Lauren Keenan has written a children’s fiction book about Taranaki’s history.
Two children going back in time to meet their ancestors is the premise for a new children’s book aimed at bringing the history of Taranaki to life.
During Amorangi and Millie’s Trip Through Time, the two children see giant eagles, witness the invasion of Parihaka and have a first-hand look at the Great Depression.
And before they can move from one time to another, to try and find their missing mother, they need to collect an item from each ancestor they meet.
Author Lauren Keenan, Ngāti Te Whiti o Te Atiawa, has always liked the idea of ”linking yourself to the past”.
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”I’ve always been attracted to this idea of meeting the people that came before me and I’ve always l loved that idea of being able to travel back in time and meet in particular my grandmothers and my ancestors that I’ve never met.”
And she likes the Māori world view of how ”your ancestors are behind you, but they are also with you, and that’s something I really wanted to capture in the original draft I wrote for my own children”.
Keenan, who has a Master’s degree in history, had a ”horrible conversation” in a history class at her high school in Palmerston North.
”My dad helped my history teacher organize a trip to Parihaka, and it was optional, and half the class refused to go. It was a horrible conversation and I remember sitting there thinking ‘this is my history you’re talking about’.”
The reason half of her classmates refused to go on the trip were varied but included ‘history is boring’, ‘we’re sick of Māori stuff being pushed down our throat’, ‘New Zealand has no history’, ‘New Zealand history’s not important’, she said.
”That was the 90s. It left an incredibly strong impression on me.”
Keenan dropped out of law school to study history and got a ”barrage of hatred” over that decision.
”It lit a fire in me that I carry with me about the history.”
One of the ways Keenan makes history interesting for her young readers is by taking the world they live in and showing the differences from the past, she said.
”That makes them conjure up these mental images on how things may have been different. I pay a lot of attention to what people wear and how things smell, because if you go back in time you’re going to find it really smelly. People don’t wash.”
In the first story the children go back and meet every ancestor they have between now and 1832.
The first person they meet is their own mother when she is 10 years old.
”They can’t believe her TV doesn’t have more than three channels and her camera doesn’t have a phone on it. Basically my life.”
Keenan is particular about details so showed her book to a social historian friend who told her she had described the wrong window for 1860.
”Apparently I was five years early.”
- Amorangi and Millie’s Trip Through Timethe first in a series, is suitable for children aged seven to 12 and is available in most bookshops.