Tongan Picture Books

It is not easy to find picture books from Tonga that are available to members of the general public. As author, editor and publisher Don Long writes in this hugely informative article: ‘Most Pasifika language stories are published for the education market . . .’ Many books in Pasifika languages, or dual-language books (with English or French), are financed by and produced for ministries of education, which then distribute the titles to early childhood centres and schools for free. Lift Education has developed some great-looking titles, for example, but when I followed up with their editor (who just happens to be Don Long), I discovered that they are not available for sale to the general public or to public libraries. I did find a variety of resources online, including dual-language flip books in five Pasifika languages, via this New Zealand Ministry of Education initiative. However, only recognised education providers can order print copies of the texts.

Waka Story Books 1

Don suggested that I approach Dr Ruth Toumu’a at the Institute of Education (IOE) at The University of the South Pacific (Tonga campus), who sent me a delightful reply to my enquiry. The IOE has been publishing picture books and other resources throughout the Pacific region since 1976, in over eight Pasifika languages. Since 2013, the IOE team has been adding new titles to the collection with a continuing focus on stories that are written in languages familiar to Pacific children, and that celebrate their cultural experience and values. And . . . these titles are available for sale to members of the general public! Do check out the IOE Waka Publications new releases catalogue, which showcases a beautiful range of children’s books in Tongan and English. An extensive catalogue of older titles is also searchable online. The Waka Publications program is self-funded; all revenue generated from book purchases is channelled into creating more titles.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Don Long, Dr Ruth Toumu’a and Stephen Fong for their valuable assistance with the Tongan leg of my picture book journey.

This is an edited version of a post originally published on Planet Picture Book in January 2018.

Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading and chasing after her two young children.  She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at

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