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Reviews by Trevor Agnew

Trevor Agnew is a New Zealand contributor to The Source website, an online subject guide to children’s literature. He has kindly allowed us to reproduce his latest reviews of OneTree House titles here.



Pipi and Pou and the Raging Mountain, Tim Tipene, ill. Isobel Te Aho-White


This chapter book for young readers introduces a trio of Maori superheroes fighting to protect the environment. These kaitiaki [guardians] of nature may seem to be just a couple of kids and their grandma, but Nana is a kuia, a tohunga [expert] and a master chef. She can also talk to birds. Pipi has the ability to turn into a pouākai, a giant eagle, while her cousin Pou can transform into a taniwha, a powerful water monster. Their adventures usually begin when Nana senses a threat to the natural world.


‘There’s trouble down south,’ says Nana, ‘The earth’s shaking.’ She loads the children into Betsy, her ramshackle car, and they set off. Pou has reservations, ‘Shouldn’t superheroes have a flashier set of wheels, Nana?’


Nana has total faith in duct tape, however, and so the trio drive south until they spot trembling earth and falling trees in the forest. Nana summons a flock of moa so they can ride through the forest towards the disturbance, a shaking mountain, Maungatinonui. Pipi and Pou use their special powers to ensure trampers are kept safe, while Nana introduces herself to the angry mountain. Pipi finds that Maungatinonui is is preparing to walk off to the other side of the island because he is being annoyed by thoughtless visitors. ‘They trample all over me, ride their bikes all over me … They damage my seedlings and trees,’ he fumes, ‘There is no respect, there is no care.’


What follows is an appropriate and amusing use of superpowers to help the mountain and protect the environment.


There is very good (and often amusing) dialogue betweeen the characters and some very snappy exchanges. There is also a lively rivalry between the two cousins, Pipi and Pou.


An interesting range of Maori words and phrases are used and, while there is no glossary, these can usually be understood by their context.


Sometimes Nan translates as she speaks, ‘The whenua, the land was shaking.’


This is a lively story, with plenty of action and some good jokes; an ideal book for young readers at the early stages of their reading journey.


The vivid black-and-white illustrations by Isobel Te Aho-White, which appear throughout the story, add to both the environmental message of Tim Tipene’s story and the humour he uses so effectively in telling it.



Pipi and Pou and the River Monster, Tim Tipene, ill. Isobel Te Aho-White


This chapter book for young readers introduces a trio of Maori superheroes fighting to protect the environment. These kaitiaki [guardians] of nature may seem to be just a couple of kids and their grandma but Nana is a kuia, a tohunga [expert] and a master chef. She can also talk to birds. Pipi has the ability to turn into a pouākai, a giant eagle, while her cousin Pou can transform into a taniwha, a powerful water monster. As usual, this adventure begins when Nana senses a threat to the natural world in a call from a kahu [hawk].


‘Haere mai, my moko, cried Nana, using her tokotoko to get up from the ground, ‘We’re hitting the road.’


Reaching a flooded river in the forest, the three sense they are being watched. A sudden barrage of old supermarket trolleys and rusty bicycles leads them to a huge golden tuna [eel], named Tunanui Paroro [stormy giant eel]. Pou uses his rugby skills to outsmart and subdue the eel in order to find out what is irritating her. The answer of course is the plethora of rubbish being discarded in her river and in the mangroves along the tidal shores.


Once again Pipi and Pou find that preserving the environment is not easy – even for superheroes. Fortunately a passing tramper, Huia, proves to be a ‘social media influencer’- a term which baffles Nana, who nevertheless quickly finds herself going viral on the internet. Help is soon at hand to clear away the rubbish.


The cousins see the importance of gaining cooperation. They also learn that they cannot use their superpowers unfairly against others or, as Nana puts it, ‘Pou can play rugby, but Pou te Taniwha cannot.’


The action in this story is fast-moving and full of surprises, while the dialogue is sharp and often amusing. The by-play between the cousins is always funny but Nana has all the best lines.


An interesting range of Maori words and phrases is used in their conversations and, while there is no glossary, these can usually be understood from their context.


The skilful black-and-white illustrations by Isobel Te Aho-White capture both the light-hearted touch of Tim Tipene’s storytelling and the seriousness of his message.


Out of the Egg: Ka Puta Mai i te Hēki, Tina Matthews (text &ill.)


‘One day a Red Hen found a green seed.’


‘I tētahi rā ka kite a Heihei Whero i tētahi kākano kākāriki.’


This picture book for young readers has a dual English and Maori text.


The story has a very familiar opening but what follows contains several surprises.


When Red Hen seeks help in planting and caring for the seed she has found, Fat Cat, Dirty Rat and Greedy Pig all prefer to stay in their house, watching television. (Ironically the screen shows trees falling in a storm, typical of the loving attention to detail in the presentation of this story.) The trio’s classic response to Red Hen’s appeal for help is ‘Not I.’ ‘I nē.’


