Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador – Ben Brown

Find out about the new role of Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador for children and young people. The first Reading Ambassador announced on 4 May 2021, is Lyttelton writer Ben Brown.

Ben Brown (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Koroki, Ngāti Paoa) writes children’s books, non-fiction, poetry and short stories for children and adults. Born in Motueka (1962), the father of two has been a tobacco farm labourer, tractor driver and market gardener. Since 1992, he has been a publisher and writer, collaborating with the illustrator, Helen Taylor, in most of his 17 publications. Ben is a regular in the Read NZ Te Pou Muramura’s Writers in Schools programme. He currently lives in Lyttelton.

Many of Brown’s books have a strong New Zealand nature background. Brown and Taylor were short-listed in 2005 for the Te Kura Pounamu Award in the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards for Nga Raukura Rima Tekau Ma Rima, the Te Reo edition of Fifty-Five Feathers. The English edition was also shortlisted for the Russell Clark Award in 2005. He was awarded the Māori Writer’s Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre for 2011.

In 2020 Brown presented the annual Read NZ Te Pou Muramura Pānui (lecture) titled If Nobody Listens Then No One Will Know, which received wide-spread acclaim. His Pānui affirms the vital importance of writing, reading and knowing each other through our stories; it explores the complex concept of youth justice in Aotearoa.

In early 2020, Brown taught a writing workshop at Te Puna Wai ō Tuhinapo, the Oranga Tamariki Youth Justice Residence facility at Rolleston near Christchurch. The workshop was part of Writers in Youth Justice, a Read NZ Te Pou Muramura Writers in Communities programme. This workshop resulted in an anthology of poetry by the YPs (Young People) who took part titled How the F* Did I Get Here*, edited by Brown.

Headshoot of Ben Brown looking at the camera.

Ben Brown (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Koroki, Ngāti Paoa) Reading Ambassador. Photo by Sophie Tayor-Brown.

Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador will advocate for and champion the importance of reading in the lives of young New Zealanders, their whānau, and communities. As a national reading role model, they will build visibility and awareness of reading across all sectors in Aotearoa New Zealand, helping to create a nation of readers.

Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador will:

  • inspire, empower and mobilise powerful, positive reading experiences for children, young people, whānau, and communities in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • deliver and support reading programmes and events, including those underway in the National Library and with other partnerships and organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • work with and make connections between the many organisations involved in reading, literacy, literature, and the wellbeing of young people and their whānau
  • build appreciation of, access to, and growth of stories and literature that reflect Aotearoa New Zealand. This includes helping increase the creation of and access to reading resources in Te Reo Māori and the diverse languages and cultures of Aotearoa
  • connect and work with the network of reading ambassadors and children’s laureates across the globe.

About the name Te Awhi Rito

The name Te Awhi Rito comes from the harakeke or flax plant. The ‘Rito’ is the young shoot at the centre of the plant. ‘Awhi Rito’ are the strong, mature leaves that stand straight and tall to surround, protect and nurture the Rito. Outside Te Awhi Rito are the ‘Tupuna’ or older leaves that bend towards the ground. These support the entire harakeke bush and eventually become part of the fertile ground beneath.

The harakeke is sometimes used as a metaphor for generations in a family. Te Awhi Rito are parents, connecting the young people or Rito in the centre of the bush to their grandparents or Tupuna.

Te Awhi Rito is not a direct translation for Reading Ambassador but represents this role in nurturing and inspiring the Rito — the young and new readers. The Tupuna represent the many organisations, authors, teachers, libraries and other advocates for reading in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Over time, each Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador will add their mana and mahi to strengthen the whole harakeke or He Pā Rito.

Partner group

The National Library of New Zealand leads the Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador initiative in collaboration with four foundation partners: Te Puna Foundation; Read New Zealand Te Pou Muramura; Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa; and Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust Te Whare Waituhi Tamariki o Aotearoa.

The Partner Group promotes and supports the effective establishment and delivery of the Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador initiative. They will provide ongoing advice and support to the Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador and steer the development of the programme of activities.

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