By Tooki Proctor, Whakaritenga Ratonga Matauranga (Programme Coordinator), Literacy Waitākere

Literacy Waitākere has been helping adults with reading, writing, spelling, maths and computer skills for more than 40 years. One thing we have always done is give learners the opportunity to see their writing in print. Every year we produce a book of student writing for use in-house. It is very rewarding to see a new writer learn the word ‘author’ when they see it above their story, and very moving to see their tears of joy at achieving something they never thought they could do. Often writers tell stories of great unhappiness in their past, and feel that the act of writing those stories allows them to leave the past behind and move on, into a more positive future with better literacy skills.

Many years ago, in our first iteration as WEA and again as Waitākere Adult Literacy Inc, we had some stories professionally printed. More recently, we have made small collections of stories on similar themes for use by our groups – their work stories, the things they love to do, the places they come from, their poetry. We were approached by Auckland Libraries who were looking for books for adult literacy readers, as there is little suitable local material. Even our own student library has books from Australia, Canada and USA, but very little local content apart from what our learners have written themselves.

Sharing stories also helps to break down some of the barriers and stigma attached to having literacy issues as an adult. Auckland Libraries acknowledge in their strategic plan that around 40 percent of New Zealanders – one million people – don’t have the literacy skills to thrive in our society. They commit to using partnerships, programmes and their own increased skills to improve this. By focusing on literacy, we build resilience, belonging and wellbeing. This leads to better lifelong outcomes for whānau and communities. Auckland Libraries’ publishing strategy focuses on gaps in their collection – where they are unable (or find it difficult) to purchase certain types of books from their suppliers to meet customer needs. There is very little commercial publishing in adult literacy in New Zealand. Often the resources available from overseas (like easy read versions of Pride & Prejudice) are not relevant for adult literacy learners in New Zealand.

The Auckland Libraries team approached Literacy Waitākere as local experts in the literacy field to create some appropriate material, and outlined very specific requirements for length, content and physical packaging of the books so that they would stand up to the volume of use they expect.

We have called the series “Stories of Our Lives, Tō Mātou Ao, A Mātou Pūrākau” and have produced three initial titles. The first, The Big Wave, is the most popular of our in-house publications. It tells the story of the 2009 tsunami in Samoa by one of our tutors who was on holiday there with her family. In Working at Crown Lynn, Rose Hunt tells about working at this famous local factory for 30 years from 1961. Rose, a Māori woman of Te Arawa descent, passed away in New Lynn recently, just short of her 81st birthday. Te Toi Uku, the Crown Place and Clayworks museum, were extremely helpful in sourcing photographs for this publication. The third book, Fishing in the Islands, contains two fishing stories that were previously published in our student writing books; Pulemau Taumateine writes about fishing for mataeleele in Samoa, and V. Setema writes about catching flying fish at night in Nanumaga, Tuvalu, by a method they call Te Lama.

The editor of the books was Brian O’Flaherty and the cover, interior design and layout was done by Julie McDermid, both of Punaromia Publications. They are very attractive books that we hope will find a wide readership.

Literacy Waitākere had been funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) for many years, and works within the framework of their Learning Progressions. The books in this series are intended for readers at Starting Progressions level, or Koru Steps 1 to 3 on the Read with Understanding framework, and are marked accordingly on the back of the books; Fishing the Islands is pitched at Step 1 readers, and the other two are Step 2. We intend to produce some Starting Points readers soon for those with the most basic reading skills. The author of The Big Wave created a set of literacy activities to use with the book, and the intention is to do the same for the other books in the series, and to make these available to literacy providers.

Literacy Waitākere CEO, Sue West, says that it is hoped the books will be interesting and relevant to adult learners.

“These are genuine, authentic stories authored by adult learners,” says Sue. ‘We are looking forward to finding more stories from our learners to continue the series.”

The books will be available from Wheelers or directly from Literacy Waitākere from mid-September, depending on Auckland’s Covid Alert level.