Activity for ‘Tangaroa’s Gift (Te Koha ā Tangaroa)’

Tangaroa’s Gift (Te Koha ā Tangaroa)

by Mere Whaanga-Schollum

 Tangaroa’s Gift is the story of how the paua came to have his beautiful colours.

Sad and lonely Paua wants to be as beautiful as the other sea creatures. So Tangaroa (god of the sea) gifts him with colours taken from nature: “… the coolest blues from the ocean, the freshest greens of the forest, a tinge of violet from the dawn, a blush of pink from the sunset, and over all a shimmer of mother of pearl.” However the other sea creatures become jealous and make fun of Paua, so Tangaroa coats him in a rock-like outer shell, so that he can keep all his beauty for himself alone.

This book was nominated for the collection because it demonstrates the Pasifika theme of connection between land and sea. It also presents a deeper message – that beauty comes from within.

Tangaroa’s Gift was a finalist in the 1991 AIM Children’s Book Awards, as well as the 1991 NZLA Russell Clark Award for Illustration and the Esther Glen Award for Literature.

Activity: SHELL ART (The Arts)

Curriculum Level 1, 2 & 3 (see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies

  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and text
  • managing self


 This story could be used as a starting point for some artwork, using beach shells as inspiration.

1. Read and enjoy the story together.

2. After reading, look again at the illustrations, in particular the paua shell illustration on page 25. Compare this image with a real paua shell, and discuss how the illustrator has used shapes, lines and colours to represent the paua shell.

3. Have a variety of shells available for children to look at. Spend time talking about colours, shapes and lines.

4. Divide a piece of paper into 4, and ask children to choose 4 different shells that they would like to have a go at sketching. Emphasise that they need to try to be as accurate as they can with lines and shapes. Some students may like to have a go at shading as well.

5. When they have had a go at sketching 4 shells, ask them to choose one which they would like to sketch and paint on a larger scale.

6. On a new piece of paper, sketch their chosen shell so that it takes up most of the page.

7. Look carefully at the shell’s colours. Using water colour paints, have a go at mixing and blending to create the shell’s colours (students may like to spend some time practicing and experimenting before they put paint on their “good copy”).

When dry, shell art will look great framed and displayed on classroom walls.


  • paper
  • pencil
  • water colour paints
Curriculum Links Visual Art

  • Share ideas about how and why their own and others’ works are made and their purpose, value and context (Level 1 & 2)
  • explore a variety of materials and tools and discover elements and selected principles (Level 1 & 2)
  • investigate visual ideas in response to a variety of motivations, observation, and imagination (Level 1)
  • investigate and develop visual ideas in response to a variety of motivations, observation and imagination (Level 2)
  • investigate the purpose of objects and images from past and present cultures and identify the contexts in which they were or are made, viewed and valued (Level 3)
  • explore some art-making conventions, applying knowledge of elements and selected principles through the use of materials and processes (Level 3)
  • develop and revisit visual ideas, in response to a variety of motivations, observation, and imagination, supported by the study of artists’ work (Level 3)

Other Ideas

  • At Level 1, children could do some shell sorting –  colours and sizes etc (Mathematics and Statistics)
  • Use the Maori koru designs on the paua shell in the book as inspiration for creating a more abstract piece of shell art (see front cover of the book) (Visual Art)
  • Explore other myths and legends of the Pacific (English)
  • Begin an under the sea study (Science)

Links to other books in the PPBC

Tulevai and the Sea by Joy CowleySina and Tinilau by Vilsoni Hereniko

Legends of the Cook Islands by Shona Hopkins

The Shark God by Rafe Martin

Maui and the Nose Flute by Sione Tu’itahi

Maui and the Big Fish by Barbara Ker Wilson

Pania of the Reef  by Peter Gossage

– these books are all retellings of traditional Pacific Island myths and legends