Māui's Taonga Tales: A Treasury of Stories from Aotearoa and the Pacific, Various authors
Every so often, far less frequently than you would hope, a book is released that immediately makes your heart sing. A book that upon just seeing the cover makes it clear it's important and precious. A taonga.
Māui's Taonga Tales, and its te reo Māori companion He Paki Taonga i a Māui, is one such book.
The book evolved out of an animated television series, which started airing on Māori TV in late September. The fresh approach uses taonga from the Te Papa collection to tells aspects of Aotearoa history.
Told through the voice of Māui, the stories are from both long ago and more recent times, and were chosen in consultation with Te Papa's mātauranga Māori curators and iwi.
Each story uses a taonga from the museum, and then allows the authors to retell a story that relates. A kete leads to the retelling of Tāne and the kete of knowledge, while a hoe, or paddle, leads to a story about Captain Cook and the deadly encounter of 1769. A vinyl record by the band Herbs tells the story of the Rainbow Warrior, while a NZSAS uniform held in the collection recounts Willie Apiata's tough decision. While some stories might seem like they are covering dark times in our shared history, each author draws on the positive - compassion and kaitiakitanga are strong core themes woven throughout the pages. Modern-day language used throughout the stories will appeal to younger readers.
The book helps build te reo Māori skills for learners of the language, while also sharing valuable knowledge about taonga and prompting an understanding of mātauranga Māori.
Māui's Taonga Tales fills a bit of a gap in the market at the moment - it can be hard work finding a book for middle-grade readers that uses te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori. This is even more true for the fully te reo Māori edition, which was translated by Stephanie Tibble.
Each story also has a different illustrator. More well-known picture book illustrators like Munro Te Whata (The Promise of Puanga, Whakarongo ki o Tupuna), and Josh Morgan (The Bomb, The Marble Maker) join others that are taking their first steps into the book world. The eight Māori artists have distinctive, unique styles and add their own take to the stories. Some also illustrated the stories that they whakapapa to.
Ariki Brightwell's distinctive red, white and black murals translate into bold, bright illustrations, perfect for illustrating the stories of mana wāhine Ruhia and Huria. Likewise, as someone who has admired Reweti Arapere's cardboard creations, seeing how he interpreted the story of Tongariro into a two-dimensional aspect was interesting and insightful.
I can see the book being used in multiple ways in a classroom. It will serve as a wonderful inspiration - what taonga do our children have? How do they retell that? How do they illustrate it? If you're looking to gift your child's school library a book, put this one on the top of the list.
There's a short and sweet glossary for those who aren't too sure on some of the te reo Māori used within the pages. Further information abut the taonga that inspired the stories is also included at the rear of the book. The artists who illustrated the book also get a brief bio. It would have been nice to have the storytellers included too.
It is obvious that at every aspect of the book's creation there's been a lot of love, effort and respect poured into it. Māui's Taonga Tales is a an absolute taonga and one that should be in every household and school across the country.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Te Papa Press, RRP $29.99