The Pōrangi Boy by Shilo Kino
Twelve-year-old Niko lives in Pohe Bay, a small, rural town with a sacred hot spring – and a taniwha named Taukere. The government wants to build a prison over the home of the taniwha, and Niko’s grandfather is busy protesting. People call him pōrangi, crazy, but when he dies, it’s up to Niko to convince his community that the taniwha is real and stop the prison from being built. With help from his friend Wai, Niko must unite his whānau, honour his grandfather and stand up to his childhood bully.
If the story sounds a little familiar, especially for those of us from Te Tai Tokerau, that's because it riffs off real life. The prison? Ngāwhā. The taniwha? Takauere. I was at the start of my te reo Māori journey at about the same time as the Ngāwhā prison development and so it was a regular discussion in the Whangārei classrooms I attended, and a story I feel lucky enough to know from the ground, rather than through a filter of media.
For many others though, this story was barely a blip on the radar. The Pōrangi Boy takes the bones of the Ngāwhā story and fleshes it out, to help educate New Zealanders about the realities of colonisation in our country. Author Shilo Kino does a wonderful job of weaving fiction and non-fiction together to tell an engaging story.
Kino has said she wrote this book for kids who struggle to see themselves in stories. She's done a spectacular job ensuring that both the story and the characters do that.
Niko is relatable and authentic, and little Moki is adorable. All the characters have complex relationships and emotions, making them feel real.
The language Kino uses made me homesick for Northland; it's been a long time since I've heard the term 'hungus' or 'angus' (hungry or angry). It was particularly great to see Kino hasn't translated te reo Māori words either. Growing up I remember my te reo teacher telling us never to translate kupu as an act of resistance to colonisation.
"If we are expected to learn English, the reader can learn a little bit of our reo too," my teacher used to say. I'm not sure if that was Kino's plan, but it seems too perfect not to be in a book that challenges the norm in every other way. That said, the te reo Māori used should really be common knowledge and Kino uses it in context so it isn't too hard to work out.
I was a little bit confused by the timeline switches within the book, but it is quite obvious once your eye finally spots the tiny 'before' and 'after' at the start of each chapter. I was so hungry for the story, I completely missed those little markers.
The Pōrangi Boy is a fantastic debut from Kino. It is the type of book that our mokopuna should be reading, the type of book that every school should have a classroom set of. This is a book my teenage self would have loved to have had. I'm so pleased Kino, and Huia Publishers, has made it a reality for my children.
Reviewed by: Rebekah Lyell
Huia Publishers, RRP $25