Children’s Book Award winner Mat Tait to bring his book to life for thousands of Kiwi kids

Thousands of children across New Zealand are set to join Mat Tait, supreme winner at the recent New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, for a visually beautiful re-telling of his winning book Te Wehenga: The Separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku (Allen & Unwin NZ); with schools and libraries across the country invited on an immersive trip into the illustrator’s world via a streamed live reading.

Run in partnership with the New Zealand Book Awards and HELL Pizza, the reading will be the latest in a series of streamed author events designed to inspire children to love books as well as take the magic of the stories directly to classrooms. Excitement is building for Tait’s live retelling of the treasured Māori creation legend, which will be held on the 7th of September.

Tait, a Motueka-based illustrator and author of European and Māori descent with a keen passion for mythology and Aotearoa’s history, says hearing his name called as the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year winner came as a real shock at the awards ceremony in Wellington earlier this month. His book had already won the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction on the night, and he wasn’t aware a supreme winner would be announced.

“The award really was a total surprise but once the dust settled, it was a great feeling. My work has always been part of me, my mum says I could put together a decent stick figure before I could even walk; I felt I had really pushed the waka out and it was important I did it justice, and the reaction to the book shows that my instincts came through.”

He says Te Wehenga:The Separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku is based on a story he has always found particularly special.

“I heard the story when I was young and it has always stuck with me. When it came time for the next adventure, I was in the unusual and very privileged position of being asked by my publishers what I would like to do - and this immediately came to mind.”

Tait, who has worked previously with schools and provided his illustrations for educational materials, says the ability to hear stories read aloud is an important aspect of bringing tamariki together to engage with books.

“Reading is typically seen as a solitary activity, but it doesn’t have to be - it can be a social and communal thing. Storytelling is a huge part of all cultures and there is something special in gathering for a story,” he says.

“Kids are like story engines, it comes so naturally to them - they want to hear them, make them, and tell them. It doesn’t take much to tap into their imagination and encourage their creativity”.

Belinda Cooke, manager of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa, says they were thrilled for Mat on his double win at the children’s awards.

“And we’re delighted to be collaborating with our longtime partners HELL to bring such a talented author and important story to a wider audience through the very popular Great NZ Book Trip online sessions,” she says.

Siang Tay, HELL Marketing Manager, says the reaction to the live readings has been beyond what they ever imagined, and to hear from this year’s winner is something really special.

“This year has seen another incredible set of authors bringing their stories to life, and to have Mat join our Great NZ Book Trip is awesome. We’re grateful the authors are giving their time to the project and creating accessibility for kids of all ages to step into new literacy adventures.

“Teachers are coming to us to tell us the impact these readings and the Reading Challenge are having as a whole, at a time when we are seeing more kids becoming disengaged with their reading and literacy rates continuing to decline”.

Schools and libraries participate for free in the Reading Challenge and Great NZ Book Trip. You can find out more here.