Reo Pēpi e kōrerorero ana-Discussing Reo Pēpi

Could you tell us about the dual language books that you have written and published?

We have six titles, and we work under the publishing name Reo Pēpi, which means Baby Language. We just started with Kanohi, about five years ago. I had a pēpi, (Tama), I thought what a brilliant time to start learning Te Reo Māori, with my son, we can make that happen together. When I went to look for books that we could share and learn from, there weren’t very many around in print, and a lot of the ones that were in print had been around for about 20 years. So there wasn’t much current happening, and I’m a real book lover so I wanted to create the kind of books that I wanted to buy and find in book shops. So that’s how it all started.

I went to see my very dear cousin Kirsten Parkinson, who is my co-creator, she just lives around the corner. She had a pēpi (Mihi ata) at the same time and it was just kind of fortuitous she was having exactly the same thoughts, I shared my idea with her. She happens to be a beautiful illustrator, so she started to create some images, and we started to throw ideas around about what we would want and....yeah! Along came Kanohi, and it’s just rolled from there and now we have six titles. We released our first series in 2016, and our second series in 2017 and we’re working on our third series now.

You said that you’re a book lover and you wanted to learn te reo Māori with your son, so you must believe in the power of books to help learn language?

I would say that books are my go to, to learn anything. Right from a child I have found that to be effective. It was natural for me to reach for some books at that stage. I absolutely do believe in the power of books  for learning and to teach languages.

Did you have any input into where to place each language on the page when you’re publishing?

In the process of designing our books, we got out there and we talked to educators and we asked questions of other publishers, and book sellers, and we really did a lot of research and mahi into that. So there were our idea's, but there was a lot of input that came from outside as well into the planning of our books.

We wanted to have the text, on the right side because we thought about reading aloud and facing the book out to children, especially in an educational setting. We wanted the children to see the pictures, and we wanted the text to be close to the educator.

Your books have got Māori and English, how did you decide about, which language to put first and which language to have bigger. How did your decision making go around that?

Well actually that’s something that is important to us because we were beginners (we still are beginners), in Te Reo Māori, and a lot of the books that we were finding in the library, didn’t have any English on the page, and so it wasn’t a very smooth ride for us in reading aloud for our children. So we felt if we could put a bit of English on the page it would be a bit of a safety net, and help us to feel confident about reading, with our tamariki. Often we don’t use the English, but it’s there for us, especially in the first few reads. So that’s what made us decide that we really did want to make them bilingual.

At any point did you think it would be single, language? At any point did you think it would just be Maori?

Yeah we did, and we had people try to strongly suggest that that would be a better way to go for us. There’s a strong belief in Te Reo Māori circles that, Te Reo Māori needs to stand alone, and  the learner will benefit more from just having Te Reo Māori  and, not having that kind of crutch of English. And so we kind of went against the grain in terms of the, the main stream thinking around that.

It was just a gut feeling for us, and we wanted a point of difference as well, you know we wanted something that would make us stand alone in that market. So we just kind of took the risk that our gut feeling was right, and that it would provide us a point of difference, and I think it has worked, because our pukapuka have been very, very popular with young parents and that’s exactly where we were standing when we decided to make them.

There’s a sense the books that you’ve created might be aimed at a different audience to the books that only have Maori. Would you think that’s fair?

Yeah, kind of... I feel like if you enjoy books, you love reading with your children, and enjoy illustration then, it doesn’t really matter whether the book is bilingual or just Te Reo Māori. Within the Kōhanga Reo movement, they try always to be full immersion , and total respect to them around that and so they try to keep their resources fully Te Reo Māori. We have loads of kōhanga buying our books.

Yeah, and those kaiako enjoy them within their environment as well, and it’s fair enough they don’t need to use the English. They may not even use the English, but they love the pictures, and the concepts, and the kind of useful language that they find in our books.

Do you think the fact that you give much, larger font to Māori and smaller font to English kind of helps with that?

I think so, I think we’re demonstrating that we are prioritising Te Reo Māori. The English is there as a kind of a safety and help. But it’s pretty obvious what our pukapuka are about.

Another clue to the fact that your books are, to support language learning. Is the glossary and pronunciation guide at the back? And that’s written for English speakers, so correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to me that your target audience is people who are more fluent in English than in Māori...

They are for everyone-all kiwi's. Those who want to improve their Te Reo Māori, and who want to introduce Māori language to their children.

And as we’ve gone along we done some research with early childhood educators and we saw that there’s a real push for those educators to provide lots of Te Reo Māori to the tamariki, and they do such a great job of it. But it’s a struggle too you know, so many other things to teach and things to know…so it is about them too.

How do you imagine your books being used in classrooms and homes?

Well. Some of our pukapuka are great for reading aloud. Kanohi is a perfect one to  read aloud with a little one and we’ve done that lots in early childhood centres. Kararehe-Animals, is great for reading aloud too, and you can in incorporate some other Reo with that as well. Kākahu is ‘Whakamaua ō hū’- ‘put on your shoes’ etc, through the items of clothing. So it’s more of read with two or three kids kind of book. All of them provide language that can be interchanged and used in everyday situations. So you can say, ‘Kei hea tō upoko?’ ‘ Where is your head?’ But you can equally say ‘Kei hea ō hū?’ ‘Where are your shoes?’

So you get that vocab and sentence structure out of all six that you can interchange. Apart from the value of just being able to read and share the books, that language retention comes to you throughout the day. Use in everyday situations is what we’re aiming for.

I think I can assume that you think that these dual language or bilingual picture books are needed? Is that fair to say? And why?

Well, there’s just aren’t enough, bilingual or Te Reo Māori resources available, particularly the main stream where you could go into a book shop, and amongst the baby books, not the Te Reo Māori section, but amongst the actual baby board books or picture books find something that prioritises Te Reo Māori to the extent that our books do.

And that’s important because?

That’s important because….it’s important to rejuvenate the language through resources that are not pamphlets, you know. Things that are recognisable and valuable in the home, things that are treasured and loved, you know books that are actual books.

Is your main purpose to support Te Reo Maori, and learn it yourself and to have resources that help your tamariki learn it, but not just your tamariki. You’ve recognised that other parents need it too.

Absolutely, other parents need it too and I guess when you become a parent you feel that solidarity with other parents, if you’re feeling something, or thinking something then there’s probably thousands of other parents that are too.