Mila’s My Aganu’u Series

Mila’s My Aganu’u Series –
Release Date: 27th May 2021

I just couldn’t help it. When you’re excited about something you have created – that the world has never seen before – it’s just so hard to keep it a secret.

This week I shared a sneak peek of our Mila’s My Aganu’u Series with students for the first time. And the experience was pretty interesting, nerve-racking and enlightening all at the same time.

But as usual when sharing the finished product with students, the number one question asked was – ‘Miss, how did you write these stories?’ …

Part 1: Fale Sāmoa

Last year I had bumped into an ex-student. After the usual, how’s everything chit-chat, he randomly blurted out – ‘That’s right Miss you write books now!’

I nodded and we continued to talk about the random writing exercises I used to give students in class – ‘Think about the last memorable conversation you had. Use it as inspiration to write something. Pick a patch of grass outside. What would be a possible diary entry that patch of grass would write? Close your eyes and grab something in front of you/behind you/beside you. Use it to start your story.

I remember one time I took my class outside our school gate just to observe the world around us and the cars driving by. We would discuss the possible stories, perspectives and ideas that could come from the world around us. It was pretty cool to see their imaginations run wild. I used to do this to prove to my students that inspiration is all around us and with the right writing skills and techniques, you can write something fun and engaging about anything and everything.

We all loved it.

One of my personal favourites was when I sent them on secret spy writing missions around the school – go to the office to ask for more staples and while you’re there observe what’s around, whose there, the mood, how that scene could fit into a story.

My ex-student who I was catching up with even recalled how he was sent into the principal’s office one time to spy-write and remembered writing, ‘Time is of the essence today, she sits very frustrated with the line of naughty kids outside her door’.

We laughed out loud, which got even louder near the end of our conversation, when my ex-student said – ‘So Miss … are you like the islander Dr Seuss of books?’

Later that week I giggled to myself as my ex-students comment popped in my head randomly, but then something stuck.

Dr Seuss = Fun = Rhyming.

I remembered how my sons lapped up Hairy Maclary and The Gruffalo. How strong the visual cues from the images and rhyming words helped them with their reading progress and reading enjoyment overall. And how obsessed they became with them, memorising whole pages or even whole books.

‘Why don’t we have any fun, rhyming Pasifika picture books for our tamaiti? With amazingly rich illustrations? With a story that rhymes and engages our tamaiti with reading and learning about elements of our Samoan culture?’ I thought to myself (FYI – This is honestly how my mind works on the daily #PoorHubsta.)

So I pulled out some drafts I wrote back in 2016. One was entitled, Fale Sāmoa.

And I carefully re-crafted the story so that it had all the important elements about fale Sāmoa and for fun, made the sentences rhyme.

I then spoke to my illustrator specifically about the images reflecting a learning journey or experience, like the ones I would try to create for my students during writing sessions that would inspire ideas, help them see different perspectives or transport them to another time and place.

The last part was adding the translated Samoan version of the book, because safe access to our language is key, and since we have had no books for sooooo long we are obviously on major catch up – and our readers deserve to have two books in one!

Our first picture book story, Fale Sāmoa, was born.

Part 2: Siva Afi Teine Toa

They say a picture can say a thousand words – and it was this picture that gave me all the words I needed for the second story, Siva Afi Teine Toa.

Moemoana Schwenke is one of few women in the world to perform the ‘siva afi’ dance.

SIVA AFI = TEINE Samoa = strength = beauty = TOA/warrior/hero = goddess = Nafanua = ancestors = present & past = next generation. These were the exact words that came to mind and in this order.

Having grown up and raised by strong woman as a child (also wanting to be Beyonce’s adopted islander sister), growing up I wished I had a story that showed the strength of our Samoan women, and not just as the domestic goddesses they are, but about the toa spirit they possess. Something I noticed in so many women in my family and across our Pasifika community all my life.

The beauty, power and strength they had made me wonder how this came to be – ‘Where did it come from?’

This took me into our past to the Samoan war goddess Nafanua who at one time in Samoan history held all paramount chief titles and ruled over Sāmoa.

When I found out Nafanua even existed as a grown adult (yip took that long, proving once again why we need more of our stories) I was instantly fascinated by her – a woman #InAMaleDominatedWorld leading her people to victory. So I made the easy decision that Nafanua had to be part of this story and for it to be told from two different perspectives – the past and the impact that this has on us and today’s Pasifika generation.

Then I got writing.

I wrote the story across two days. It happened so quickly I actually don’t even remember writing it to be honest. And that’s usually a good sign for me – an indicator that the story has been patiently waiting, wanting to be told and who knows, maybe a blessing from Nafanua herself.

The students I shared the story with also loved the illustrations. The present day story is in full colour, while the story from the past was purposely created as a graphic novel. The two stories are intertwined throughout the entire book and help to reinforce the connection from the past to the present.

‘I like that about the book Miss, it’s so different – like what has happened before is still connected to us now,’ one student said.

The most interesting comment I received from another student was, ‘I didn’t know islanders were allowed to write books Miss’ – which I told him that an islander not only wrote it, another islander edited it, another islander illustrated it and another islander designed it #PasifikaBeginning2End #PasifikaPower #It’sPossible.

This student looked blown away and proudly gave me a high five, like we had won something.

But there was one comment that kind of took my breathe away. And it has honestly left me feeling and knowing that our Mila’s My Aganu’u Series will do some good in the world – ‘Miss this is so cool, it’s like about us … It kind of makes me want to write my own story, like maybe even my own book one day.’

#Malaga #MPP #CopyrightNZ

NZ PRE-ORDERS: Online at Lagi Routes from the Pacific

Author: Dahlia Malaeulu

dah·li·a (dah-lee-ya) / noun: a flower that is widely cultivated for its impact and coloured personality / adj: abundant, bright, bold, fresh, ready-to-bloom / human form: daughter, mother, wife, educator, problem solver, creative, teine Sāmoa / working on: creating more brown spaces in the world / currently: moving in the write direction.

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