Te Ataakura Pewhairangi (Ngāti Porou) was brought up in te ao Māori, and her home language was and still is te reo Māori. A product of kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori and wharekura, she not only loves her language but also understands the responsibility as a fluent native speaker and writer to further promote te reo Māori.
Te Ataakura has written a bilingual board book called Kei te aha ngā kararehe? What are the animals doing? (Massey University Press).
There's one version in English and te reo Māori; and another other in te reo – which steps beyond the simple single-word approach of so many books for very young readers.
Its question-and-answer format helps build vocabulary and language structure. Jane Ussher’s photos of three young siblings engaging with animals provide opportunities for tamariki and their whānau to tell new stories and explore both languages.
We talk to Te Ataakura about the origins of this lovely book.
What is the motivation for you to create books for young readers?
As a fluent Māori speaker, a mother and an educator, I understand the role quality books play in our children’s development, therefore the motivation behind creating this book has come from wanting to ensure that whānau have access to good, high-quality books for their children’s language development. There is a still a huge gap in quality reo Māori resources for whānau, so a huge motivation of mine is to create more resources for our children.
What does your book offer that is different to other early childhood te reo board books?
In learning the language, asking questions is a great tool to encourage speaking. This book follows a pattern of questions which opens up a conversion between the parent or caregiver and the child. By using photos showing real-life animals and children the whānau has an opportunity to talk about the animals, where they live, what they are doing and what the children are doing. This further broadens the child’s vocabulary around animals that they’re likely to see in everyday situations.
Did you try out the book with your own children (or others)? What did they enjoy most?
I have used this book with my own children, and I have found that it was an effective tool to stimulate conversation. They really enjoyed the quality time that this book creates between a parent and a child. The question and answer pattern really worked well as a tool to begin further discussion.
What do you see as important for the future of te reo?
I see that is it necessary to provide opportunities and resources to normalise the Māori language and to ensure all New Zealanders have access to the language.
You were brought up te reo first. How important was it for you to do your tertiary study and post graduate work in te reo?
Hugely important! I think it’s vital that we have access to education that is in your heritage language. Te Tiriti o Waitangi affirms this right of ours.
I see the world through a Māori lens. I think and dream in Māori. What this means is that my thinking comes from a Māori worldview, so when it comes to tertiary education, I believe it’s important that I be given the right to express my thoughts, my ideas and learnings in my heritage language because in doing so I am being the best version of myself.
You are currently a Māori student recruitment advisor at Massey University. What are the challenges and opportunities of this role?
I feel so blessed to be able to encourage other Māori students throughout Aotearoa to seek further education.
It allows me the opportunity to encourage other rangatahi to learn within their language too.
You started working in television at a very young age. What was the most interesting aspect of this work?
I was so fortunate to be given the opportunity to be part of producing Māori programmes to the next generation at the age of 16. One of the highlights in my media career was being the voice of the Māori Dora the Explorer when it was translated into te reo Māori. This gave our children the opportunity to see a worldwide character normalise their heritage language.
You and your brothers launched Kura Mō Ngā Mokopuna four days after New Zealand went into lockdown in March 2020. What was your goal with this website? And how did you pull it together so quickly?
Kura Mō Ngā Mokopuna was definitely one of my favourite projects for 2020. I have two children with te reo Māori being their first language, and in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, we saw the need to create an online Māori language teaching resource to keep not only my own children occupied and stimulated but other Māori-speaking children and families. It started off as an idea between close friends and whānau, but within 24 hours we had received an overwhelming response and literally had 24 hours to pull something together. We are so thankful to our family, friends and our networks who we drew on for their strengths to provide short lessons in an area of their choosing for our tamariki. That was the goal, to create an online learning platform for our tamariki to engage in with other Māori-speaking families.
What is your favourite children’s book?
I have quite a few favourites! But at the moment, mine and my children’s favourite books are Te Hua Tuatahi a Kuwi and Te Toro Huhu a Kuwi. These are books by Kat Merewether, translated by Pānia Papa. The language in these books is so rich! I really enjoy reading them aloud to my tamariki.
What do you enjoy reading?
Well, I am currently completing a Master of Arts, Majoring in Māori Studies at Massey University, therefore a lot of the reading I am doing at the moment is to support my own research.