Red Hen cares for the little tree which springs up, weeding around it, bringing water and protecting it from storms. Over the years, the tree grows. Red Hen finds that it is a safe place to lay an egg.


‘Out of the egg hatched a little red chick’


‘Ka puta mai tētahi pīpīi whero iti i te hēki.’


A little cat, a little pig and a little rat come to ask who will let them play under the tree. Red Hen’s first response is ‘Not I.’ ‘I nē.’


Then her chick intervenes and asks the young animals to come in through the fence and play under the tree with her. When they leave, the Red Hen gives each of them a green seed.


This is a fable where the young readers will be able to provide their own moral.


The illustrations by the author, Tina Matthews, are striking. Each picture is a black and white lino-cut, with carefully aplied touches of red (for the hen) and green (for the vegetation). The various animals are skilfulfully detailed, so that we see the Red Hen sitting under her tree reading a newpaper. When Greedy Pig eats a hamburger, we can spot that he has tossed the paper bag out of the car. Text and pictures support each other admirably.


The Maori language version was created by Kiwa Hammond.


Note: Out of the Egg was first published in 2007. In 2022 this bilingual Maori-English edition was produced. A Samoan-English version (Out of the Egg: Fofoa Mai Le Fuamoa) was published at the same time.



Sina’s Busy Day/ Luka Looks, Dahlia Malaeulu ill. Darcy Solia


This attractive double book, Sina’s Busy Day/ Lula Looks, introduces Samoan words to young readers by using them in English sentences which make their meaning clear. Each Samoan word or phrase is printed in bold type and is translated in the Glossary. There is also a simple pronuciation guide. The intention of the author, Dahlia Malaeulu, is to build language skills and Samoan vocabulary. (Tusi Faitau for all the Fanau. Book reading for all the Family.)


Sina’s Busy Day/ Luka Looks is actually two 16-page books in one 32 –page volume.


Sina’s Busy Day introduces appropriate greetings for the time of day. We begin with Sina looking at her reminder list of a hectic day’s activities, from her rugby match through birthday party to singing practice. Her rugby coach says, ‘Manuia le taeao.’ [Good Morning] Her friend says ‘Manuia le ‘afiafi’ [Good Afternoon] and finally Sina says, ‘Manuia le po’ [Goodnight] to her parents.


Luka Looks uses Luka’s quest to find his teddy bear to introduce vocabulary for rooms in the house. He searches for Teddy’s blue hat in the umukuka [kitchen] and his green jacket in the faleta ‘gamea [laundry]. His quest takes him through every room in the house, even the potumoe [bedroom] where Luka gestures at the reader to be quiet because his granny is alseep..


Darcy Solia’s colourful illustrations match the text perfectly and incorporate Samoan textile designs into the character’s clothing and furnishings. The level of careful detail in his pictures is amazing. Look carefully at the expressions of the people sharing choir practice with Sina and you will learn a great deal about how she sings.



Lei Loves/ Petelo Peeks, Dahlia Malaeulu ill. Darcy Solia


This attractive double book, Lei Loves/ Petelo Peeks, introduces Samoan words to young readers by using them in English sentences which make their meaning clear. Each Samoan word or phrase is printed in bold type and is translated in the Glossary. There is also a simple pronuciation guide. The intention of the author, Dahlia Malaeulu, is to build language skills and Samoan vocabulary. (Tusi Faitau for all the Fanau. Book reading for all the Family.)


Lei Loves/ Petelo Peeks is actually two 16-page books in one 32 –page volume.


Lei Loves deals with phrases used at celebrations, and is formatted as Lei’s photo album. Each ‘photo’ shows something (or someone) that Lei loves. The first picture, of course, show Lei’s family. They’re at a beach barbecue.


Lei loves saying, ‘Manuia le tausagafou,’ when it is a new year. [Happy New Year.]


Other snapshots show Lei celebrating Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day, Christmas Day and Lei’s favourite event: Manuialou aso fanau: Happy Birthday!


Each of Darcy Solia’s charming illustrations captures an authentic family moment, often with those staring eyes and fixed grins. The best picture shows Dad, gravely dignified outside the church on Easter Sunday wearing a bunny suit and a red nose.


Petelo Peeks deals with some transport nouns as Petelo travels in the family’s ta’avale [car] past a uilaafi [motorcycle] and a loli [lorry]. As Peleto looks out at a nofoaafi [train] and a pasi [train] the reader wonders where Peleto and his family are going. The last page tells all:


Peleto peeks outside the window and sees a va’alele waiting to take him on holiday.


A glance at the glossary reveals that a va’alele is an aeroplane.


Darcy Solia’s colourful illustrations match the text perfectly. In a nice touch, they also incorporate Samoan textile designs into the characters’ clothing and furnishings.

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