Taniwha, Gods and Monsters by Gerri Judkins

The 4th annual WaiPRU Picturebook Seminar on 28 October featured ‘Taniwha, Gods and Monsters’. The day was held in the Division of Education at the Hamilton campus of the University of Waikato, and featured a range of perspectives on the topic from presenters including teachers, EC Educators, librarians, illustrators, authors and a publisher.

This year the keynote speaker was illustrator and lecturer in Digital Media at Auckland University of Technology Zak Waipara (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Ruapani, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Kahungunu). In reference to his illustration of Tim Tipene’s Māui – Sun Catcher (Oratia, 2016). Zak talked about Māori myths as codes for living. He elaborated on the artistic and creative process and cultural knowledge used in placing this famous demigod and hero in a near future South Auckland setting with flax growing on the roadside, robot rugby on TV and GLOBAL WARNING sunscreen.

The programme this year included two Early Childhood Educators who discussed how they used traditional literature in their ECE settings. Helen Aitken, a preschool teacher at Wondernauts, shared an early childhood perspective of a selection of picture books on this theme. She reported that the children she works with viewed taniwha as good, bad and cute with Robyn Kahukiwa’s Taniwha (Viking Kestrel, 1986) seminal. Monsters were scary or imagined like The Gruffalo (Macmillan, 1999) by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and Pamela Allen’s Inside Mary Elizabeth’s House (Puffin, 2001). Using these books, they were able to explore guardianship/Kaitiakitanga, fear, and notions of power and protection. Kate Morgan from Auckland Point Kindergarten in Nelson focused on the Māori creation story In the Beginning by Peter Gossage. She told us about how this book is shared in many ways with their children, with wall stories and performances in addition to reading it; the children are sometimes overheard retelling it to one another.

Nicola Daly shared Darryn Joseph’s presentation. His book characters “ride on taniwha, hide from Atua, or attempt to tame massive Māori monsters”. He outlined his creative process and how he treated supernatural beings in Kaito (2007), Tinirau rāua ko Kae (2007) and Hewa (2009). He has referred to 14 Māori gods in his most recent bilingual picturebook, Whakarongo ki ō Tūpuna / Listen to Your Ancestors (Oratia, 2019), illustrated by Munro Te Whata.

Joan Gibbons, a retired librarian, looked at what picture book monsters traditionally are, from cruel, wicked and inhuman to harmless and friendly. She explained that monsters can be avoided or tricked or will kill us if we don’t kill them first. We were astonished by Alice M Coats’ The Story of Horace (Coward-McCann, 1939) and delighted by Good Rosie (Penguin Random House, 2018) from Kate DiCamillo and cartoonist Harry Bliss.

The programme also included two presentations from librarians- both local and national. Leigh Takirau and Suzanne Hardy from the National Library’s Reading Services for Schools Team celebrated their range of books on taniwha including hard-to-find older New Zealand titles like Robyn Kahukiwa’s The Forgotten Taniwha (Puffin, 2009). They have picture books on Atua and gods from many cultures. Gameedah Jonas and Shannon Cooper from Hamilton City Libraries showed, with examples, how exploring stories of taniwha, gods and monsters passes on traditional and cultural ways of knowing and lessons are learnt. Gameedah read The Wide Mouthed Frog by Keith Falkner (Dial Books, 1996).

Julia Marshall from Gecko Press, just back from the Frankfurt Book Fair, suggested looking fears and monsters in the eye to scare them, or invite them in and experience the frisson of fear in the safety of a lap. We learnt about the funny side of bad in books like Inside the Villains (Gecko Press, 2018) by Clotilde Perrin and I am Strong (Gecko Press, 2011) by Mario Ramos. Fear, in a picture book, said Julia, is to be recommended.

The day ended with an engaging presentation from Helen Villers from The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education who suggested that teachers capitalize on freaky, ferocious and fearsome monsters as critical sources for effective teaching and successful learning. She used wolves, vilified in many picture books as an example. She showed us how wolves can be seen in another light in When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone (Bloomsbury, 2008) by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.

All in all, this was a stimulating day, full of new and old picturebooks. We gained insights into how they are created, and how they can be used in educational settings. The topic for the 2020 WaiPRU seminar (to be held in November) was announced as ‘Silent or Wordless Picturebooks’. We’re looking forward to it already!

Gerri Judkins has worked in school libraries for twenty-five years. During her eighteen years as Librarian at Southwell School in Hamilton, she shared her passion for children’s literature and trained teams for the Kids’ Lit Quiz

A member of SLANZA (School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa) since 2001, she served two years on the National Executive and presented at six of SLANZA’s biennial conferences. In 2005 she received a SLANZA Merit Award for Literacy and Enjoyment of Reading. Secretary of the Waikato Children’s Literature Association, she received the 2012 Storylines Betty Gilderdale Award for services to Children’s Literature