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The Whale Rider


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A beautiful picture book retelling of Witi Ihimaera's bestselling novel The Whale Rider, illustrated by Bruce Potter

About the Author

Witi Ihimaera (Author)
Witi Ihimaera was the first Maori to publish both a book of short stories and a novel, and has published many notable novels and collections of short stories. Described by Metro magazine as 'Part oracle, part memoralist,' and 'an inspired voice, weaving many stories together', Ihimaera has also written for stage and screen, edited books on the arts and culture, as well as published various works for children.

His best-known novel is The Whale Rider, which was made into a hugely, internationally successful film in 2002. His novel Nights in the Garden of Spain was also made into a feature film, and was distributed internationally under the name of Kawa. The feature film White Lies was based on his novella Medicine Woman. And his novel Bulibasha, King of the Gypsies inspired the 2016 feature film Mahana. His first book, Pounamu, Pounamu, has not been out of print in the 40 years since publication.

He has also had careers in diplomacy, teaching, theatre, opera, film and television. He has received numerous awards, including the Wattie Book of the Year Award, the Montana Book Award, the inaugural Star of Oceania Award, University of Hawaii, a laureate award from the New Zealand Arts Foundation 2009, the Toi Maori Maui Tiketike Award 2011, and the Premio Ostana International Award, presented to him in Italy 2010. In 2004 he became a Distinguished Companion of the Order of New Zealand, in 2017 France made him Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the same year he received the NZ Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement.

Receiving the Maori arts award Te Tohutiketike a Te Waka Toi, Ihimaera said, 'To be given Maoridom's highest cultural award, well, it's recognition of the iwi. Without them, I would have nothing to write about and there would be no Ihimaera. So this award is for all those ancestors who have made us all the people we are. It is also for the generations to come, to show them that even when you aren't looking, destiny has a job for you to do.'

Bruce Potter (Illustrator)
Bruce Potter is an international-award-winning and prolific illustrator of more than 100 children's books. Perhaps best known for his incredibly detailed and realistic picture-book illustrations, Bruce has worked in a diverse range of styles over the course of his art career, which began as a cartoonist and caricaturist for a number of newspapers around the world. To date Bruce has illustrated the stories of many of New Zealand's finest children's writers, including the bestselling illustrated edition of Witi Ihimaera's Whale Rider. Bruce lives in Alexandra in New Zealand's South Island, where, as well as being an exhibiting fine artist, he is also an expert stage performer, musician and composer, weightlifter, and black belt (2nd Dan) in Shotokan Karate.


First published in 1987 in New Zealand-the author's homeland as well as the story's setting-this circuitous novel inspired a film of the same title, which is scheduled for U.S. release this summer. A rather dense prologue tells of the long-ago appearance of a gigantic whale with "a swirling tattoo imprinted on the forehead" and a spear-throwing man riding on its back. After the narrative shifts to contemporary times, readers learn that this "whale rider" was Kahutia Te Rangi, founder of the Maori tribe whose chief is now Koro Apirana, grandfather of the 24-year-old narrator, Rawiri. Hoping for a great-grandson to inherit his title, Koro Apirana is disgusted when the wife of Rawiri's older brother gives birth to a girl. The child, named Kahu in honor of the whale rider, adores her great-grandfather, yet he ignores her, continually dismissing her when she tries to listen in on his lessons to the boys on tribal traditions. But Kahu can communicate with whales and emits a "special radiance," and it becomes evident that she will play a crucial role within her tribe. Despite Kahu's prominence, this story is also very much the narrator's, and as such may be likelier to hold the attention of adults than children. Ihimaera is at his best in depicting the bonds among the family members, but his use of symbols can be heavy-handed and passages focusing on the now-ancient whale may seem slow-moving. Ages 10-up. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Gr 5-8-A poetic blend of reality and myth provides a riveting tale of adventure and passion. An ancient whale ridden by a mystical man rises from the sea, the rider throwing spears that blossom like seeds into gifts of nature. One last spear "-flew across a thousand years. When it hit the earth, it did not change but waited for another hundred and fifty years to pass until it was needed." It sprouts when Kahu, a girl child, is born to the eldest grandson of the chief of the Maori in Whangara, New Zealand. Koro Apirana is disgusted; he needs a male child to continue the line of descent in the tribe. The years that follow further harden his heart toward his great-granddaughter in spite of the bottomless love and respect she showers upon him. The child's great-grandmother, the irreverent Nanny Flowers, proves to be the strength of this family; she nurtures the girl whom she knows holds the key to the future. The complex mixture of archetypal characters and cultural troubles make this novel appropriate for mature readers. Overt and sometimes violent racism is encountered and the tragic and bloody death of hundreds of beached whales may disturb younger readers. This story, originally published in New Zealand in 1987, is the basis of the recently released film by the same name. It's a tale rich in intense drama and sociological and cultural information. A Maori glossary is appended.-Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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