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The Whale Rider

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  6,419 ratings  ·  708 reviews
Eight-year-old Kahu, a member of the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand, fights to prove her love, her leadership, and her destiny. Her people claim descent from Kahutia Te Rangi, the legendary ‘whale rider.’ In every generation since Kahutia, a male heir has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir, and the aging chief is desperate to find a successor ...more
Paperback, 150 pages
Published May 1st 2003 by Harcourt (first published January 1st 1987)
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Samatha Lepaio The myth is very well-known as most people know of the ancestor who rode the ancient whale. Fitting into the reality of New Zealand? The idea of the…moreThe myth is very well-known as most people know of the ancestor who rode the ancient whale. Fitting into the reality of New Zealand? The idea of the whale rider is a Maori myth but myths and legends are a huge part of any culture, and Maori's are very proud of theirs. But Kahu trying to prove to her Koro that she can be a leader even if she is a female is a strong representation of what this book is about.

From someone who spent most of her life in New Zealand.(less)
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

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3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,419 ratings  ·  708 reviews

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Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have been fascinated by whales from the time I was a young child and saw a blue whale skeleton at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. This one event precipitated a lifelong love of whales and dolphins and all marine mammal life. I have been fortunate to go on two whale watches in my life but I have never gotten up close to these majestic creatures. With the year winding down and finding myself in need of an author whose last name starts with the letter I to finish an A-Z author challe ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this in my self-proclaimed New Zealand November, 2015. I saw the movie based on the film a few years ago but only have a vague memory of it.

The book comes from the perspective of Rawiri, the uncle of the girl Kahu. It is a very readable intertwining story of the modern day characters with the mythology of the gods of New Zealand and the ancient whales within their own societies and rituals. Whereas Once Were Warriors shows the Maori on the margins and struggling with poverty and violence
* 2.5 *

I am having a wee moment of picking up New Zealand books that I should have read a long time ago and that have co-incidentally been made into films. Maurice Gee's In my Fathers Den was my most recent foray and off the back of that I decided to read Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider . Ihimaera has written quite a long list of books and short stories but The Whale Rider is probably his most well known due to the 2002 film of the same name. It is a beautiful film. I highly recommend
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Janice
A gem that glistens. Beautiful. A contemporary rewriting of an ancient Maori legend. Its messages speak of the strength of women, but even more importantly of the oneness of the past and present, the rational and the irrational, what we understand and don’t understand and of all life on earth. This is young adult literature for adults.

The audiobook narration by Kiwi Jay Laga’aia was well done. There is music throughout the recording, but it is the same snippet repeated over and over again. When
Jeannette Nikolova
Jan 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

Country: New Zealand

In all honesty, this was a peculiar little book. I both liked it, and didn't like it. I'm saying this in the sense that while I was reading The Whale Rider, I wasn't bored out of my mind. However, at the same time, I can't say that I actually enjoyed myself.

So in a way, this book just was. 

The story was interesting in its entirety and the fairytale quality of the entire novel. There are two stories between which the narration shifts:
Dec 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
Oh boy howdy I put on my ice skates and slid my way through this one. It didn't take long for me to realize that:
1) I am a jaded YA reader from years in the biz
2) there's much better out there
3) I would never have read this if not for my book club.

I really wanted to like it too. Other than the excellent The Bone People I have read little and know virtually nothing about the Maori people. Add a girl power element and mythology involving whales and I'm enticed.

Unfortunately, my shackles are st
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was amazing. The Māori culture was really interesting, and I love how Kahu and Nanny Flowers are constantly trying to fight the iwi's sexist, traditional ways. As a kiwi, I feel that this book has an amazing way of telling one of our many stories- all the Māori legends and myths we should know but don't. Witi has a unique way of writing stories, and it's captivating. 5☆
Megan Maurice
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written and such vivid imagery. I listened to an audio book edition narrated by Jay Laga’aia and it was just such a beautiful thing to listen to. I was swept up in the story from start to finish.
A beautiful story about the Maori culture, with a touch of magical realism, everything I love. Plus it's well-written and a quick read, I highly recommend!
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
It was an interesting book it showed how the females couldn’t gain traditional leadership of the Maori people but Kahu (short for Kahutia Te Rangi], an eight year old Maori girl who was a member of the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand, kept trying to learn the ways of a leader and wants to become the chief of the tribe. Her grandfather Koro believes that this is a role reserved for males only.

