Poetry Box review: Steph Matuku’s Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses

Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses, Step Matuku, Huia Publishers, 2021

Steph Matuku’s children’s novel, Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses came out last year. I have only just read it and love it so much want to track down the first one (Whetū Toa and the Magician) – more importantly I want to sing its praises to inspire you to read it too.

This is the kind of children’s book where the stars align and everything falls into perfect place: characters, plot, ideas, feelings, language, tension, surprise, illustrations. The cover artwork underlines how this book might engage you. Steph knows how to get a story to do a cartwheel, a forward or backward flip, so you end up somewhere surprising and different. I had to keep reading reading reading it, but forced myself to save the second half for the next day.

Character is such a vital hook for the reader, and Steph’s characters matter. Whetū is about to start school. She and her mum live at the magician’s place (I don’t know the backstory yet!), and Whetū’s job is to care for the animals. I am talking horses, a chicken (who might become a squawking multitude), a golden ram named Ramses, and a very helpful cat named Tori. None of the animal crew are happy about Whetū’s school return. Even though she has pledged to get up extra early so she can still look after them!

I adore Whetū. She is exactly the kind of character I want to carry with me at the moment. She has cunning and she has grit, she has tenderness and a sense of justice. She gets into difficult situations and figures out what to do, even though the magic in her fingertips is scarcely working.

I also adore Tori the helpful cat. Ramses goes missing so it is up to Whetū and Tori to find the ram. This is where the story forward flips and somersaults. Where you care so much about the characters but are never sure what will happen next. The blurb mentions starbeams, strange worlds, other planets and an evil magician, so I am not giving anything away there.

Buckle yourself in and enjoy the exhilarating ride this book offers, so much fun, so beautifully written and illustrated. You get magic and daring, you get insight and empathy, you get a novel that taps into what it means to human.

I put Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses down, smiled from head to toe, and felt immensely grateful our world is a book world, a story world, a world in which we can connect and converse through the stories we share. Thank you.

Huia Publishers page

Steph Matuku (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama, Te Atiawa) is a freelance writer from Taranaki. She enjoys writing stories for young people and her work has appeared on the page, stage and screen. Her first two novels, Flight of the Fantail and Whetū Toa and the Magician were Storylines Notable Books. Whetū Toa and the Magician was a finalist at the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. In 2021, she was awarded the established Māori writer residency at the Michael King Centre where she worked on a novel about post-apocalyptic climate change.

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