Caroline Davis

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

In Books on April 5, 2010 at 8:49 am

Summary: According to Maori legend, Kahutia Te Rangi was an ancestor who could speak to whales, and when he arrived in New Zealand riding on the back of a whale he blessed the land with abundance and prosperity.  In a modern day Maori tribe, a daughter is born to the chief and given the name Kahu, after their ancestor.  Her great-grandfather, Koro Apirana, is deeply disappointed that she wasn’t a boy, which would have made her eligible to inherit her father’s title.  As she grows up, Kahu adores her great-grandfather but he continues to keep her distant and call her useless – until a pod of whales arrives at their beach to reveal Kahu’s destiny.

Highlights: This beautiful book wove together three storylines – the legend of Kahutia Te Rangi, the birth and childhood of young Kahu, and the journey of the whales (this last had the most gorgeous language and imagery).  Although the main character is only eight-years-old for the majority of the book, I think it will appeal to middle readers and older (the narrator for the Kahu storyline is actually her 24-year-old uncle).  Sensitive readers may be upset by the tragic death of several beached whales, and it also tackles issues like racism and sexism.  I really loved this coming-of-age novel, and I think tweens might enjoy comparing it to the movie version (which made some changes).


Interview with Witi Ihimaera (Pacific Islanders in Communication)

Whale Rider Film Trailer (YouTube)

Other Reviews:

@ Book Nut

@ Libri Touches

@ curled up with a good book

  1. Hi there,
    I read your review of Witi Ihimaera’s ‘The Whale Rider’ and wondered whether you might be interested in asking Witi Ihimaera a question about this book? BBC World Book Club on the World Service is interviewing him soon and would love to hear from you. If interested, please email me at as soon as you can with a question about the book (anything – doesn’t have to be particularly clever!), along with where you’re from/live. We can either arrange for you to talk to Witi Ihimaera himself, or have our presenter put your question to him for you. Then you will be able hear your question on BBC World Service Radio when it airs.
    Best wishes,
    BBC World Book Club

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