Six stories of New Zealand’s past to enjoy

Hello all, I hope you enjoyed this week’s review on a period of New Zealand’s recent history. I thought I’d share with you all how I learned about my adopted country’s rich and colourful past. This post is slightly differently laid out and will have a little bit of personal things along with a short review of some of the My New Zealand stories I’ve read. So if you’re a history buff, have a wander down this post…

For those who are new to this blog, I’m an immigrant to New Zealand. I came here with my family in the mid 1990’s and after a year in high school, I went straight to university to pursue a science degree in Geography. Yes, you might wonder what Science and Geography have in common, but there’s quite a bit of an overlap if you look hard enough. After about four years of study, and three years of trying a few other things I found my dream job in a small public library in Auckland. From there my real learning began. I learned about the whole world we live in, both inside and out, and mostly about the people and animals that call it home. In other words, I read almost everything that caught my eye!! 

Most of the books I ended up enjoying on my tween reads journey were the ones written by New Zealand children’s authors. Especially the ones that tell of her history, namely the My New Zealand Story series. I had started off with Philippa Werry’s Harbour Bridge and decided to find out more so I went searching for them in the library catalogue. 

7-grid images. top left image white background green letters Bastion Point boy in brown sweater. middle left white background red letters Mission Girl, young Maori girl with black hair in traditional dress. next middle white background red letters Cup Magic, picture of sailing ship. bottom left light blue background with sinking ship red letters over image reads Abandon ship! girl in white dress in right corner. bottom middle light brown background dark letters earthquake!. image of young girl in right corner behind her image of destroyed buildings. bottom right image blue background yellow letters Sabotage! young girl's face behind letters in light blue. boat in front of her.
Historical NZ Reads

Scholastic New Zealand had been inspired by the Dear America series of books when they commissioned Kiwi authors to write these stories. These books are mostly novels written in a fictionalised diary format by a young person living during an important event or time period of New Zealand’s history. This series has had a few changes over the years. I believe it started as My Story and was renamed in 2010 into My New Zealand Story.

There’s quite a few out there but the ones I will talk about here give a snippet of the main historical events that bring New Zealand’s story to life. 

To be honest, I read most of these out of order!! However, if you do want to start from the beginning then Mission Girl is the one to begin this delightful series!!

Mission girl: the writings of Atapō, Paihia, c.1840 is written by bestselling Kiwi author Fleur Beale and she takes us hurtling back in time to the mid 1800’s. We follow in the footsteps of a young Maori girl as she escapes from her enemies to the mission station in Paihia. It is there where she learns to read and write. With the backdrop of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, young Atapō learns that her education is the key to helping her people. 

My review: This story truly made those days in Treaty history come to life. Although this account is a work of fiction, with Fleur Beale’s expert hand at the helm, we as readers are taken on a vivid journey back into the past. Young Atapō’s voice is unique and vibrant. I loved how she described her new surroundings after she arrived at the mission station and her eagerness to learn was inspiring. For me, this was a particularly moving and memorable read because I had visited Paihia and the Treaty grounds only a few years ago, and that feeling of standing on top of history became real not long after I read this!!

Earthquake! The diary of Katie Bourke, Napier, 1930-31 is written by Janine McVeagh. It is 1930 and New Zealand is in the grip of the Great Depression. Eleven-year-old Katie Bourke starts a diary on the day of her father’s funeral. Her diary records her hopes, dreams and how she longs to escape the boredom of school and do something to help her struggling family. Then, something happens that turns everything upside down.

My review: In this read we’re transported to Depression era Napier. Young children must help out at home in any way possible as money is tight. Young Katie’s diary entries give us not just a snapshot of life back then, but also the fears that gripped her as her home town is rocked by a violent earthquake. Janine McVeagh has expertly portrayed the destruction and toll that deadly earthquake took on the events that shaped Napier today. A really good read with some amazing descriptions!!

