Counting the Stars

Retold by Gavin Bishop

Illustrated by Gavin Bishop

Published by Random House, 2009

ISBN: 978 1 86979 072 1

  • Shortlisted for Storylines Notable NZ Books: Non-fiction (2010)

NZC activities for this picture book here.

This book is a collection of four Maori myths which are accompanied by striking illustrations showing clear New Zealand images including New Zealand flora and fauna and beach and bush landscapes.  Mother Earth and Father Sky tells the traditional Maori story of creation, and how the two lovers Earth (Papatuanuku) and Sky (Ranginui) came to be separated by Tanemahuta, God of the Forest. The Battle of the Birds tells the story of the disagreement between the forest kawau and the coastal kawau and how each formed their own army of forest and sea birds and battled for their place, in the bush or on the sea. Kae and the Whale tells the story of Tinirau’s revenge on Kae, after he steals and eats Tinirau’s treasured whale, Tutunui. Hinemoa and Tutanekai relates Hinemoa’s great love for Tutanekai, and of how she swims to be with him, across what is now Lake Rotorua.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

Taming the Taniwha

Written by Tim Tipene

Illustrated by Henry Campbell

Published by Huia, 2005

ISBN: 1-877266-52-3

A Maori language version of this book has also been published.

Both the Maori language and English language versions are available at the International Children’s Digital Library web site.

NZC activities  for this picture book here.

Tama is being bullied by James (the taniwha) at school, so he asks his family for help. Aunty Flo says to tell the teacher, but the teacher is always busy, so that doesn’t work. Uncle John says to give him some of his own medicine, but James is bigger and stronger, so that doesn’t work either. In desperation, Tama turns to Papa, his grandfather for advice. Papa says he must get to know the taniwha. Although this seems crazy to Tama, he tries taking James some lunch and inviting him to play. Tama is surprised when he and James become good friends. This is a story about bullying, and about overcoming it. Through the advice of his grandfather, Tama learns to rise above his bully and show him friendship. There are lots of clever details in the bright, busy illustrations and  James is represented as a taniwha to begin with, however as the story progresses the reader sees him change to become more like a boy as Tama gets to know him.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

Haere-Farewell, Jack, Farewell

Written by Tim Tipene

Illustrated by Huhana Smith

Published by Huia, 2006

ISBN: 1-86969-104-0

A Maori language version of this book has also been published.

NZC activities  for this picture book here.

This story is told through the eyes of a young child who is mourning the loss of her Koro Jack. The story reflects traditional Maori beliefs and protocols surrounding the death of a whanau member. The text describes what is happening at a ‘human’ level – sharing stories and songs, taking them down to the marae, funeral and burial. The emotive illustrations show traditional ideas at a deeper level – tupuna (ancestors) are shown as shadowy white figures in the room and in the sky shadows can be seen, representing death. When a new baby Jack is born to the narrator’s sister, the theme of the circle of life is apparent to the reader – a new life begins as an old life passes on. This is a story about the importance of family and of losing a loved one.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

The House that Grew

Written by Jean Strathdee

Illustrated by Jessica Wallace

Published by Oxford University Press

ISBN: 0-19-558041-9

NZC activities  for this picture book here.

Both the Maori language and English language versions of this book are available at the International Children’s Digital Library web site.

Rachel and her family buy some land in the country, but only have enough money left over to build a very small house to live in. In Summer, this is fine as they enjoy eating, bathing, playing and working outside in the warm weather. As the seasons change however, and the cold forces them to move inside, it becomes clear that there is not enough space for everyone to live happily. They come up with a solution: build Rachel a playhouse! Rachel’s design is chosen as the best and Nick builds the playhouse himself using native timbers – rimu, matai and kauri, with a special finial on top (to keep the witches away!). Rachel loves her new playhouse and paints it using bright, bold colours. A special story which shows a family living an alternative lifestyle working together to solve problems and create a good life for themselves. Colourful illustrations give the story a New Zealand flavour as the story is set in the bush, with nikau palms and flax bushes. A sandy bay and a marae can be seen in the landscape images. Special attention is given to native New Zealand timbers – Matai, Kauri and Rimu.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

Kimi and the Watermelon

Written by Miriam Smith

Illustrated by David Armitage

Published by Puffin, 1983

ISBN: 0-14-050950-x

NZC activities  for this picture book here.

Kimi lives with her grandmother and her Uncle Tau in the country. Together they plant a huge vegetable garden, including one tiny watermelon plant. When Uncle Tau has to go to the city to work, he asks Kimi to look after the watermelon plant so it will be ready to eat when he gets back. Kimi diligently waters and cares for the watermelon plant, which grows and lightens perfectly, ready to eat. She waits and waits, through the seasons, but Uncle Tau has not returned. Just when she is about to give up on him, he appears and they can finally share the watermelon together. A heartwarming story about the importance of family, and what it is like to miss someone when they are gone. The text and illustrations show New Zealand themes throughout, including fishing for eels, precious greenstones and images of flax kete, as well as rural New Zealand landscapes.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

Tane Steals the Show

Written by Lino Nelisi

Illustrated by Gus Hunter

Publshed by Scholastic, 1997

ISBN: 978-186943-336-9

NZC activities for this picture book here.