My favourite character in this book is the main lead, Kahu. Even though she is a young eight year o
Dec 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011, yaf
This book alternated between ancient mythology and the modern struggle of a young girl trying to take her place in society. The mythology portions tell the story of the whale rider, who was a long-ago ancestor who rode a giant ancient whale to the land where the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand live. The young girl is Eight-year-old Kahu. Kahu is the only great-grandchild of an aging chief who is desperate for a male heir to take his title.

So, the parts about the mythology and the internal
Amanda (musicalpoem)
Loved this. Teared up and everything. It's a beautiful retelling of an old Maori legend, and the themes are transcendent. The dynamic between Kahu and Koro alternately made me smile and broke my heart, and I adored Nanny Flowers. Now I want to watch the movie.
Such a beautiful, challenging book. Witi Ihimaera weaves a lush story, combining land and sea, past and present. The tragic scenes were incredibly heartbreaking--between Kahu's one-sided relationship with Koro and when the whales beach themselves, I about started crying at my work desk. And the triumphs were equally brilliant--as fluid and swift as the feeling evoked as the whales sliced through the sea.

I would like to wonder out loud though as to the general designation of this book as children
Sotiris Karaiskos
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
Έχω δει την κινηματογραφική μεταφορά αυτού του βιβλίου αρκετές φορές, μπορώ να πω ότι είναι μία από τις αγαπημένες μου ταινίες. Ως τώρα, όμως, δεν είχα διαβάσει το βιβλίο από όπου προήλθε και τελικά ήρθε ο καιρός να το κάνω. Φυσικά μοιραία αφού έχω δει πρώτα την ταινία κάνω συγκρίσεις μεταξύ των δύο μέσων. Ως γνωστόν είναι εντελώς διαφορετικός ο τρόπος που μπορεί να αφηγηθεί ένα βιβλίο μία ιστορία και ο τρόπος που μπορεί μία ταινία να το αποδώσει. Στο τέλος αυτό που μπορώ να πω είναι ότι υπάρχου ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
This is a super fast read, unsurprisingly, given the reading level. There are a lot of Maori words--don't make my mistake and find out about the glossary halfway through the book, yeah? It's back there, and very useful.

The story is good, if a little...oddly told. The choice to render the story from the uncle's point of view was odd and annoyed me a few times. That said, it has some very beautiful parts in it, and I think it's a good book to have kids read.

This is going to sound like sacrilege, b
Apr 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Kahu is the eldest great-grandchild of Kori, the chief of the Maori in Whangara, New Zealand. Unfortunately, Kahu is a girl and therefore Kori has no interest in her because he is only focused on finding the next leader of the tribe. Kahu showers Kori with love and admiration despite the fact that he continuously dismisses her and he continues his classes for the the males in the tribe and searches for the "one."

This is a heartwarming story of a detrmined little girl and her quest to find her w
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Prose that reads like poetry, soulful and enigmatic. Myth and magic intertwined in the present day. Bold, compassionate, colorful people. This is a really powerful story which was translated so beautifully on film.

"I am not afraid to die." I've always had a soft spot for pure hearted heroes who sacrifice themselves for their community.

This book has become so special to me. I can't wait to revisit it again and again.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Glaiza by: Aentee
Immersive writing that draws on close connections between Māori mythology and family. Loved the focus on harmony with the environment, home and identity.

Jay Laga'aia, the audiobook narrator was fantastic too. Full review here:
Anna [Floanne]
Jan 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, _aus-nz
4.5 stars
“La Balena e la Bambina” è una piccola ma splendida fiaba Maori in cui mi sono imbattuta per puro caso la scorsa settimana mentre curiosavo tra gli scaffali della bibloteca locale. Non avevo nemmeno mai sentito parlare del ben più celebre film che ne è stato tratto nel 2002 e che ha riscosso notevole successo al botteghino: vincitore del Toronto International Film Festival e del più noto Sundance Film Festival, ha fruttato alla sua interprete principale, la giovanissima Keisha Castle-
Judy Croome
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written in 1987, THE WHALE RIDER is a deceptively short book. Only 120 pages long, it’s a richly layered story dealing with several major social issues: family relationships, gender discrimination, generational differences, racial prejudice, loss of the cultural identity of indigenous tribes, ecological conservationism and modern man’s disconnection from his spiritual self.

