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'My New Zealand Story' — reading history

May 11th, 2020 By Chelsea Heap

You’re likely to be already familiar with the popular My New Zealand Story series, written by some of New Zealand’s favourite children’s authors. The diary-style format and local setting make them accessible and engaging reads, for young and old.

Three book covers from the 'My New Zealand Story' series
'My New Zealand Story' books

Understand history through stories

Fictional stories, based on real-life events like these, are also a great way of extending student knowledge and understanding of a topic by turning facts and figures into relatable feelings and actions. With the recent addition of Dawn Raid by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, winner of the 2018 Best First Book Award, we felt it high time we revisited some of our favourites from the series. Journeying through time from the early 1800s to today, the My New Zealand Story series bring history to life.

Set in 1840, Mission Girl (previously published as A New Song in the Land) follows Atapo, a young Māori girl at the forefront of the Treaty of Waitangi. This story helps bring about an understanding of early Māori/Pākehā relations, as well as Māori culture and the qualities of leadership. Also set in 19th century New Zealand are Gold and Gumdigger, which are centred around (you guessed it!) the Otago goldrush and Northland Kauri gumdiggers, both important events that shaped early New Zealand history.

Moving into the 20th century, Earthquake! takes the reader into depression-era Napier, where Katie’s family are just getting by. And then the devastating earthquake hits. As a country, we are no strangers to earthquakes, which gives readers the opportunity to draw parallels between their experience and knowledge now versus then. Taking the disaster theme into the 1950s and 1960s are Journey to Tangiwai and The Wahine Disaster. Both feature resilient characters overcoming challenges as well as building a strong sense of New Zealand daily life during that time. Archival photos and historical notes tie-up the stories nicely and help to build imagination.

Marching forward into the 1970s, we meet Sofia in Dawn Raid. This story gives an insight into the racial prejudices of the time against immigrants and the peaceful protest movement rallied against it. As readers we can draw inspiration from Sofia who finds courage to stand up for her rights. Our Book and Beyond Guide to 'Dawn Raid' is a useful starting point for conversations with students around the book and their responses to it. Bastion Point and Sitting on the Fence, based on the Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand in 1981, continue the protest theme both of which parallel protest movements against racial prejudice and injustice.

By engaging with children’s literature and recommending books to students, regardless of the subjects you teach, you are supporting and encouraging them to read for pleasure and helping them grow in their reading confidence. A great way to engage students — junior and senior — with books is by reading aloud. A book set in your local area, such as a My New Zealand Story, can help draw students in as they imagine their surroundings from a different point of view.

Happy reading.

Further reading

You can download teacher notes for these books from the Scholastic website.

Check out our other guides for exploring children's and YA literature.

Visit the following Topic Explorer sets for related digital resources:

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