Tama the Tui teaching kids about mental health

The Christchurch author behind the new children's book, Tama the Tui has been down for a while, hopes it will encourage children to open up when they feel "sad and blue".

The book, written by Alvante Harris and illustrated by Maria Carroll, follows the journey of Tama the young Tui who is feeling down but learns to share his feelings with his friends and family.

Harris shared his book this week with pupils from Our Lady of the Assumption School in Hoon Hay.

He said he hopes it will encourage them to open up about their feelings.

"Not only will it give them the tools to open up, but it might even give them the tools to be able to support people when they need to so, if a friend does open up to them, they're not feeling so good, they'll have the tools they need to actually be able to help them and support them through that," Harris said.

He drafted the story in 2022 and says it is the first book he has written.

His good friend Maria Carroll did the illustrations.

Harris admits mental health is a difficult topic to discuss in New Zealand, but believes it is important for kids to learn about it.

"One thing that's been common throughout my life, throughout my friends and family, is people aren't very good at opening up and talking about their feelings.

"So I figured that if you write a book for kids, then they can learn early and sort of get the tools they need to be able to open up when they need to."

Alvante Harris with his book, Tama the Tui. Photo: Emily O'Hagan
Alvante Harris with his book, Tama the Tui. Photo: Emily O'Hagan
And the idea seems to be working. He received positive responses from pupils who clearly understood its meaning.

"Always tell someone when you're sad so then they know.

"I liked that Tama was sad and then his dad said to talk about his feelings and then he felt a lot more better."

Harris has also started an initiative to help spread his important message. For every four books sold, he'll donate another to an organisation, school, or mental health worker who could benefit from it.

He has ideas for future stories in the pipeline but said his first priority will be getting Tama the Tui translated into Te Reo Māori.

- By Emily O'Hagan, made with the support of NZ On Air