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The Whale Rider Paperback – May 1, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-8–Witi Ihimaera blends New Zealand's Maori legends with a modern girl's struggle to have her special gifts recognized in this novel (Harcourt, 2003). Though Kahu is the first child born in her generation and she is well loved by her extended family, she seeks the approval of Koro, the stern man who is not only her great grandfather but also her clan's chief. Family lore is filled with stories of Koro's ancestor who rode a giant whale to bring his people to New Zealand. Their village continues to have a special relationship with the sea and its creatures. When a pod of whales is stranded on a nearby beach, everyone in the community works to save them. Many animals are lost and only one desperately weak whale is turned toward the sea when Kahu climbs onto his back. Both the whale and the girl feel their ancient connection, and when Kahu rides off, her great grandfather finally sees that she is the next leader for her clan. Though the eight-year-old girl is feared lost, her whale companion has left her where she can be found and reunited with her family. Narrator Jay Laga'aia handles the book's poetic rhythm and its Maori words and phrases with an easy tempo and honest emotion. Occasionally the sound quality seems too quiet, but it reflects the novel's introspective sections. Though the Maori language may be a challenge for some listeners, the universal theme of a child looking for acceptance makes this a good additional purchase for middle school and public libraries.  It's worth noting that Whale Rider was made into an award-winning film a few years ago.–Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Gr. 7-12. Kahu is a girl, born into a contemporary Maori family that traces its lineage to the magnificent Whale Rider, a fabled ancestor who traveled the seas astride an ancient whale. From an early age, Kahu possesses a chief's mystical aptitude, but her grandfather believes that chiefs must be male, and Kahu's talents are overlooked. Rawiri, Kahu's young adult uncle, narrates this novel, which is part creation myth, part girl-power adventure, and part religious meditation. Chapters alternate between Rawiri's telling of Kahu's story and scenes of the ancient whale. The two stories come together in powerful events that, as Rawiri says, have "all the cataclysmic power and grandeur of a Second Coming." With such esoteric material and many wandering plot threads, the story may prove difficult for some readers. But Ihimaera, best known for his adult books, combines breathtaking, poetic imagery, hilarious family dialogue, and scenes that beautifully juxtapose contemporary and ancient culture. A haunting story that is sure to receive additional interest from this summer's film adaptation. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 4 - 8
  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0152050167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0152050160
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6.6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Whale Rider" is best known as the hit indie movie, winner of the Audience Award in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. But the basis for that film was Witi Ihimaera's magical, lore-laden novel "Whale Rider," a bittersweet story about a Maori girl and her mysterious destiny.
The first great-grandchild of the Maori chief Koro Apirana is born... but a girl called Kahu, not the hoped-for boy, and soon her mother dies. Koro is upset, since only a male can carry on the line. He hopes for a destined chosen one to restore the Maori people, but his hopes are growing more and more futile. He starts teaching young boys about the old traditions, looking for the one who can "pull the sword from the stone."
Meanwhile, Kahu grows up into an inquisitive and sweet-natured eight-year-old. She loves her grandfather, but his bitterness over her not having been a boy has never really worn off. But one day, whales are found beaching themselves near the town where Kahu lives, and she hears their song. Searching for his old friend, master and rider, the oldest whale will find Kahu.
Few novels have the earnest simplicity that "Whale Rider" does. Ihimaera tackles subjects like tradition, sexism, faith, and of course the Maori culture. Not a lot of books and movies handle the Maori, who are the native people of New Zealand, and Ihimaera does an excellent job of conveying the creation myths, a handful of traditions, and the danger to it now (illustrated by Rawiri's journeys to Australia and Papua New Guinea).
Since the story is told through Kahu's biker uncle Rawiri, it takes us awhile to get to know Kahu. Similarly, the book is rather ordinary near the beginning, and the writing is too simple.
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Format: Paperback
I read the book after seeing the movie, and found the book to be grittier. The book explains the myth of Paikea (Kahutia Te Rangi), the whale rider, in more detail, and explores Maori social issues in more depth. The story is also told from the perspective of someone other than Kahu (Pai).
The book stirred my imagination very differently than the movie. The movie had an ethereal quality that the book doesn't have as much, but the book explores the mystery surrounding the myth in a way that the movie doesn't begin to touch upon.
This book is immensely respectful of its characters, their failings, fears, and shortcomings, and despite the fact that the book centers on a founding myth, its humanity and compassion will move you. I highly recommend this engrossing, moving read, even to adults. In terms of an appropriate audience, children under ten or eleven might be upset by some of the scenes in the book, ranging from whaling practices to the consequences of an auto accident.
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This is a beautiful work that fills one with the chills of destiny. I decided to read the book after seeing the movie, and though the movie was very good, the book gives a greater flavor of the Maori culture.
Koro Apirana is the chief of the tribe but he is disappointed when a girl first-born child comes instead of a boy. His eldest son's first wife dies, sealing the destiny for Kahutia Te Rangi to be the only heir to the chief. Her name also, is the one of the ancestor who was the first to come to their land, and the first whale rider. Koro's wife, Nanny Flowers gets their son to name her that, but afterward everyone says she's gone too far. Kahu proves to be a strong child, who loves her grandfather even though her love is not returned. When she hears the whales calling, destiny is calling her too. Witi Ihimaera's magical tale of Kahu brings a sense of the strength of the Maori culture to her readers. There is more to the book than the movie.
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First, go watch the movie first, it's theme is the relationship of the old chief and his granddaughter, how she struggles to earn his love as he fights time to find the new young chief. The book is balanced differently with the relationship of the Maori and nature via the whales as major theme and the young great-granddaughter's position as the descendent of the first WhaleRider the secondary theme.
Second, on the theme of women's supposed inferiority to men, see pg 82 where the author writes "'No, you sit down! I am a senior line to yours!' Not only that, but Mihi had then turned her back to him, bent over, lifted up her petticoats, and said, 'Anyway, here is the place where you come from!' That was Mihi's way of reminding the chief that all men are born of women."
Third, in one of the very few diadactic paragraphs pg 116 "'But then,' he continued.'man assumed a cloak of arrogance and set himself up above the Gods. He even tried to defeat Death, but failed. As he grew in his arrogance, he started to drive a wedge through the original oneness of the world. In the passing of Time he divided that world into that half he could believe in and that half he could not believe in. The real and the unreal. The natural and the supernatural. The present and the past. The scientific and the fantastic. He put a barrier between both worlds, and everything on his side was called rational and everything on the other side was call irrational. Belief in our Maori Gods.' he emphasized, 'has often been considered irrational.'" I think this is the author's way of explicitly outlining his theme of the book, his desire is that no one misses the point so he introduces it via this speech. This is the take home message of the book, we'd do well to read the whole book in the light of this short speech Koro Apirana.
The book, like the movie is a tear-jerker. The book would make a nice read outloud to younger kids, it's intended audience.
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