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Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai by Michaela Kebble


Paku Manu Ariki is trying to understand his role in his family, community and the larger world. His preoccupation is who is the boss—his nanna at the marae, his older siblings, or any number of atua? His steadfast dad, his Pākehā mum, the “leader of the free world”, or Paku Manu Ariki himself?


Paku Manu bumps up against authority, trying to reconcile the kind and just rules of nanna and the unjust power of leaders he sees every day on the TV.


From the very first page, Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai sets the tone for what it is - a bold, confronting and multi-layered picture book.


The young boys talks directly to the reader, drawing on the stories that spin around him. It's almost a stream of consciousness, with the reader coming along as the young boy works through complex ideas in an imaginative way.


Pari-a-Rua-based author Michaela Keeble has said the words in the book are almost all things her youngest son, Kerehi Grace (Nga ti Toa Rangatira, Nga ti Porou), has said over the past few years.


The book features debut illustrator Tokerau Brown, who adds energy and imagination with a contemporary Māori-Pasifika gothic style. Colour and energy burst from the page in his imaginative and quirky illustrations.


Publisher Gecko Press has produced some great teacher notes to accompany this book, and I can see it becoming a wonderful resource in schools.


Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai has so much depth to it, slowly revealed with each read. Behind the simple structure, text and beautiful illustrations lies a timeless truth. The story echoes the way images, feelings, words and history surround a child when they’re growing up, no matter how you try to protect them or how hard you work to explain the inexplicable, Keeble says.


It will not appeal to everyone, and many people won't 'get' it, but for those who see themselves reflected in the pages, this book will have them beaming.


Reviewer: Rebekah Lyell

Gecko Press

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