Kahu is a young Maori girl who, from the moment of her birth, had a deep connection with her great-grandfather Koro Apirana,
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Awwww this was just pure sweetness from start to finish. Rawiri and Kahu's relationship is precious, Kahu is generally a great character as is Nani Flowers.

Pure adorableness. Doubly cute that the author wrote this for his daughters.


#8: An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
"The Whale Rider" was a book I was quite drawn to, as I am a kiwi, and I love New Zealand. I really felt for Kahu (or Pai) especially, and now I will look up to her as a favoured character. If I was in English class, I'd write a long descript essay into the characters and the morals etc... But I don't feel the need for that level of depth right now.

I really liked being carried back to the days before I was born in Aotearoa, and then feeling the effects history has on a country and its people. I
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-ya
A beautiful story by a talented writer. It's so charming yet has some very real messages. Man over-fishes his seas and out of his greed changes the balance in nature, particularly in this case with regard to whales. Many men choose to kill those who beach themselves rather than trying to turn them back into the sea to save them.

I found Kahu an enchanting heroine who adores her grandfather, Koro. Koro was so disappointed that his first grandchild was a daughter. Only a son, he believes, can inher
Elizabeth A
Aug 22, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, audio
I saw the movie based on this novella when it came out years ago, and remember really liking it. I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Jay Laga'aia, and would recommend the audio as there are Maori phrases and music that add to the enjoyment of this story.

I love creation stories, and this one retells an ancient Maori legend juxtaposed with the present day lives of the Maori. Kahu is a young Maori girl who has the misfortune of not being born the boy her Great-Grandfather desperate
Nancy Brady
Dec 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya
Maori chieftain Koro's hopes are dashed when Kahu, a great granddaughter, is born as she is next in line for the title. Girls are nothing in his eyes and he needs a male to continue his line as the chief of his tribe.

Through the years Kahu tries to win his love but to no avail, yet she is the "whale rider." She has inherited from the original whale rider himself the ability to communicate with the whales. Will he ever see for what she is? Will she ever win his love?

Maori words and tradition are
Kristin Vlasto
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kahu’s journey

This was a truly stunning piece of writing. An uncle tells the tale of Tahu with her relentless spirit and destiny to lead her people. It includes mythology and Maori language and many parts are told from the whale’s perspective- whales that remember nuclear testing and who navigate dangerous, changing waters and relationships with man. The descriptions of the sea and underwater landscapes, the southern lights and the habits and sounds of the whales bring the place vividly to life
Holly Dunn
I read this as a part of my attempt to read more New Zealand literature. I saw the film years ago and can’t remember a lot about it, but I do remember my mum being very moved by it. I was probably too young to fully understand what the characters were experiencing. What I missed from the film I undoubtedly found in the book. This book was the perfect length and I was able to read it in one sitting. Kahu was the most delightful heroine and Ihimaera’s storytelling was spot-on.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Incredible prose, breathtaking execution, a story with soul to it. I don't remember the last time a book brought tears to my eyes because it was so beautiful. Highly recommend to everyone.
Feb 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
I did not like this book at all - at times there was no meaning in the text and there were no parts that were merely amusing or entertaining. Although it claimed to be a story of the history of the Maori-New Zealand tribe, many parts of the book were irrelevant to the main plot.
Michelle Boyer
Witi Ihimaera wrote the novel Whale Rider in response to his daughter’s wondering why there were no female heroes in the stories and films they were viewing—such a wonderful question for 1987 when most literature did revolve, arguably, around male characters—but even more significantly, Ihimaera’s daughters also expressed concern that there were even fewer Maori characters in the world. Thus, the novel (later to become a film adaptation) was born. It is a great example of Maori literature, Young ...more
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Witi Ihimaera is a novelist and short story writer from New Zealand, perhaps the best-known Māori writer today. He is internationally famous for The Whale Rider.

Ihimaera lives in New Zealand and is of Māori descent and Anglo-Saxon descent through his father, Tom. He attended Church College of New Zealand in Temple View, Hamilton, New Zealand. He was the first Māori writer to publish both a novel a
“He loved them deeply, but sometimes love becomes a power game between the ambitions that parents have for their children and the ambitions that children have for themselves.” 10 likes
“Der Mensch mag sein moko (Tätowierung) in die Erde tätowieren, aber sobald seine Wachsamkeit nachlässt, nimmt die Natur sich zurück, was er sich angeeignet hatte, um seine Eitelkeit zu befriedigen.” 4 likes
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