For all our different Samoan Superheroes

Mase – Our very own Samoan Superhero and Losi the Giant Fisherman
Publishing Assistant + Advisor

Our Mase had come home from school a little wired which was nothing new. He completed his after school routine of uniform off, favourite after school clothes on, lunchbox on the bench before pacing around the house until he was ready for the daily recall of his latest obsessions. 

Superheroes were on today’s agenda.

Facts about Spiderman and Optimus Prime came first. I took my usual position on the couch next to him as he re-enacted scenes and lines from his favourite books and films in real time. My job was to listen, answer rhetorical questions and ask many more for Mase to enlighten me with all his superhero wisdom. 

Then out of the blue came a surprising question, ‘Mum, why don’t we have Samoan superheroes?’ I took a moment to search the corridors of my mind for an answer. 

‘We kind of have Samoan superheroes but they were around a really long time ago,’ I replied. His eyes lit up and a light bulb went off as he reminded me about Tales of the Moana, a cartoon series about Polynesian myths and legends that had brought to life the Polynesian God Tagaloa and Mase’s favourite, Losi the Giant Fisherman. He jumped up off the couch and took on Losi’s spirit as he splashed about in the ocean bravely catching fish for his human friends.

I marvelled at my son who was in his Losi zone without a care in the world. He carried on as Losi, a mischievous giant and son of Tagaloa who brought taro to earth. But as I watched Mase dart around the room he suddenly broke character and walked over to the fireplace mantle where a siapo hung from a canvas. I stayed quiet and quickly looked away at my phone to pretend I was occupied as he quickly glanced at me from the corner of his eye, Mase’s usual signal to stop watching and let him be. 

Now because I’m a nosey mother and wanted to make sure the brand new glass covered gas fireplace wasn’t accidentally kicked by Mase, who isn’t always aware of his body movements, I watched him through the camera on my phone. 

I observed Mase as he slowly scanned the siapo from right to left. Then he raised his palm and gently pressed it onto the siapo letting the aging fibres brush under his hand. It was as if the siapo was speaking to him. It was a beautiful moment, watching him connect with our culture in this way. I quickly took a snapshot of the moment with my phone to share with hubby before Mase took a deep breath, almost summoning the strength of the siapo, to say, “Mum … I’m different. I know I’m different.”

I was taken aback by the sharp turn of direction in events. I repeated what he said aloud to get hubby’s attention in the other room, my bat-wife signal for hubby to come immediately because for most of his life, our Mase had basically lived in his own world. We learnt how to best manage aspects of his Autism to help him and us cope with the real world as an ‘āiga and we never felt that he was ready to be told about his own diagnosis of Autism. But as our ten year old son stood in front of me, I knew in my heart that he was letting me know in his ‘Mase way’ that he was now ready.

His father entered the room as Mase returned to his seat on the couch and he held my hand squeezing it as his reminder to focus on the words that would come from my mouth. He talked about finding it hard to focus on boring things and that he just really liked what he liked. That he liked being alone and that we don’t have to worry about him because he, “likes it that way.” But as always he broke the ice when he mentioned that he was still wanting to audition for, The Voice, and that he didn’t care if he didn’t get chosen because he likes his own voice and will keep doing concerts for us. Both hubby and I smiled at his cheeky personality that always shone through the black and white tape that held his world together.

We talked about other differences he noticed about himself. Even his observations of other classmates. I spoke about my own differences and hubby talked about the journey we as an ‘āiga went on to learn more about his differences which led us to this thing called Autism, emphasising that it is our differences that make us all unique and special. 

“Just like Losi!” Mase blurted out with wide eyes. 

I laughed and agreed, emphasising Losi’s gigantic differences and how his actions changed our world by bringing taro to earth. A smile stretched across Mase’s face as he jumped to his feet excitedly announcing to us, “So if I’m like Losi, then I can be a Samoan superhero too?” I laughed out loud and gave Mase a huge hug saying, “Okay Samoan superhero what’s the first thing you want to do to change the world?” Not really expecting what he would say next.

