceful existence is shattered when strangers from the Valley of the Sun arrive one day, installing a strange electrical device on the hill. Soon Neoma and Jag find themselves caught up in secrets and lies and Jag gets taken away as punishment. Neoma knows that it is up to her to rescue Jag and find the truth that will save her village.

Across the Risen Sea is a captivating adventure story set in a version of our world that is scarily possible. It’s a story of survival against the odds, of justice, of friendship and family. It’s also a mystery, as you try to figure out who the Valley of the Sun are and what their technology does.

While not explicitly stating it, Bren shows us what our world could become if global warming carries on its current course. In her story, massive storms have destroyed cities and the sea levels have risen to cover them, leaving only the higher ground for people to live on. Technology still exists but on a much smaller scale, and is often scavenged from what is left of the old world. Neoma’s little corner of the world is relatively peaceful, with small communities living on the surrounding islands, but the existence of the Valley of the Sun shows us that there are other communities that exist.

One of the things I love most about Bren’s stories is that she shows how strong and resilient kids are in the face of terrible circumstances. Neoma sees injustice in what happens to her friends and family so she sets out to make it right. She has grown up on her island so knows how to survive but she is out of her depth when she sets out to rescue Jag. She faces a cranky crocodile, a massive (and very hungry) shark, an angry pirate and the Valley of the Sun. Even after she has faced huge challenges she is still determined to find the truth and save her village.

I have loved each of Bren’s stories and can’t recommend them highly enough. Across the Risen Sea would make both a great read aloud and a novel study for Years 7-9.

The Nature Activity Book by Rachel Haydon and Pippa Keel

The Nature Activity Book by Rachel Haydon and illustrated by Pippa Keel is an activity book that all homes in NZ should have on the shelf. Not only is it the perfect activity book to engage all ages of kids when we all have to stay at home, it’s also the perfect book to get the whole family outside and exploring nature. Whether you are stuck in your own back yard or discovering part of the country you’ve never been to, this book helps you enjoy nature using all five senses. This book helps you become a waewae kai kapua- an adventurer.

There are 99 brilliant activities in this book that are fun, informative and reflective. The activities are split into sections, including Experiments and Inquiry, and Sense and Mindfulness. Activities range from collecting items such as leaves and feathers, listening out for the sounds around you, and making nature scavenger hunts, to making dyes from fruits and vegetables, making bird feeders, and observing clouds. Just flicking through the book makes me want to get outside and do the activities. I love that there are activities to keep kids busy but also activities to help kids slow down and be mindful. There are plenty of activities that involve you just sitting or lying on the grass, listening to and looking at what is happening around you. Some activities kids could do independently, while others would be more fun as a family. Each of the activities use materials that you have around home, like scissors, bamboo skewers, or a sponge. Rachel and Pippa give you a helpful list of materials at the start of the book but they suggest that you can improvise or find alternatives.

The Nature Activity Book is not one of those cheaply produced activity books that you’d find at Kmart. This is a beautiful book, with quality paper and it has been wonderfully designed. Pippa’s illustrations fill the book with flora, fauna and wildlife that gives it a very Kiwi feel. There is plenty of space to write, draw, colour and collect the things you find. There’s a great glossary and even suggested websites to visit to find more information about bees, day walks and native deciduous plants.

One of my favourite aspects of the book is that Rachel has seamlessly woven te reo Māori and tikanga Māori into the activities. I learnt so many useful te reo words while reading through the activities, like mīharo (awe and wonder), kapua (clouds) and waewae kai kapua (adventurer). One of the sections of activities focuses on how kids can take action to look after our natural world and be a kaitiakitanga or guardian of the land.

Get a copy of The Nature Activity Book for the kids in your life now. It is an invaluable resource for all Kiwi families.