A Māori woman stands in front of a whiteboard, holding a picture book. Notes on whiteboard are in te reo. She's very proud of this space.
Kaiako Pati Hakaria at Te Puāwaitanga, the immersion unit at Birkdale Primary in Auckland (Photo: Catherine Woulfe)

BooksAugust 9, 2021

A kaiako on the year’s best te reo Māori books for children

A Māori woman stands in front of a whiteboard, holding a picture book. Notes on whiteboard are in te reo. She's very proud of this space.
Kaiako Pati Hakaria at Te Puāwaitanga, the immersion unit at Birkdale Primary in Auckland (Photo: Catherine Woulfe)

Pati Hakaria is a kaiako at Te Puāwaitanga, the immersion unit at Birkdale Primary, in Auckland. She shares her own te reo story, and talks about some of the picture books shortlisted for the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori. 

Ko wai ahau? He uri ahau nō Tūhoe, nō Waikato anō hoki, nō Te Tai Tokerau
Ko Pati Hakaria ahau
Tokowhā aku tamariki
Ko te Māori nei, ko te reo Māori taku reo tuarua, heoi… marama pai ahau i te āhuatanga ki te ako i tō tātou nei reo Māori. Nō tātou te waimarie ināianei kua kitea e mātou ngā pukapuka pēnei nā Hēni Jacobs te pukapuka Pīpī Kiwi, hāpai ia tātou hiahiatanga ki te whāngai tō tatou reo ki ngā tamariki. Nō reira, kia ora!

Just letting you know, my reo is not formal. It might change as I get older but right now my goal is just to be able to speak at home the language that I speak when I go back to where I’m from, and where my husband’s from – he’s from the Far North, so yeah.

They call it the language of the kitchen. It’s just like “Tiki e te tītaora!”, like “Get the tea towel!”

That’s pretty much who I am.

I grew up with my grandparents. My koroua, he was a first language speaker of te reo Māori and his English was brotown. He knew the f-words. I knew them at a really young age. My nana, she grew up in the Anglican church and her mother as well only spoke Māori to her.

Covers of two picture books, both strikingly illustrated
Two of the five finalists in the te reo category. Laya Mutton-Rogers is also a finalist in the illustrations category (Images: Supplied)

But because of my koroua’s bad experience with colonisation and all of that, he didn’t want his children to speak Māori. He wanted my mother to go to a Pākehā school, to just be Pākehā.

But my koroua and my nana were still connected to who they were, so we still went back to our papakāinga. And my mum and my dad were both in kapa haka in college, and my father grew a passion for te reo Māori, so my koroua taught my dad to speak Māori, not my mum [his daughter].

But then what happened was the language wasn’t passed from my father to me. It stopped at him.

Te reo Māori was in our home but it was never encouraged. The language was there, in our house, because that’s all my koroua would speak, and back then as well we had a lot of whānau coming over – our house was pretty much the house everyone would come to.

My grandfather was from Tūhoe. Very staunch. And he didn’t want that pressure put on us, because of his own experiences.

So Māori books? No. No. We had no Māori books at home. The first time I would have come across one would have been te Paipera Tapu, the Bible, because my grandmother went to church and church was in te reo Māori. There were no pictures, print only. As kids that’s what we were reading. And we were listening to songs, and my whānau were musically talented as well, so no. We didn’t have books. It was just oral. And listening.

I mean, when I see [te reo picture books] now I’m like man, where were these? I don’t even know if they existed.

Like many other young girls growing up in Ōtara I faced challenges and barriers that were out of my control. I didn’t know anyone personally who went onto higher education, like university, after school. I dropped out of high school in my final year to work in a cheese factory. I look back now and notice a pattern: my parents and my grandparents finished school early to work. I saw success as having a job to buy food and pay the bills.

My mid 20s I met my husband. We began learning te reo Māori at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. I made the decision to be a school teacher totally immersed in te reo Māori. I was accepted into the Huarahi Māori programme at Auckland University – a three-year degree studying to be kaiako Māori in primary teaching. I went on to do a postgraduate degree in education while I was teaching full time.

It wasn’t until I went to university that I started to have a passion for learning and engaging with literature. Now I am on a mission to encourage my family to go to university, to set themselves up for the future.

What got me into this was just my passion for te reo Māori. This, reading books, wasn’t a thing. But we had oral stories. We had to create what an author puts in pictures with our own imagination. So that was how I was brought up. That’s how my cousins and I were brought up.

Then, my father passed away and my grandfather passed away a year later, so we had two people who were fluent in te reo Māori that were lost. And now it’s just me.

And now my goal is to pass on the language to my children, because it wasn’t passed on to me. I’ve heard in the research that it just takes one generation and then it can be lost. It can happen. So now it’s up to me. And I am just doing whatever I can to ensure my children carry my language on, to my next descendants.

Covers of three picture books, all bright and breezy
The three remaining finalists in the te reo category, including Mihi and Pīpī Kiwi, our reviewer’s favourites (Images: Supplied)

My challenge at the moment is my children speaking te reo Māori. Yep, I’m a kaiako, but when I’m at home [my children] will just not respond to me. They’ll only talk to me when they want to, but I want it just to be consistent. But also I’m aware as well of not pressuring them to speak Māori. Because when you push and push and push and push, people get hōhā, and then they turn negative. So at home I do a lot of hands-on mahi because that’s how I learn and that’s how my children learn as well. So not so much reading books, it’s just more kinaesthetic. A hands-on approach. Doing the dishes. Playing in the park. Kicking the ball around, passing the ball, all of those small things.

