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01 June 2023

NZ Book Awards Q&A: Brianne Te Paa

School Library reviewer and kaiako Carola Crawford and her student Hikatia-Wairua Watson chat with author Brianne Te Paa about How My Koro Became a Star, which is a finalist for the Picture Book Award and Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Hikatia-Wairua and Carola:
It was great how the boy had the chance to learn the kaupapa around Matariki directly from his koro. Have you had the chance to learn particular tikanga and any special ceremonies from your tūpuna?

Yes, I think I did. Tikanga surrounding tangihanga is probably what I learned from my grandmothers. Although at the time, I probably didn’t know I was learning anything special. . I remember my nana being really proud of my older brother and I when one of our kuia passed away, and we just knew what to do. We knew to take our shoes off when entering the whare, we didn’t hesitate to acknowledge the tūpāpaku. We knew to wash our hands etc. Just basic things that we probably take for granted is knowledge given to us by our kuia.

How did you learn te reo? Were you a child or did you learn as an adult?

I started learning at Secondary School, but like most mainstream schools, it wasn’t enough time to become fluent. After school I enrolled in a total immersion reo Māori course which got me to a level of proficiency where I was able to enter into a Bachelor of Education that I completed predominantly in Te Reo Māori.

Have you experienced the loss of knowledge in your whānau that whole generations of Māori have? The book Still Being Punished by Rachel Selby researches the loss of knowledge created by government policies of assimilation and how a generation of Māori are now criticised by younger generations who have benefitted from the Kohanga movement.

Absolutely. I am the only person in my immediate whānau who is proficient in Te Reo Māori. As a second language learner who acquired Te Reo Māori in my late teens and have continued to learn in adulthood, I understand the whakamā that many of our whānau without the reo or knowledge of mātauranga Māori feel.

“As a second language learner who acquired Te Reo Māori in my late teens and have continued to learn in adulthood, I understand the whakamā that many of our whānau without the reo or knowledge of mātauranga Māori feel.”

I have been around people who forget that it is not the fault of our whānau that reo Māori is not their first language, and that they don’t know how to do things that they take for granted i.e. karanga, waiata, whaikōrero etc. Casting shadows of shame and blame onto our people, will only keep them in the dark, obscured by pōuri. Instead, we must illuminate them with encouragement and aroha to reveal the path to te ao mārama.

Do you think it is important that authors like you are writing stories which pass on elements of Māori values and culture?

Yes I believe it is. Although the story is presented in the form of a children’s book, the lessons in it are for all ages. The more stories like this that pass on Mātauranga Māori in a way that is accessible for all people, the better.

What is your next book going to be about?

At the moment I have an idea “cooking” in my mind. I’m not ready to share it yet. But it will pay homage to my two kuia and hopefully offer some practical guidance for tamariki and whānau.

Have you ever written books for older readers? If not, would you consider doing so as there is a huge demand for stories that engage rangatahi in secondary schools?

I haven’t yet. I am always open to the possibility of it. If a storyline really resonated with me, no doubt I would get writing! I would love to be the author of a young adult story that centered around a group of rangatahi Māori. But alas! I have no ideas yet.

Did you get to choose the illustrator for your book? Did you have to work hard to explain what you wanted in the way of pictures to support your text?

I could have suggested illustrators to Huia Publishers, but I trusted they would find the perfect person to bring the story to life through illustration. I was not disappointed. Story Hemi-Morehouse is so talented and I can't say it enough! I saw some initial draft sketches but didn’t really see the images until they were pretty much finalised. I didn’t have to explain a thing. She just knew what to do.

How long have you been writing for? Were you young when you started and have you written other books, songs, poetry or anything else?

I have loved writing since I was a little girl. My passion really grew when I was in Year 7 and 8, encouraged by a long-term relief teacher of all people. He gave each student a manilla folder and called it our “Language Workshops”. Every time we completed a new story or poem, we were to put them in our folders. I delighted in the fact that my folder was thicker than everyone else's - it was a competition that no one else knew they were partaking in (lol).

I have written lots of poems for friends, whānau, teachers and different things for mahi. I have written a couple of short stories - none that I have really been compelled to share publicly. ‘How My Koro Became A Star’ and ‘Kua Whetūrangitia a Koro’ are my first books.

How My Koro Became a Star, Brianne Te Paa, illustrated by Story Hemi-Morehouse (Huia Publishers) is a finalist for the Picture Book Award.

Kua Whetūrangitia a Koro, Brianne Te Paa, illustrated by Story Hemi-Morehouse (Huia Publishers) is a finalist for the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award.

About the interviewers

E te taha o tōku koroua David Watson
Ko Ngāti Pūkenga te iwi
Ko Kopukairoa ngā maunga
Ko Ōtamarākau ngā marae
Ko Tākitimu te waka
Ko Waitoa te awa
E te taha o tōku kuia Winifred Watson
Ko Ngāpuhi te iwi
Ko Hikurangi te maunga
Ko Matawaia te marae
Ko Ngātokimatawhaorua te waka
Ko Te arawa te awa
Ko Tekauimua te hapū
Ko Hikatia-Wairua Watson tōku ingoa

My name is Hikatia-Wairua. I am from Rotorua and I am currently studying at Karanga Mai Young Parents’ College for my NCEA Level 3. I have a 3 year old son named Te Ngahurangi-Ahurei. When I complete my studies, I want to transition into the funeral industry so I can help develop greater understanding of Māori tikanga around death.

Hi, Ko Carola Crawford ahau. I am lucky enough to be a teacher working together with rangatahi who are creating a better future for themselves and their pēpi. I grew up on the East Coast and believe strongly in a bicultural Aotearoa.