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Interview: Isobel Joy Te Aho-White talks about Matariki Around the World

Isobel (Izzy) Joy Te-Aho White (Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungungu ki te Wairoa) is a freelance graphic artist and illustrator with a passion for the natural world and te ao Māori. She specialises in symbolism and metaphor, and her work is influenced by mythology and folk tales, botanical illustration and life experience. Izzy talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Matariki Around the World.

Matariki Around the World is an illustrated encyclopedia written by Rangi Matamua and Miriama Kamo, and explores how the Matariki cluster is known in Aotearoa and around the world, by its many different names as festivities.

How did you come to be involved in this book project?

Scholastic reached out to me to illustrate this project after I had worked on them with Batkiwi (written by Melinda Szymanik). My work is fairly adaptable but often incorporates representational drawings with overlaid design and symbolism, which we thought would be a good fit for this kaupapa.

What was your routine or process when illustrating this book?

This book involved a heavy research phase to make sure that I understood each culture’s perspective, and were signed off on by cultural advisors to ensure I was using symbolism in a way that aligns with each culture’s tikanga.

Usually I read through the text while drawing, sort of like a checklist, to make sure I’m incorporating the main elements of the text - and compositions are developed as I draw. In this case, I worked alongside an expert kid’s book designer Vida Kelly, who sent me the layout, and the compositions were worked around that.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Can I pick an album? If so, Maisey Rika’s Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea is quintessential Matariki listening!

What did you enjoy the most about illustrating Matariki Around the World?

The learning aspect of it. There are so many stories from the different cultures represented in the book that excited me. I also connected with my own whakapapa, taha Māori and Scandinavian, and had some interesting conversations with friends who whakapapa to China and the Pacific Islands during this process as well.

What does Matariki mean to you?

Matariki for me is a time to stop and reflect, to recharge, to reconnect with the natural environment and to spend time with loved ones.

What did you do to celebrate finishing the illustrations for this book?

I had some peach bellinis in the sunshine to celebrate the end of the illustrations stage, which was completed early this year, and I’m looking forward to a celebration with Scholastic for Matariki this year!

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Whiti Hereaka’s Kurangaituku. I just love the premise and the rich, lyrical writing style.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

More children’s books- I have projects lined up until mid next year at this point, so I will be keeping busy!

Scholastic New Zealand


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