Planet Picture Book


The Kingdom of Tonga comprises not just one, but over 170 islands of which 40 are inhabited. I had no idea! And I had no idea what picture books I would find there until I started looking.

I didn’t think it would be easy. As author, editor and publisher Don Long writes in this hugely informative article: “Most Pasifika language stories are published for the education market . . .” Many books in Pasifika languages, or dual-language books (with English or French), are financed by and produced for ministries of education, which then distribute the titles to early childhood centres and schools for free. Lift Education has some great-looking titles under development, for example, but when I followed up with their editor (who just happens to be Don Long) I discovered that they are not available for sale to the general public or to public libraries. I did find a variety of resources, including dual-language flip books in five Pasifika languages, via this New Zealand Ministry of Education initiative. However, only recognised education providers can order print copies of the texts.

Don suggested that I approach the Institute of Education (IOE) at The University of the South Pacific (Tonga campus), which I had already earmarked as a potential lead from his article. Within a day of sending an email enquiry, I had a delightful reply from Dr Ruth Toumu’a, Head of the Publications Section. The IOE has been publishing picture books and other resources throughout the Pacific region since 1976, in over eight Pasifika languages. Since 2013, the IOE team has been adding new titles to the collection with a continuing focus on stories that are written in languages familiar to Pacific children, and that celebrate their cultural experience and values. And . . . these titles are available for sale to members of the general public! Check out the IOE Waka Publications new releases catalogue, which showcases a beautiful range of children’s books in Tongan and English. An extensive catalogue of older titles is also searchable online. As well as producing beautiful books, The Waka Publications programme is self-funded; all revenue generated from book purchases is channelled into creating more titles.

I ordered without delay and just 10 days later received a package with the following titles for us all to enjoy:

One Day by Ruth Toumu’a, illustrated by Lu’isa Veakovi Fonua Nau (Waka Story Books, Institute of Education, The University of the South Pacific, 2016)

Reef Walking by Konai Helu Thaman, illustrated by Lu’isa Veakovi Fonua Nau, edited by Ruth Toumu’a (Waka Story Books, Institute of Education, The University of the South Pacific, 2015)

Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle by Ruth Toumu’a, edited by Prof Randy Thaman (Waka Story Books, Institute of Education, The University of the South Pacific, 2015)

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Don Long, Dr Ruth Toumu’a and Stephen Fong for their valuable assistance with the Tongan leg of my picture book journey.

[Image: Polynesian Triller by Duncan, made available under a creative commons licence. Source:]

Add comment