“I want to tell the world about Losi! … Then everyone can know about our Samoan superheroes and how they’re different too!” His whole body lit up on the spot. My book publishing mind automatically switched on. It rotated through the 6 book projects that were already in motion for the year, reminding me that our Mila’s Books schedule was already completely full. But looking at the excitement of my son combined with the spirits of our ancestors coming from the siapo, my heart responded with, “Okay, but only if you help me?”

Mase grabbed his large drawing book and skipped over the pages of Sonic the Hedgehog, Bumblebee and King Kong to a fresh new page. We brainstormed all the important parts of Losi’s story that he could remember, the kind of pictures he wanted in the book, cover colour schemes and of course the length which he said, “Tales of the Moana episodes are not long mum so not too long.” Fast reader it is then, I thought to myself.

Then I did some further research about Losi the Giant Fisherman and realised that there are different versions. I shared this with Mase, whose directive was, “Include them all!” Followed by a gorgeous smile that I couldn’t say no to. The idea of making it a pick a path book was born, and when shared with Mase he said, “Four stories in one book that’s even better!” 

Next I went to work writing. Mason gave feedback at each step giving a thumbs up or in one chapter a screwed up face telling me to, “Make the words easier mum,” followed by, “Don’t worry mum I’ll make us some taro for all our hard work, Losi would like that!”

Then there were illustrations based on Mason’s initial briefing. I filled in a few gaps for clarification and the final image of Losi came back instantly getting Mase’s approval. For Mase it was simple, decisions were easy and his mind was set. I, on the other hand, had a few questions –

Me: “Mase, Losi is the most handsome giant I have ever seen! … But do you think a giant from a very long time ago would look this handsome?    

Mase: “Losi looks great mum! He should be handsome because us tama Sāmoa are handsome,” followed by a model pose.

Me: “Okay why don’t we make the pictures on the inside colour instead of black and white?”

Mase: “No mum, give people a break from colours because it sometimes hurts people’s eyes like how noise hurts my ears sometimes.”

Me: “What do you mean change the letters son?

Mase: “Like make them bigger so it’s easier to read and use the normal little ‘A’ not the weird looking ‘a’.

Mase naturally became my publishing advisor, wanting waves made from the`~’ button on the keyboard he had recently discovered as chapter header images to connect back to Losi’s love for the ocean and taro leaves on the pick a path pages so that it wasn’t “too boring.” 

It took us four weeks to complete the book and the final part was deciding what the dedication should be. So we returned to the initial brainstorm we did in Mase’s big drawing book and circled a few key words. Then we were able to sum up our little project which not only supports our Mila’s Books mission of creating stories that help all our tamaiti be seen, heard and valued but also our Mase and his ongoing journey with Autism as a growing tama Sāmoa –

LOSI THE GIANT FISHERMAN – Launching 2nd of April in celebration of International Children’s Book Day and World Autism Awareness Day.



Mila’s Books 2022: Homecoming

Our 2022 book year has started with celebrations. Receiving our Notable Book Award, being invited on the forthcoming Storylines National Story Tour in Canterbury and confirming 7 book projects for the year, so far … because last year we had scheduled 7 and ended up taking part in 11 by the end of the year #IaGale

Dame Joy Cowley is an internationally recognised author. She has written many novels and hundreds of stories #AKALegend.

Another highlight was meeting and chatting with Dame Joy Cowley #Legend. She spoke to me about the difficulties she experienced and observed across the book industry around the acceptance of more diverse authors and stories, and we both agreed that more needed to be done in this space. Then after giving me a big hug, congratulating me for all the work we have done with Mila’s Books, she said something that I will never forget and has officially become the theme for us this year  – “Your stories bring your people back home.” #NotCrying #You’reCrying

But when we thought nothing could get better than all of this, we found out that our YA book, Tama Sāmoa, sold 2000 copies within 6 months, which we have recently learnt is huge in the book industry. Supposedly it is considered really good if you sell 500 copies of your book within 6 months, which seems to be the norm for us considering our other YA book, Teine Sāmoa, sold over 1000 copies and our Mila’s My Aganu’u Series (Fale Sāmoa and Siva Afi Teine Toa) each sold 500 copies all across 6 months.

