Review: Hauraki Broo

Reviewed by Alex Eagles

Hauraki Broo, a new children's book by award-winning illustrator/author Nikki Slade Robinson, is full of wonderful images and information that will delight whale and nature enthusiasts of all ages.

Whales hold a particular fascination for many of us perhaps because they are the largest creatures that have ever lived on the planet or maybe because our history with them has changed from hunter to guardian.

Several decades ago, I was privileged to swim with humpback whales in Tonga. The image of one particular calf, which swam close and eyeballed me, and the sound of the mother's eerie song will stay with me forever.

Hauraki Broo, a new children's book by award-winning illustrator/ author Nikki Slade Robinson, is full of wonderful images and information that will delight whale and nature enthusiasts of all ages.

Of the 80 different species of whale in the world, 34 are known to visit or live in our waters and Hauraki Broo focuses on one such species, a baleen whale called the Bryde's whale. Those like the humpback, sperm, blue and even the right whale are types that most New Zealanders would have heard of but the Bryde's whale, not so much, even though they are one of the most commonly seen.

Even how you say the name is a bit of an enigma. 'Bryde's' is not pronounced 'brides' but 'broo-dus' as in 'to brew beer or tea.' It is, in fact, surprising that the whale has not been renamed since the origins stretch back to the early 1900s and the Norwegian Johan Bryde who built the first whaling stations in South Africa where whales like the Bryde's were slaughtered.

The Aotearoa branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF-New Zealand, instigated a children's book, with a Bryde's Whale in the starring role, to highlight the plight of marine animals living in the Hauraki Gulf. The resulting book, Hauraki Broo and the Māori language edition, Ngā Purū o Hauraki, were released at the 'o-fish-al' launch of WWF Whale Tales 2022 (more on that at the end of this review).

While Slade Robinson is the author/ illustrator of over 60 children's books, including the acclaimed Muddle & Mo and The Little Kiwi series, this is her first book about a whale. Hauraki Broo gently teaches without preaching by touching on the negative impacts facing whales in the Hauraki Gulf/Tīkapa Moana making it a great starting point to explore environmental issues affecting other marine life.

Educators will love to have the book in their libraries especially as the text cleverly incorporates features popular with young children, including the counting of animals and phrase repetition.

Slade Robinson also uses a lot of te reo in the book with the English translation repeated in the same sentence. This is a clever way to introduce new Māori words but reading aloud may be a problem for those not familiar with the pronunciation. A small dictionary at the back of the book with the phonetics of each word and the meaning would have been a useful addition.

As the illustrator of more than 100 books during her 30-year career, the artwork in Hauraki Broo is some of Slade Robinson’s best. The tuna fleeing through the beautiful blue-green sea seem to leap from the page while the container ships look like they are heading straight for you. The texture of the handmade paper used in her art creates the illusion that the New Zealand fur seals/ kekeno will feel hairy and the snapper will feel 'scratchy' when touched.

As mentioned earlier, the book connects with WWF Whale Tales 2022 which aims to raise awareness of the troubled state of our oceans by displaying 80 (1.8m tall) whale tail sculptures by 80 local artists around Tāmaki Makaurau. During March, 80 Auckland schools will decorate baby whale tails and a free learning resource for primary schools is available that will include Hauraki Broo. Project Jonah is supporting the initiative by running interactive in-school presentations featuring a life-sized baby Bryde's Whale.

Whale Tales has an app that includes a map of the art trail conveying a treasure hunt feel — for us pirates; codes on the back of each sculpture to unlock a reward — for gamers; a step measuring pedometer — for fitness fanatics; and a photo gallery – for social media junkies. The app also features a calendar with events ranging from presentations by scientists to a live reading of Hauraki Broo by well-known entertainer/educator Suzy Cato.

Reviewed by Alex Eagles