The Whale Rider

This tale of magical realism and mythology (152 pages) was published in January of 2005 by Harcourt. The book takes you to Māori village in New Zealand. Melissa read The Whale Rider and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Whale Rider

Witi Ihimaera

In the Māori village of Whangara on New Zealand’s North Island, a male heir has inherited the title of chief in every generation. It’s a proud tradition in a people descended from Kahutian Te Rangi, the legendary Whale Rider. This is how it’s always been. This is how it must be.

But there’s a ripple in the calm surface of village life: The elderly chief must name his successor, and there is no male heir. The only descendant in the line of succession is a girl. And tradition has no use for a girl.

Meet Kahu, an 8-year-old firecracker who’s about to change everything.

This story is based on the Maori whale rider mythology, and it unfolds like a fairytale with high stakes and beautiful, quiet moments. The tale is told through two alternating points of view: from Kahu’s uncle, who takes us into everyday life in the village and recaps the extraordinary events that occur, and from the perspective of an ancient whale. We’re taken inside the mythology and the minds of peaceful, powerful, ancient creatures that shape the Māori worldview.

Author Witi Ihimaera was the first Māori author to publish both a novel and short stories. He was inspired to write about the whale rider by a sculpture that sits atop the Maori meeting house in Whangara. Fascinated by the sculpture as a child, he immersed himself in the whale rider myth as an adult. With this novel, he adds his own interpretation to the canon.

I suppose that if this story has a beginning, it is with Kahu. After all, it was Kahu who was there at the end, and it was Kahu’s intervention which perhaps saved us all. We always knew there would be such a child, but when Kahu was born, well, we were looking the other way, really. — Witi Ihimaera

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