The Wahine Disaster is written by Shirley Corlett. It is 1968 and Debbie’s grandmother has given her a copy of an old journal belonging to a forefather. Debbie finds it more compelling than her own diary which tells of school life and troubles with her friends. The old diary of 1841 tells of the hardships of life as an emigrant sailing ship. While sick with glandular fever, Debbie feels transported back in time. She’s not sure if she’s hallucinating or if the spirit of her forefather is telling her something. After a short visit to Christchurch, Debbie boards the ferry to return home to Wellington. It is April 1968, the ferry’s name is Wahine

My review: Another astounding account of that tragic event in New Zealand’s maritime history! Young Debbie’s voice is unique to a child of the time. Period details of Wellington in the 1960’s bring this story to life. Some stunning descriptions and imagery have been used by Shirley Corlett to take us back in time and show us the events around the sinking of the Wahine. For me, after having been to Seatoun and stood at the memorial there, this story gave me chills reading it!! 

Bastion Point: 507 days on Takaparawha, Auckland, 1977-78 is written by Tania Roxborough. In the summer of 1977, Erica and her family joined the protestors at Bastion Point. Through Erica’s heartfelt diary entries we learn about the daily lives of the protestors, listen in on grand speeches and fiery confrontation between the protestors, Ngāti Whātua elders, police and politicians. 

My review: A powerful and gripping read for me. Although I had learned about this period in time while studying here, I found this particular story gave a different picture. One that is told through the eyes of a young Maori girl as she and her family camp on Bastion Point to protest. Tainia Roxborough has crafted a story of one young girl’s life in this read and given us not just what she sees and hears, but also her hopes and fears. I enjoyed the descriptions of Erica’s family dramas and school scenes, but most of all, young Erica’s voice is the strongest I have read so far in this series. 

Sabotage! The diary of Rowan Webb, Auckland, 1985 is written by Sharon Holt. Thirteen-year-old Rowan Webb writes in her diary as she starts in Auckland Girls Grammar. From school lessons and new friendships formed, other dramas fill the pages in her diary. Until an unthinkable tragedy happens right there at the Auckland harbour. On July 11th, 1985, the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior is bombed, and a crew member is killed. Rowan thinks she might know.

My review: A fascinating read!! I welcomed my baby brother into the world when this horrific event happened!! What I really liked about this book were the details about Auckland that we can still see today! Young Rowan’s diary entries gave me a vivid snapshot of life here in Auckland during that time. I really enjoyed the details of Auckland in the 80’s in this read.

Cup magic: Auckland/San Diego, 1995 is written by Susan Battye and takes her readers from Auckland to sunny San Diego as New Zealand competes in the America’s Cup challenge. Mike Lucas has to live with his grandparents and start a new school. He’s not too happy about it because he thinks there’s some big secret no-one is telling him. When he does learn the secret: his parents are working with Team New Zealand for the 1995 America’s Cup Challenge, he finds it hard to keep it to himself. Especially when the whole family must travel to San Diego!! 

My review: Another great diary fiction story about one of New Zealand’s most memorable moments!! And to think I was one of those glued to the TV screen in Auckland that year!! With young Mike’s diary entries we have an opportunity to read of all the hard work that went into that campaign. I learned so much about sailing and boat-building in this read!! A really good one for avid sailors, both girls and boys!!

My rating for all these is: 4 ⭐

All of these selected stories have been created by expert writers in children’s fiction. The way they brought the past to life is amazing, filled with period details from extensive research and some vibrant descriptions. For me, it taught me quite a lot too. One of the main things I learned from reading these books is that as a nation, no matter the race or ethnic origin, New Zealanders as a whole are resilient, courageous and compassionate. Reading this series has given me a better understanding of the people that make up this amazing land!!

6-grid block of images and text. top image of aerial view of Auckland with Bastion Point in foreground. middle left image of floor tile image of girl pointing to word Napier above her. next middle image of sailing boat on grey sea. bottom left image of white funnel on grass and bay behind. right bottom image of flagpole and information board in foreground. light clouds in sky. top right blue box with black letters saying New Zealand of today...
Images of NZ today

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