If your young (4 – 7 years old) child loves dolphins, the ocean, or Finding Nemo, then Maria Gill & Bruce Potter’s The Last of Maui’s Dolphins is a picture book you should consider picking up for them.
Set in New Zealand waters, the picture book manages to get an important message about the danger Maui’s dolphins are in, while still managing to entertain. The idea that fishing nets pose a danger to these beautiful creatures is introduced subtly, and from the viewpoint of the dolphin. The danger of these “dark shapes” isn’t revealed to be fishing trawlers until late in the book, and it makes the story quite an adventure, mostly thanks to the main character, Maui’s dolphin Hiriwa’s pluckiness.
I mentioned that if your kids love Finding Nemo they would like this picture book, and The Last of Maui’s Dolphins definitely has a similar feel, due to the threat of humans, and the sense of fast-paced adventure (a remarkable feat in a short picture book I must add!) combined with being set in the ocean. But this book is unique, and is its own story. It is a very New Zealand tale, and makes a great introduction to our country’s waters.
The illustrations are beautiful, if a little eerie, and Bruce has opted for giving the different characters personalities without distorting them into cartoonish figures. This semi-realistic style, combined with the book’s message and two pages of facts at the back make it suitable for the 6-7 age bracket. This age will love the map at the back that shows where in New Zealand waters dolphins live, and the pictures of real dolphins and information about exactly how set nets endanger them give this fictional account a very non-fiction feel.
Younger children may not grasp the message completely, but this makes the book no less entertaining or worthwhile. It is aimed at 4 to 7 year olds, but even if you have a younger child (between about two and a half and four), don’t be afraid to get this book out. Miss two-and-a-half absolutely loved it – even if she didn’t engage fully with the message, the pictures and story are engaging.