You might be thinking, but who cares? Why is this important for me to know? Especially since our Mila’s Books are predominantly sold either direct to consumer or through our own amazing Pasifika retailers with no real attention from major mainstream book shops or the trade publishing industry, none of this matters right?

Tulou lava, but WRONG – This actually means EVERYTHING for us as Pasifika, as Pasifika indie authors and indie publishers and here’s why:

  1. The mirror mirror on the wall myth: We as Pasifika are used to not being featured in most of the stories we read and there have been many reasons that I have heard over the years for this #TheseBooksDon’tSell. But our Mila’s Books stories prove that we are more than capable of being the main characters in stories that SELL, dispelling the myth that Pasifika belong in the background of stories or should be the sacrificial brown lambs alongside other minority groups in storylines. There is a place for us and we ALL belong in the stories that we read … we also need way more across all genres ASAP!   

  2. Pasifika don’t read or buy books myth: Our Mila’s Books stories have continued to prove that there is a need and a real hunger for our stories. Pasifika people do read and guess what – we have buying power too! And it is definitely not a matter of having an author of Pacific Island descent, write a story and then assume that it will sell. What people forget is that for so long there has been a huge disconnect for our Pasifika people who have not been included in stories, or have not had their own language and culture included in books. So when we don’t address this and a one-off book written by a Pasifika author is released, you really cannot blame our people for not running to and selling out mainstream book stores whose shelves have continually rejected us, our stories and who we are.

    Publishers have a huge responsibility of healing and mending this broken vā, with an extra duty of care as the ultimate fulltime culturally responsive connector between our people, the outside world and our stories.

  3. I need a publisher myth: As grateful as I am for the publishers who took a chance on our stories and have supported us on our journey, it’s important for you all to know that like Mila’s Books, you can learn to do it all yourself and publish your own stories. Obviously this all depends on how much work you are willing to put in and it is more than just write and put it out in the world. But if you don’t want to face all the rejections (because remember over the past 40 years there was like 1% of Pasifika authors traditionally published) then like most things these days you can learn all the steps to take to ensure you produce a high qualtiy version of the book or ebook you envisioned. #YouTubeTutorials #StepByStep  
    There is also funding available nearly everywhere – even crowdfunding is becoming very popular. You can even create your own website or online book store. In terms of marketing and promotion, social media now has a greater reach than traditional methods of marketing which are now waning. Don’t forget there are Pasifika radio stations and a huge range of Pasifika platforms that are eager and willing to share and promote our stories too.

Ultimately, all of this proves we don’t need to hope and pray on a chance from a mainstream publisher or a space on a mainstream bookshelf to get our stories out into the world to be sold. And in our experience, based on the need and demand for our stories at Mila’s Books, we must no longer wait for these people and places to learn to value us as writers and our stories. We as Pasifika are now in a position to take a chance and back ourselves, by creating our own spaces for our stories on a Pasifika bookshelf that is made, promoted and marketed by us, for all of us.

If you have always done what you did before, you will always get the same results. Thankfully Mila’s Books are not doing what has been done before and have found some success in doing so. This is why we are spreading the word because as Pasifika, when one wins, we all win. Our Mila’s Books achievements belong to the village of supporters across the world who have shown huge alofa and support for our stories. So as we prepare for the launch of our first tusi for 2022, we want to say fa’afetai lava for all your support and for helping us show the world that our stories are worth telling, worthy of writing, creating and buying. We did that.

Looking forward to our 2022 Mila’s Books journey with you all this year and continuing to help us come home to ourselves – right at the top of our very own Pasifika made bookshelf where we can all be seen, heard and valued as who we are.