Kids enter te reo's final frontier

Faced with a void in Maori literature for older children, Darryn Joseph partially filled it - with aliens.

The former New Plymouth man has written a trilogy of sci-fi chapter books in te reo and an award-winning fantasy graphic novel, and he is now working on a new out-of-this-world book.

Dr Joseph, a lecturer in te reo at Massey University, has been a sci-fi fan since he was a boy and has collected comics in that genre since he was 8. He still does.

The 42-year-old father of three young tamariki says there are plenty of picture books in te reo, but a dearth of novels for children and teens.

“It's hard. You can walk into a mainstream bookstore and you will have a whole wall of books, like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, but not one Maori book in that age group at the moment.”

His books, put out by Huia Publishers, were commissioned by the Ministry of Education so cannot be sold in stores. However, they are available at Puke Ariki library.

The trilogy, RT3: Rangi Tautoru, is published under the pen name Takuta Hohepa. It is set on a planet in the Orion Nebula and is a coming-of-age, discovery-of-identity tale about a boy raised by his grandfather. It involves code-breaking, great challenges and saving the day.

“The plot has many parallels with the Maui quest narrative,” Dr Joseph says.

Some words regularly used in sci-fi don't have equivalents in te reo, so he has made them up, using the New Zealand Maori Language Commission rules.

“There is no word for robot, so I came up with karerino, which means steel puppet,” says Dr Joseph, who has a PhD in te reo.

“Also Maori doesn't have many words starting with whu or who, so I made sure I called one of my aliens a whuatara, which is a bipedal creature.

Next came Hewa, a novel for children aged 9 to 11. This fantasy story won the Kura Pounamu award at the LIANZA Children's Book Awards in 2010.

Now the former New Plymouth Boys' High School student is working on a new book called Te Poi Haumanu, which involves a group of humans living in a biosphere in a far-off galaxy. “They just happen to speak Maori.”

Dr Joseph hopes there will be more fantasy books written in te reo, because young people learning or immersed in the language have a real thirst for literature.

“There are probably a couple of dozen chapter books in te reo at the moment. That really doesn't cut it if we want to have very well-rounded Maori children who speak Maori. It's criminal - our kids get to fifth form (year 11) and they have read everything. They have nothing chunky to sink their teeth into.

“It's got a long way to go before they can think ‘I have not got time to read that book yet'.”

But will Dr Joseph's own works be translated into English? The stories would have to be revised and rewritten, he says.

“It would be kind of fun so my wider family could read them. The thing is that in the trilogy I have created language tricks, jokes and puns that only work in Maori. There are even rhyming limericks that would not work in English.”

Taranaki Daily News