Exploring Pasifika picturebooks by Cushla Foe

Over the course of what would normally be my university summer break, I was granted the opportunity to conduct valuable research specifically around Pasifika picturebooks. Both Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017) and Tapasā: Cultural competencies framework for teachers of Pacific learners (MoE, 2018) recognise the importance of immersing children in environments that reflect and affirm their culture, beliefs, knowledge, and values, in order to foster their success and well-being. Therefore, the curriculum and education that Pasifika children experience should reflect who they are as members of their communities, and identity, language, and culture should guide teacher pedagogy and practice. The aim of this project was to deepen our learning about Pasifika identities and values enabling teachers to “better understand and respond to Pacific learners using picturebooks as pedagogical tools in diverse classrooms” (Daly & McKoy, 2013). 

During my research I located a total of 91 picturebooks reflecting a wide range of Pasifika nations, cultures, and languages. Most of these picturebooks were only found and accessed through the National Library online database and interloan service. Once I received these books I read and analysed them according to the cultural content within each book inclusive of both text and illustrations. One of the main focuses of the project was to identify picturebooks that were authentic and written by ‘insiders’, or at least involved input from Pasifika individuals and communities with authentic cultural knowledge and understanding. 

I have shared one book below, but to access the full list of Pasifika picturebooks please refer to the annotated bibliography. 

Mose and the Manumea (Va’afusuaga & Stirnemann, 2018) was sourced from my local library here in Tauranga Moana. Its Samoan counterpart O Mose ma le Manumea (Va’afusuaga & Stirnemann, 2018) was only retrievable from the National Library of New Zealand in Auckland. This Little Island Press publication has been carefully curated by both Jane Va’afusuaga and Rebecca Stirnemann. Though neither of the authors are of Pacific Island descent, both have valuable first-hand knowledge and experience of Samoan ways of living, being and doing. Va’afusuaga draws on four years of teaching experience in Apia, Samoa and her life in the village of Falease’ela where she lives with her Samoan husband and children. Full immersion in village life has helped Jane to gain genuine insights into the language, culture, church, and customs of Samoan people. Stirnemann has also experienced living in Samoa for seven years as an ecologist dedicating her time and efforts to protecting native birds of Samoa including the endangered Manumea (tooth-billed pigeon). 

Initially in the picturebook, we get a glimpse into a fale where the walls are decorated with family photos and ‘ula (garlands). Grandma sweeps the floor with a salu broom while Mose and his Grandpa sit on a woven pandanus mat discussing the endangered Manumea. We follow Mose and his aiga (family) on their hunt for the Manumea as they navigate the tropical Samoan landscape and its abundance of teuila (the state flower of Samoa), taro plants, coconut and banana trees, native wildlife, glorious white sand beaches, and dense forests. 

This picturebook touches on topics including conservation and Samoan culture, living and language, all the while exploring Pasifika values from a broader perspective.

The native tooth-billed pigeon of Samoa is scientifically known as the Didunculus strigirostris and is one of the closest living relatives of the extinct dodo. Found exclusively in the islands of Samoa, this native bird is in dire need of protection for if the Manumea becomes extinct, sadly the species will be lost forever. The Manumea is not only a fundamental part of Samoan culture, history and heritage but it also plays a crucial ecological role ensuring that fruits are distributed to promote the growth of native trees. In 1997, it was estimated that around 4000 of these birds existed but unfortunately those statistics have dwindled. More recent predictions indicate that there may only be between 150 to 200 Manumea remaining.

Throughout this picturebook, the scarcity of the Manumea and its endangered status is regularly mentioned with Mose acknowledging how great it would be if he could help to save the birds. Toward the end of the book you will find an informative section that offers further information about the bird and ways in which people can contribute to the protection of these beautiful animals.

Pasifika picturebooks play a critical role in education to ensure that the strengths, interests, needs, identities, languages and cultures of Pasifika children are reflected within their environment. Using picturebooks as pedagogical tools better informs teachers so they can become more culturally competent and inclusive in relation to Pasifika learners and expand the range of connections to language, culture, and identity for Pasifika children and their families in educational contexts (Te Whāriki, MoE, 2017).

Cushla Foe
Summer Research Scholar (2020–2021)


Silent picturebooks by Nicola Daly

I am thinking a lot about silent picturebooks these days as the Waikato Picturebook Research Unit approaches its annual picturebook seminar (November 12, 2020), this year focusing on silent picturebooks ( My usual focus when I research picturebooks is the languages used in multilingual picturebooks, so it’s really good for me to be thinking about the power of picturebooks which use illustration alone to tell their story. The absence of a written language means that all (sighted) readers can follow the story, telling it in their own language if they wish, and this is the reason for the creation of the IBBY silent picturebook collection which now travels the world, and reflects the work IBBY has done in establishing a library in Lampedusa, Italy for local and refugee children. Between November 2-27, 2020 the IBBY Silent Book Collection will be on display at the University of Waikato Library, and members of the public are welcome to attend.

I’ll share one book below, and then please follow the link to read my other recommendations.

I found this book with its Spanish title Migrantes at the Guadalajara Book fair in December 2019 and then discovered that Gecko had bought the rights to publish it in English as Migrants (2021). The story begins as we are introduced to a skeleton draped in floral cloth beside a large red beaked Ibis bird (a messenger between birth and death). The skeleton joins a group of anthropomorphised characters of various shapes and sizes, adults and children who are moving together through a gloomy forest. We know from the title that these are migrants; we know from the faces and clothing that this is not migration by choice- these are refugees with death (symbolised by the skeleton) close at their heels. The Peruvian author Isse Watanabe has said that her book is about empathy and through its pages we witness the journey of this group with insights into the experiences of refugees. We see the group move through a forest and then reach a body of water where they scramble into a boat and cross, losing a member along the way. Finally they come to a place where the trees have colour and there is a fruit on the ground- which I interpret as a symbol of hope. This book deals with complex topics including courage, loss and hope, and the images do this sensitively and powerfully.

