12 Huia Birds, by Julian Stokoe

12 beautiful huia birds play and sing in the forest. But is that a canoe arriving? A rat sniffling? A ship on the horizon? One by one, the huia start to disappear – what will remain?

12 Huia Birds is the beautiful but haunting story of one of our country’s most beloved native birds. The book, with gentle rhyme and colourful imagery, is a tie-in with the app of the same name, making it a true multimedia spectacular.

The story, in both book and app, conveys an environmental message without nagging or overwhelming. While fictional, it bases itself around the history of the mystical huia bird, which was hunted – by both animal and man – to extinction before its call could be recorded.

As a teacher I was excited to see the book counting down from a number other than ten. I was fascinated by the possibility of it as a math resource. However, while it still stands as a great numeracy aid, the 12 refers to the tail feathers of the huia bird – one of the things it was most valued for. This clever detail only added to the charm of the story.

Illustrator Stacy Eyles has a unique, refreshing style that brings the story to life. It is within the app where his work really sparkles. Paired with animation, music and lots to interact with, children will be engaged, while learning all about this large orange wattled forest bird.

Within the app, you can choose to have the story narrated in either te reo Māori or English by George Henare. Children tap and drag on the images to explore what happens with the arrival of strange creatures in the huia’s habitat. While the app is intended for those over six years, my preschooler loves it and can happily navigate her way through the story. The book itself has become a favourite bedtime story, with constant requests for ‘Mr Huia bird book!’.

12 Huia Birds is a lovely tale of a sad moment within our history. It really does bring the majestic bird back to life and leaves readers with plenty of food for thought about our past and present. Together with the app, it is a perfect package that should be a part of every Kiwi kid’s home library.

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Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

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