12 May 2024

Creating Aotearoa's own Watership Down: Shelley Burne-Field 

From Culture 101, 2:05 pm on 12 May 2024
Shelley Burne-Field

Shelley Burne-Field Photo: supplied

Aotearoa New Zealand is a land of birds. Yet contemporary fiction providing a bird’s eye view has been slow to arrive. 

While Catherine Chidgey’s award winning 2022 novel The Axeman’s Carnival looks at human interaction from the perspective of a magpie, Shelley Burne-Field’s new adventure novel for young readers, Brave Kāhu and the Pōrangi Magpie has a whole flock of makipai (magpies). 

They do battle with a rōpū of kāhu, who have joined forces with some weka, a kindly kāraerea and a kerurū, drunk on berries. 

Brave Kāhu and the Pōrangi Magpie

Brave Kāhu and the Pōrangi Magpie Photo: Supplied

The book is truly Aotearoa’s own Watership Down, appealing to both the young and their parents. Like Richard Adam’s book, it’s not short on violent encounters or warmth, and provides a handy way to learn a whole lot of kupu hou (new te Reo Māori vocab) relating to the animals around us, both indigenous and introduced.  

Zipping along with all the pace and incident of an animated feature, the kāhu try to make their way across a valley to safety in the face of a predicted earthquake and flood. 

Shelley Burne-Field (Samoan, Ngāti Mutunga, and Ngāti Rārua) is a Te Matau-a-Māui Hawkes Bay journalist and writer. She is the current Te Herenga Waka International Institute of Modern Letters Emerging Māori Writer in Residence, where she is working on her next novel. 

In 2022 Burne-Field was a finalist in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and won the ‘poetry in English’ category in the 2023 Pikihuia awards for her poem ‘Another Brown Face’.

Brave Kāhu and the Pōrangi Magpie has been published by Allen and Unwin.