Takahē magazine review 'Row, row, row your waka'


The fact that this small, bi-lingual book (with CD) has sold out says a lot! What’s the reason, you might ask? Is the content not just a re-write or recuperation of an old stagger-start nursery rhyme?[1] Or has Rebecca Larsen and her crew magically re-worked an olde-world relic into something wider, concerned with life and growth?

Children will enjoy a book with a great story. But they will relish a book that challenges and engages their senses.[2] With relatively few words and 36 un-numbered pages of electrically vivid and richly thoughtful illustrations, this little book (plus a great music CD) stimulates the imagination and invites a wide perspective on ‘the stream’ we all row. The stream of life, our efforts and aspirations and the mighty Waikato![3]

Rebecca Larsen’s Hoe, hoe, hoea te waka Row, Row, Row Your Waka is instructive and nutritive. Here is a rich mix – artwork, languages and music (in Seuss-like accessibility) that engages and expands the senses.

If that sounds like OTT over-investment and over-interpretation, gather your senses and see for yourself.[4] Chances are you will dance and laugh along with and care about these friends and their journey: swampy Pukeko and flightless Kiwi and Hoiho.[5] These little Aotearoa New Zealand characters introduce us to, and make us conscious of the land and diversities around us.

Good stories can teach simple concepts about numbers, letters or colours. Or they can teach us about diversity, language, love and acceptance. Maybe ‘life is but a dream …’ but Pukeko, Kiwi and Hoiho encourage us that it is possible to create our own reality.

[1] Thought to have arisen out of American minstrelsy (earliest printing from 1852; modern tune was first recorded with the lyrics in 1881, with mention of Eliphalet Oram Lyte in The Franklin Square Song Collection but not making it clear whether he was the composer or adapter.

[2] Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are comes to mind, a story of only 338 words.

[3] That said, there are those who argue the line ‘Life is but a dream’ is a confident embrace of solipsism, the theory that the self is all that can be known, for sure, to exist.

[4] Reprint underway.

[5] You might break into song, pull pukana and do haka!