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Rere Atu Taku Poi! Let My Poi Fly!




This heartfelt bilingual picture book by debut author Tangaroa Paul tells the story of Rangi, a gender fluid Māori child, who finds the courage to be true to himself through the power of poi.


The children at Rangi’s kura (school) are practising for their end-of-year concert. Rangi loves poi rather than performing the haka. His classmates laugh at him and say performing poi is just for girls. Their teasing makes him feel very embarrassed.


But every afternoon after school Rangi finds love and acceptance at his grandma’s whare (house) where he watches her kapa haka (Māori performing arts) competition video tapes. He is especially captivated by the way the wāhine perform poi and pūkana and perfects his own skills at poi by copying them.


Shortly before the concert, the leader of the girls gets sick, and they need a last-minute replacement. His best friend tells their teacher that Rangi can do it. But surely a boy can’t lead the poi? Rangi can , and here is his opportunity to shine and to be a star! But it will take a great deal of courage for him to go onstage and do it.


Rere Atu Taku Poi! Let My Poi Fly! has been beautifully illustrated by Rebecca Gibbs. She has a talent for aptly capturing body language and facial expressions.


Her picture of a dejected Rangi sitting all alone, well away from his classmates but within earshot of two girls laughing at him, would provide an excellent opportunity to open up a conversation with children to show how much teasing a child like Rangi can hurt and help to build their empathy and acceptance for a child who is different.


And the way she has captured Rangi’s joyful performance gets right to the heart of this story about how the power of poi was able to connect him to his true self.


Tangaroa Paul, the author, is a poi expert and a lecturer in Te Ao Māori at Auckland University of Technology who identifies as gender-fluid.


From an early age, he knew he was different. And because he didn’t know anyone who was similar to him at his Kura Māori ( Māori school) he couldn’t figure out why he felt that way and wondered if there was something wrong with him.


Tangaroa had a tough time going through primary and Intermediate school because he was obviously different from the norm and became a target for bullies.


He struggled to find answers. “Kapa haka and poi were the only ways in which I felt the connection between my culture and myself.’ he says.


But unlike Rangi in his story, it was not until he became an adult that he was able to find joy and self-acceptance by performing poi with the Wāhine in kapa haka. For Tangaroa it has been a coming-together of his Māori culture and gender identity.

Undoubtedly the story he wrote about Rangi is a story he would have liked to read when he was at school.


I think that Rere Atu Taku Poi! Let My Poi Fly! needs to be in every primary school. It is so important for gender-fluid children to see themselves and their experiences reflected in the books they read to foster positive self-identity and promote cultural understanding.

 

The excellent teachers’ resources to accompany this book, provided on the Oratia Press website, will also help with that. As well as showing how Rere Atu Taku Poi! Let My Poi Fly! links to several learning areas, and a wide range of activities are provided, including how to craft poi. There is a link to videos, too, and one that I found very special is of Tangaroa himself performing poi and looking so happy to be connected to his culture in this way. And the video in which Tangaroa reads his story out loud in Te Reo is an excellent way of helping learners of Te Reo to learn and pronounce the words correctly.


It really is a special book!

 

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Oratia Books

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