Kids Illustrate New Zealand Maori Legend

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with ten year old kids at a school in a small country town nestled at the foot of the hills near the city I live in.  Their learning for the last nine weeks focussed on their local community, changes within it over time and how the community and environment contributes to their lives. When looking for resources, their teacher discovered my retelling of a local legend online and asked if this could be  the focus of my teaching the day I taught in her class. How exciting to get the chance to work with kids using my own work.

The legend, New Zealand Maori Legend of Okatia and the Manawatu Gorge, tells the story of how the Manawatu Gorge was formed, according to Maori legend. The kids loved the story on my first visit and they each produced a small piece of their own writing and some art work. This gave me an idea.


‘How about we produce the story in book form for the school library?’ I suggested. They responded with such enthusiasm I put the idea to their teacher and the project was on. I don’t mean commercial publishing here, but producing a photocopied version of the story as a spiral bound book.

We spent the second session of about one hour looking at pictures of totara trees, the New Zealand native tree that features in the legend. Frome these the children produced four pencil sketches, getting a feel for what the tree was like, since we weren’t able to visit a real one.

I went home from that session and broke the story into fourteen pages that could be illustrated. On our last session together the children each had a page to illustrate, using only pencil and coloured pencils. They proceeded with such enthusiasm all he work was completed during the session.

The last stage of the project is now waiting for my attention. I need to assemble all the pictures and text, turning them into a book. We’ll make two copies, one for their classroom and one for their library.

We’ve all undergone a great learning journey. The kids now show more appreciation of  a Maori legend relevant to the area they live in. They’ve learned a little geology of the gorge separating their town from the one across the ranges. They’ve also learned about turning a story into a picture book by working with a story board and producing appropriate illustrations. I’ve learned about using my writing in workshop sessions to enable children to interpret it in their own way. I’m looking forward to taking the finished book back to them within the next three weeks.


The opportunity to work with the kids in this way has been extremely rewarding and I’d definitely welcome the opportunity to do so again. What a delight to see the kids produce their idea of your story with their own drawings. They’ve certainly brought my retelling of the Okatia legend to life.

Read the retelling of the story of Okatia and the Manawatu Gorge here:

New Zealand Maori Legend of Okatia and the Manawatu Gorge