Activity for ‘The Wooden Fish’

The Wooden Fish

by Tim Tipene

A wonderful story about a community living and working together on a small Pacific island. The villagers have always worked hard to respect and preserve their resources – never to take too much fish, wood or flax, only what is needed, so that they will always have some left for another day. When the fish runs out one day, the villagers begin to worry – what will they eat now?

Wanting to cheer his father up, young Hanseni gives his father a gift – a wooden fish he has carved himself. Although his father loves the fish, it does nothing to ease his worry, so Hanseni throws the fish away, angry and upset. What happens next is truly magical…

Jennifer Cooper has provided some stunning watercolour illsutrations, which show images of Pacific island culture – tapa designs, flax weaving, fales and coconut trees.

This book was nominated because it brings the reader “…face to face with some of the realities on the Pacific Islands and the family situation.”


Curriculum Level

2 & 3 (see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies

  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and text
  • relating to others
  • participating and contributing
  • managing self


 In this book, the reader is exposed to some of the very real issues that affect some Pacific Island cultures, in terms of protection and sustaining of resources – especially food. It could provide a good starting point for children to reflect on some of the differences between living on a small Pacific Island and living in New Zealand.1. Read story together.2. After reading, go back to the beginning, and re-read some of the comments made about not using or taking too many resources:

  • Hanseni’s mother takes only enough flax for a few days’ weaving and enough food plants for a few days’ meals, because she says they must leave some for others
  • Hanseni’s father takes only enough fish to feed his family, because he says they must leave some fish for tomorrow
  • Hanseni’s uncle says that they must only take wood that is lying on the ground, because they must leave the trees to grow

3. Ask:

  • why do you think Hanseni’s mother, father and uncle said these things?
  • why is it important that they don’t take or use too much resource (like fish, plants and wood) at one time?

Establish that for some people living in the Pacific Islands, they don’t have access to supermarkets, and they don’t “import” food and other resources from other places, because it’s too expensive. So all they have is what they can grow and produce themselves. If they use too much, there will be none left for tomorrow, or for others.

  • Is it the same for us in New Zealand?
  • What is the same / different in terms of getting food?

4. On the board, have a table up with 2 headings:

Pacific Islands

New Zealand

Tell students that, using the story as a starting point, together you are going to compare life in New Zealand with life in the Pacific Islands.

Show students how to do this by working together as a class on the topic of food resources:

Firstly, write a short description of how the people in the story get their food to eat.

For example:

On many Pacific Islands, it is difficult to access supermarkets. So people must grow their own fruit and vegetables, rear their own animals and fish for food. They must be careful to share food with others and not take too much each time, so that there is enough for everyone each day.

Then write a short description of how we get our food in New Zealand. For example:

In New Zealand, most people visit the supermarket to buy their food. There is plenty to choose from because much food is “imported” from other countries, so nobody ever really runs out.

 5. Divide students into small groups and explain that each group is going to write statements about the following aspects of daily living – one for New Zealand, and one for the Pacific Islands:

  • housing
  • work
  • clothing
  • landscape/ physical environment

Use the text and images from The Wooden Fish as a starting point. Children should also have access to other fiction and non-fiction books about the Pacific, as well as internet access.

Encourage them to spend some time “researching” before they write their statements.

6. When statements are written, share as a class and display on the chart on the board. Discuss similarities and differences, and consider the benefits, and negative aspects of both ways of living.


  • several copies of The Wooden Fish
  • access to a library, or books about living in the Pacific Islands (fiction and non-fiction)
  • internet access
  • paper and pens

Curriculum Links

 Social Sciences

  • understand that people have social, cultural, and economic roles, rights and responsibilities (Level 2)
  • understand how people make choices to meet their needs and wants (Level 2)
  • understand how cultural practices reflect and express people’s customs, traditions and values (Level 2)
  • understand how time and change affect people’s lives (Level 2)
  • understand how groups make and implement rules and laws (Level 3)
  • understand how people make decisions about access to and use of resources (Level 3)
  • understand how people view and use places differently (Level 3)

Links to other PPBC books

Living with Aunt Sasa’e: a family in Western Samoa by Hélène TremblayTalia by Catherine Hannken– these books both provide the reader with good examples of what some modern-day living is like in the Pacific Islands

Other Ideas

  • On each page is an example of traditional Pacific Island art work. Children could use these as inspiration for their own Pasifika art work (Visual Art)