Young Tane feels left out and unwanted when everyone else has something to practise for Uncle Kokela’s wedding on Saturday. He tries to join in with the big boys doing the meke, but they say he is too little. He tries to join in with the girls doing the hula, but they say he can’t because he is a boy. The men don’t want him drumming or playing the ukelele and the women don’t want him singing with them. Poor Tane watches them and learns anyway, and on Saturday he ‘steals the show’ by getting up and performing with the boys, the girls, the men and the women at Uncle Kokela’s wedding. Everybody loves it and the illustrations show how proud Tane feels. This story shows what it feels like to be small and overlooked – a theme which most children can relate to. It also provides insight into the roles and traditions in Pacific Island cultural celebrations.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

Old Hu-Hu

Written by Kyle Mewburn

Illustrated by Rachel Driscoll

Published by Scholastic

ISBN:978-1-86943-921-7

Book of the Year: NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (2010)

A Maori language version of this book has also been published.

NZC activities for this picture book here

Old Hu-Hu deals sensitively with the themes of death and the memory of someone close who has passed away. In the story, little Hu-Hu-Tu mourns the loss of his dear Old Hu-Hu, who has fallen down dead after he flies to the moon and back. While Hu-Hu-Tu struggles to come to terms with Old Hu-Hu’s death, he is reminded by others that his memory can be seen in other things – Ladybird said look to the clouds where he sits laughing with his friends; Spider said he is in the soil and the air, in the flowers and in Hu-Hu-Tu’s hair; Butterfly said he may return as an elephant, a snake or a hen. After a night of tears, Hu-Hu-Tu wakes to find that he can hear Old Hu-Hu’s voice within himself. This is a comforting idea for children, as Mewburn suggests that someone’s spirit can live on within us after they have died. The powerful, evocative illustrations by Rachel Driscoll support the story beautifully.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

A Summery Saturday Morning

Written by Margaret Mahy

Illustrated by Selina Young

Published by Puffin, 1999

ISBN: 978-014350452-8

NZC activities for this picture book here

A group set out for a walk with their two dogs, down a wiggly track to the sea one summery Saturday morning. On the way they confront a cat, a boy on a rattly bike, long grass… and a mean eyed mother goose with her gaggle of babies. When the dogs chase the geese, the adventure turns sour as the group gets stuck in some ‘guggilywuggy’ mud and the geese attack! The text is rhythmic and repetitive, which makes it ideal for younger children. The watercolour illustrations show scenic New Zealand landscapes of hills leading down to the sea. The pictures show some classic New Zealand Saturday morning scenes – out for a walk, mowing the lawn, hanging out the washing, cats lazing in the sun, sailing, paddling in the sea, fishing and bike riding.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

Every Second Friday

Written by Kiri Lightfoot

Illustrated by Ben Galbraith

Published by Hodder, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-340-95613-7

NZC activities for this picture book here.

Every second Friday Margi (6 and a half) and Totty (4 and three quarters) go to stay with their dad at his messy house. Their dad is a collector of “bits and bobs” and the reader gains an insight into an exciting, crazy world that the children enter when they stay with their dad. The detailed illustrations show Dad’s house teeming with ‘stuff’ and Margi, who narrates the story tells of how they need to pack extra clothes, because when they stay with Dad they always get “magnificently muddy, worryingly wet and mind-blowingly messy”! This story tells of the special relationship between father and child, even when they don’t live together all the time. The visual language in the book is clever – both the bright, busy  illustrations and the layout of text in unconventional ways help to support the idea of the mild chaos and fun times had by Margi, Totty and Dad when they get together.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher

After the War

Written by Bob Kerr

Illustrated by Bob Kerr

Published by Mallinson Rendel, 2000

ISBN: 0-908783-51-5

NZC activities for this picture book here.

In 1945, upon returning from World War 2, a soldier and his family plant an apple tree in front of their house. The text follows this tree through years – 1950, 1955, 1960, 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1999 – and through seasons – summer, autumn, winter and spring. Although the text tells a basic story of the life of this tree, the real story is in the illustrations, in which the details tell the reader a great deal about history unfolding in a geographical sense, as well as for the family personally. Looking carefully at the illustrations, one can see new buildings going up – a city developing in the background, and planes and cars changing and becoming more modern as the years go by. For the family, there are marriages, babies and losses. And of course the apple tree grows bigger each year. This is a powerful story told mostly through illustrations about change and progress and about family and togetherness. When the apple tree is blown down in a storm 54 years later, the family plant a new kowhai tree in the same spot, and in this act a new sense of New Zealand identity is reflected.

Summary written by Marion McKoy

Book cover used with permission of publisher