Literature for life
Gr 5-8-Witi Ihimaera blends New Zealand's Maori legends with a modern girl's struggle to have her special gifts recognized in this novel (Harcourt, 2003). Though Kahu is the first child born in her generation and she is well loved by her extended family, she seeks the approval of Koro, the stern man who is not only her great grandfather but also her clan's chief. Family lore is filled with stories of Koro's ancestor who rode a giant whale to bring his people to New Zealand. Their village continues to have a special relationship with the sea and its creatures. When a pod of whales is stranded on a nearby beach, everyone in the community works to save them. Many animals are lost and only one desperately weak whale is turned toward the sea when Kahu climbs onto his back. Both the whale and the girl feel their ancient connection, and when Kahu rides off, her great grandfather finally sees that she is the next leader for her clan. Though the eight-year-old girl is feared lost, her whale companion has left her where she can be found and reunited with her family. Narrator Jay Laga'aia handles the book's poetic rhythm and its Maori words and phrases with an easy tempo and honest emotion. Occasionally the sound quality seems too quiet, but it reflects the novel's introspective sections. Though the Maori language may be a challenge for some listeners, the universal theme of a child looking for acceptance makes this a good additional purchase for middle school and public libraries. It's worth noting that Whale Rider was made into an award-winning film a few years ago.-Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.