I’ve got a three-year-old so she’ll go “WAI”. I know what wai means, it’s “I want a water.”


Pīrangi wai?”

“Pīrangi wai.”

So together we’re building that language. And it does get frustrating; sometimes I’m like oooohhh. But yeah, I’m having really positive outcomes from my children at the moment. I am riding that wave at the moment because all of that time that I’ve put into my children – I’m starting to see it now. It’s taken probably about three years.

My big boy’s 12. So he started here [at the bilingual unit] when he was five. We just had an interview for his enrolment in a college and the principal chose to sit next to him and spoke to him all in te reo Māori. I was prepared to speak for my son, as you would, you’d talk up your son, what he’s good at. But the principal didn’t talk to me, he spoke to my son and I had to sit at the opposite end of the table hoping my son would talk. In Māori. When I try to speak Māori to my children at home they will speak English so I was in the hot seat, watching him … I had to bite my tongue, bite my lip, I bit it heaps of times. And he held that conversation all in te reo Māori. And didn’t need any prompting from me.

OHH! Thank you. In my heart I was saying, oh my God my koroua, my dad …  my kuia as well. My whole whānau. So that was the outcome. In my heart I went from being hopeful to “I know we can do this”. That’s huge.

A picture book spread showing an adult kiwi sleeping, a baby kiwi looking grumpy and awake, and an egg peacefully between the two
Waiting is hard to do: a spread from Pīpī Kiwi, by Helen Taylor, translated by Hēni Jacob (Image: Supplied)

The pukapuka that I chose is Pīpī Kiwi, by Helen Taylor, translated by Hēni Jacob. I chose it because I enjoyed it with my two little ones especially. And I specifically enjoyed this book with my daughter, she’s three, because she loves babies. She thinks she’s the baby. “Ko te pēpi ahau” and I’m like, “No, you’re a big girl”. So it was a perfect time. She loves babies, she loves animals, and the colours, and the language as well.

When I’m reading books I usually make up my own words but this time I stuck with it, I read the words. My baby actually loved it. It’s just about a baby kiwi learning the ways of waiting for a new baby. That eagerness, that “Where’s the baby?”, that’s what I got from it.

There’s this egg, and then baby goes to her mum and is like, what’s this? And then the mum – or it could be a dad! – is telling the baby what it is, and what’s in it, what’s required, the whole world of just looking after an egg.

The book also shows I guess, how babies want an answer now. “Are we there yet?” Two minutes of waiting time is a long time waiting for a child. So that’s what it is, that skill of being able to wait.

Baby talks about what’s the new baby going to look like, can they flutter their wings, when baby wakes up can we play? No. In time, in time. So that’s what the mother’s saying: in time that’s going to happen. It’s just making this pēpi understand the art of waiting.

That language is definitely language that I can use with my children, and my baby as well. It’s accessible for people who are not fluent. I don’t know where I sit on the scale with my te reo Māori, but I found it user friendly. It was just simple sentences, they’re not complex. And you can easily match the words to the pictures.

The translator, Hēni Jacob, I just enjoy reading her stuff, she doesn’t talk like an expert. I don’t know her personally but I know that she does a lot of literature, and I rely on one of her books, Mai i te Kākano. It’s a resource for learning Māori but it’s written in Māori. So you have to actually know how to read Māori and comprehend Māori before you can read that book. I use Mai i te Kākano for language building, for the language to use with my children. So Hēni Jacob actually speaks child speak. And I’ve been able to use her language with my children in our home.

Illustration of four Māori adults, standing in a row, the words "toku iwi" on the page beside them.
A spread from Gavin Bishop’s picture book, Mihi (Image: Supplied)

Mihi was another favourite for me. I enjoyed Mihi. You can use that for bigger kids in primary school, especially with learning their pepeha. I’ve got a few here who are still learning their pepeha. And I would encourage adults to use it as well. It’s basic, but it also has that correct structure of how you would say your pepeha. Ko … te maunga. You’ll know where to put your maunga in, that noun.

There must be big versions, and it would work in kindies – provided that those teachers focus on pronunciation. That was probably the only thing that I thought, that it comes with instructions if it was to be used in that context. I wouldn’t put that on the author.

Ngake me Whātaitai, I thought that was more for a more advanced speaker. I had to look at the dictionary a lot, because some of the language used I wasn’t familiar with, so that automatically turned me off. If I’m having to do that it’s extra for me, and then I’d have to explain that to a child and it’s just like, I’ve already lost them at the beginning.

It must be so hard judging this category. It depends on the proficiency of each reader. Our rangatira who just passed, that would be a book that would be appropriate for him, or for someone who is in their third generation of learning te reo Māori, whereas me: I’m first generation, trying to rebuild it for my next descendants.

As told to Catherine Woulfe.

NB: Hakaria was also impressed by another finalist: Chris Winitana’s book Te Uruuru Whenua O Ngātoroirangi, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers) but felt unable to speak to it as the story is about maunga and wai that are not hers. 

The winners of this award will be announced on Wednesday night, along with the other categories of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young People, all of which we’ve covered here. You can watch the ceremony from 6.30pm via Facebook Live. Good luck all!

Keep going!