Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pacific Rhythm Dancers

We were lucky enough to welcome the family dance troupe Pacific Rhythm Dancers  to our library at the beginning of June to help kick off our summer reading program. Think the Von Trapp Family Singers if they were from new Zealand and not trying to outrun Nazis. The entire family, right down to their youngest, 3 year old son, entertains with traditional dances from several Polynesian islands while educating about Polynesian culture. There's a great audience participation factor and by the end everyone was swaying and bopping along. And at the end, after the coconut has been split if half with a grunt and a sharp rock, everyone goes outside where Mika, the patriarch, busts out some fire sticks and goes absolutely crazy with a Fire Knife dance from Samoa.

Our program drew mostly a pre-school set, although the older kids who had shown up for the computers quickly got on board, and everyone had an amazing time. I've heard kids talking about the dancers, especially the Fire Knife dance, in the month since they were here, and it was a really great introduction to a culture that doesn't really get a lot of coverage in school or pop culture.

So what did I do? I made a reading list for further exploration of Polynesian life.

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Oh favorite childhood book, it's nice to see you again. The last girl left on her island, Karana has to learn to fend for herself, survive and even thrive all by herself as she attempts to synthesize what she already knows and understands about her people's way of life into useful, practical information. It's a little like survival great Hatchet but with a girl protagonist and a sweet wolf-dog best friend.

Call It Courage

It's not okay to be the scaredy-cat of your seaside village, especially when your father is a chief renowned for his bravery. Unfortunately, Mafatu has been afraid of the ocean ever since his mother drowned when he was a small child. Determined to prove himself, Mafatu takes a big risk, makes some poor decisions and ends up in several impossible situations before he eventually finds out what courage actually means and is able to make his way home. Like Island of the Blue Dolphins, this book was written by a western man and supposedly based on actual myth. The "othering" of Polynesian culture is pretty rampant and troubling if you're reading with a critical eye. Still it's one of the classics of the genre; like Babar and the racist caricature islands he visits.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot (Scientists in the Field Series)

Endangered species, sweet conservation technology, passionate individuals charged with a daunting mission, non-fiction can be totally edge-of-your-seat, thrill-a-minute and this book is a prime example. Plus, relly pretty pictures.   

And because there's not a whole lot to chose from, here are a few young adult and adult titles as well...

The Whale Rider

The movie based on the book made a big splash (PUN!) in the early 2000s and the book shares the same place building that the movie capitalized so well on. So many Polynesian books take on this view of the outsider looking in and Whale Rider is exceptional in how it makes Polynesian culture accessible to outsiders while still being written by and for insiders.

Guardian of the Dead

Body acceptance protagonist, asexual best friend, Maori legends come to life? There's a whole lot to unpack in Karen Healy's modern day fantasy, that weaves in Maori legends. I had a lot of trouble following plot strands, but it's an engaging and suspenseful read with a pretty dead-on mastery of atmosphere. Don't look to hard at the man behind the curtain and you'll be fine. It's notable in that Guardian of the Dead is the only book I know of that tries to translate Maori legends into contemporary YA and the fact that i find it so confusing could very well be due to my lack of background knowledge. 

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