Sep 7, 2021
Published on: Kete
2 min read

Gavin Bishop

Board Book

Nico, 7: This is definitely not for under-fives. Probably for seven and above. Even if parents are reading it to little ones, there are complicated words like “resplendent” and “miraculous” and they might not understand everything. You need to use simple words for little kids.

I think it’s helpful to have this book because some people might want to know what happened in the befores, you know, the old days, so you could learn a lot. For example, I didn’t even know that Tūmatauenga wanted to kill his parents and can you imagine if he had? There would be no light or sky or ground. That would be crazy.

So you can kind of learn from these stories and there are lots of different stories in the book. They are all a couple of pages long but there are a lot of words so it can feel like a whole chapter, like in a chapter book. I recommend that people maybe not read the whole book all at once because then the kid who is being read to might feel tired and fall asleep while the mum or dad or person is only halfway through the story. I think it would be best to read a couple of pages at a time.

I really like when there is a story about darkness, it’s all black. Like the story about Te Kore; they actually show how it's black. If you showed all the colours during the story of Te Kore it wouldn’t really represent what’s happening and it would feel weird like if you drew a bouncy castle you would feel it doesn’t match what the story is about.

I think Māmā’s favourite story is the story of ngā kete o te wānanga. It’s because Māmā always likes mama things. Like kete, and karakia, and knowing about things. My favourite is the one about Rūaumoko because we learned about him at school and whenever he burps there is an earthquake.

Emma: Nico is theatrical, reading Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes. I watch her trying out the sentences and then re-reading the ones where she hears that she’s gotten the emphasis wrong. She pronounces whom as “WOMM” and then asks me what it means. I love the way she glides fluently, unhesitating, over the words and names in te reo Māori and that she shifts effortlessly between the two languages as she reads. I ask if she knows about Maui when we reach the stories of our most famous hero. Yes, she tells me, “Because I’ve seen Moana.” Our Indigenous stories are being told in every medium and it is making a difference for our children.

Gavin Bishop’s books are old friends in our home. Atua takes its place alongside Aotearoa and Wildlife of Aotearoa, Bishop’s most recent, gorgeous, oversized children’s books. Bishop worked with Hēni Jacob on Atua, she is a singular legend; a Māori writer, translator and editor who has produced important adult texts such as Mai i te Kākano and Te Rito as well as translating Wāhine Toa: Omniscient Māori Women. These are worth mentioning because the team that contributed to the creation of this book tells you something of its authenticity and strength.

New Zealanders are hungry for opportunities to learn about our Indigenous language and culture, which we have seen through unprecedented numbers in te reo Māori classes nation-wide and the commercial success of texts such as Scotty Morrison’s Māori Made Easy series. it is important that we continue to support our creators to produce work like Atua which can be learning aids but which stand independent of this as beautiful works of art. I like to think of grandparents reading this book to their grandchildren and feeling a sense of connection and pride from the fact that these are stories unique to us, to this land.

Nico: What I liked about it was how they chose the illustrations. The koro’s hands are close to the moko’s. I think it’s about their relationship.

It’s good that it’s in two languages because some people might not be able to read Māori. People might not know what the Māori words mean but if they have the two books they can go through and figure out what the Māori words mean.

It’s smart that it’s made out of thick cardboard because younger children don’t really know that books are for reading not breaking. Since these books are for younger ages they might fiddle with the book but instead of it getting wrecked it would only get a tiny dent and that wouldn’t ruin it. But if it was paper and you ripped the page suddenly the whole book is ruined.

This would be good for parents to read to little babies like my cousin Maggie; she’s only one year old.

Emma: Although these books are designed to stand alone, having the companion set in te reo Māori and English speaks to our bicultural foundations and they work well together, as Nico has said. They are tactile and robust, with simple images and big text. The books are filled with typically beautiful illustrations by Bishop, and it reminded me of my relationship with my koro; there were few words between us but plenty of unspoken love and tenderness.

Nā Emma (37) rāua ko Nico Espiner (7)

Emma Espiner (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou) is an award-winning writer. She works as a doctor at Middlemore Hospital and hosts Getting Better, a RNZ/NZ on Air podcast about Māori health equity. Emma’s writing features at The Guardian, Newsroom, Stuff, The Spinoff and The New Zealand Herald Tweets @emmawehipeihana

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