The power of the silent book lies in the illustrations and how each reader is allowed to create their own words around those images.  This brief snapshot of one of my favourites shows that they can deal with very sophisticated and complex issues. They offer opportunities for interaction and meaning negotiation for a parent with a child, and a classroom teacher with a whole class.

To read my other recommendations including Raymond Briggs’s Snowman, Molly Idle’s  Flora and the Flamingo, Aaron Becker’s Journey, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival , Jeannie Bakers’  Mirror  and David Weisner’s Flotsam,  please fo to the Gecko Press Blog.

Nicola Daly


New Zealand Books Awards for Children and Young Adults 2020–Picturebook Category

The New Zealand Books Awards for Children and Young Adults recently announced finalists in each of their seven categories on 4 June 2020.  Nominations from books published between 1 April 2019 and 31 Match 2020 were eligible to be nominated. Since 1945 book awards for New Zealand children’s fiction have been awarded, and since then the awards have had a variety of names and sponsorship, including Aim and New Zealand Post. Since 2016 main sponsorship is from Creative New Zealand and the Library and Information Association of New Zealand and Australian (LIANZA).

In the picturebook category this year are  five finalists, and award winners in all categories will be announced online on 12 August. Here are some notes from me on the five finalists.

Abigail and the birth of the Sun by Matthew Cunningham and Sara Wilkins (Puffin). The subtitle of this picturebook, ‘A curious girl explores big ideas’ gives us a fairly accurate overview of the plot. As she gets ready for bed, Abigail asks where the sun and stars come from, and the rest of the book follows her father’s answer to this question. The author, Matthew Cunningham, is a Wellington-based historian, and I think this shows through in the clarity of his explanation of very complex ideas. Sara Wilkins, whose work I am familiar with, most recently from The Longest Breakfast (Gecko, 2018) fills the page with rich oranges and yellows as Abigail’s dad explains the Big Bang Theory, and adds details which young children will love, such as a cat, never mentioned in the text, on every page. The setting for this story is fairly non specific, except for on one page where New Zealand readers may spot a tui and a puriri moth in the illustration. This picturebook would be my pick for the winner.

The cover of Santa’s Worst Christmas (Huia), written by Huia (individual names of the authors are not supplied) and illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White is full of detail and colour. This story is clearly in a New Zealand summer setting in a vibrant and diverse coastal community. In this story Santa decides that he is not going to perform his usual Christmas duties because of a terrible set of experiences in the previous year’s Christmas; the community helps  to change his mind by creating a Santa Survival Kit and Christmas is saved. The utterances of Santa as he meets various challenges include a range of humorous alliterative phrases, very pleasing to the ear, including ‘suffering sleigh bells’, ‘ramping reindeers’ and ‘tinsel tarnation’, but overall this story does not work for me.

How Māui Slowed the Sun (Upstart Press) showcases this wonderful writing and illustrator skills of Donovan Bixley, one of New Zealand’s most prolific children’s writers. Bixley retells the well known legend of Māui deciding that daylight is not long enough, and working with his brothers using flax ropes to catch and slow the sun. As he did with his last retelling of a traditional Māori legend (How Māui Fished up the North Island) Bixley has carefully consulted with and acknowledged language and tikanga experts Dr. Darryn Joseph and Keri Opai , and this somewhat alleviates any concerns one might have concerning a Pākehā author/illustrator telling a Māori story. While I don’t personally enjoy the graphic cartoon style of the illustrations, I am sure many readers will enjoy their detail and colour. I did enjoy, however, the use of speech bubbles in the illustrations, and the way in which Te Reo Māori words and phrases are used in the predominantly English language text.

The Gobbley Degook Book. A Joy Cowley Anthology (Gecko) is, as the title suggests a collection of 20 of Cowley’s poems and short stories illustrated by Giselle Clarkson. The high quality of the design and production of this book reflects the mana of Cowley as one of our most highly regarded children’s authors. Cowley’s writing reflects her love of sound and story, and is of the highest quality; the choice of Clarkson to illustrate contributes significantly to  the high quality of the writing. There are so many stories and poems to enjoy here, but a favourite of mine is Uncle Andy’s Singlet (p. 62) about the different ways in which Uncle Andy uses his singlet (catching fish, drying dishes), leaving it rather smelly. The inclusion of a portrait of Cowley on the last page next to her quote about the importance of small is the perfect way to end the book.

Mini Whinny. Goody Four-Shoes (Scholastic) written by Stacy Gregg and illustrated by Ruth Paul follows on from the 2019 finalist Mini Winny. Happy Birthday to Me following the escapades of the miniature horse Mini Whinny. In the latest book, a new miniature horse arrives at the stables, and Mini Whinny is very jealous as Goody Four-Shoes appears to be good at everything Mini Whinny is not. The pace and arc of the story and the use of interesting language reflects the considerable skills of Gregg who is most famous for her junior fiction novels in the Pony club Secrets series. This pivot into picturebooks has been really successful, and the pairing with Ruth Paul who adds so much to the textual story in her detailed illustrations is very successful. Who knew that horses could have such expressive faces!

I hope you get a chance to look through some of the finalists for this year’s awards. Often bookshops and libraries will have them on display. The winners will be announced online on Wednesday August 12.