Who are you?

Olivia Newman, Assistant Principal and unashamed book nerd!

Claim to fame?

In 2022, I read 100 books—a personal best! Sadly I’m not quite on track for a repeat this year.

What do you love about our library?

Our Library is my favourite place in the college because it sustains my addiction to fiction, but also because they have an amazing range of non-fiction history books! A book will often give you more accurate and specific information than you can find on the internet.

Finally, there’s something for everyone in the Library, and I love seeing the librarians’ smiling faces when I walk through the doors.

What was on the family bookshelf growing up?

I read a lot of Enid Blyton novels growing up, and particular favourites were The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series. These are great adventure novels, but I especially loved them for the more-ish descriptions of food and for Timmy the dog.

Do you remember loving any books at school? Tell us about them.

I remember finding Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations hideously hard in Year 11, but once I finally grasped what was going on, I loved it. Understanding a complex novel is like finishing a puzzle—so satisfying.

As a History and English teacher, stories set in the past are really in the centre of my Venn diagram of interests!

What’s your favourite book?

I don’t think I could pick a favourite, but recently I read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and found it absolutely unputdownable. The story follows four generations of a Korean family during the Japanese colonisation of Korea through to post-WWII. The family suffers enormously: they’re besieged by poverty and war and persecuted by the Japanese for their race, but they carry their traumas uncomplainingly. It’s dark, but also hopeful. Across the generations, the family members trudge on, and despite seemingly impossible odds, they accumulate wealth, educate themselves, and cling to one another. This was a really informative and heartfelt look at a history I had always wanted to know more of.

What are some mottos you live by?

He tao rākau e taea te karo

He tao kī, e kore e taea 

The thrust of a spear can be avoided, but not the thrust of words.

This is a whakataukī I first heard recently at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, and it really resonated with me. An author was speaking about online hate she had received, and how it affected her really deeply. I was struck by the author’s observation that this whakataukī is exactly the opposite, and much more true, than the old English saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Te Ao Māori has put words around an idea that we know to be true, words have power. 

What advice do you have for teenagers today?

Try to get off your phone and get outside (or pick up a book!). Did you know the average teenager spends seven hours and 22 minutes on their phone a day? I think we would all agree that time spent on our phones, especially if it’s time spent scrolling on social media, doesn’t make us feel fulfilled. Putting some boundaries around your own phone use can be really helpful. I have a handy app which I can open to block my phone use when I want to complete a task.

Who are you?

I’m Leo Mendes and I’m privileged to be a Spanish teacher here at Rangitoto College. I’m from Brazil but my wife is a Kiwi, and that’s why I live here. Although I miss Brazil, I love living in New Zealand as it is such an amazing country.

When you’re not reading, what do you love doing?

I really enjoy travelling, learning about different cultures, and surfing or playing at the beach with my three kids. We’re fortunate enough to live up on the Hibiscus Coast so we are never far from a beach. I also enjoy watching documentaries, Netflix series, and movies. I am a huge football fan and still follow and support my home team in Brazil, Corinthians.

What do you love about our library/working at Rangitoto College?

I love that we have Asterix & Obelix in Spanish in the Library! In terms of working at Rangitoto, I really enjoy getting to meet such fantastic students and I hope to help get them excited about what languages can unlock for them too! I’ve learnt two languages, Spanish and English—my first language is Portuguese. I am a strong believer that learning languages and learning more about different cultures helps broaden your worldview and provides you with more opportunities in life—plus it’s loads of fun.

What were you doing before this role?

Before this role, I was teaching ESOL in a language school where I discovered a passion for teaching. I then trained to become a high school teacher.

What was on the family bookshelf growing up?

There were lots of graphic novels and adventure fiction. My favourite novel growing up was The King Must Die, by Mary Renault. It is an amazing story that brings history, Greek mythology, and adventure together. That’s the book I’m holding in the picture. As it’s my childhood copy, it’s in Portuguese.

What do you always recommend?

For language students, I recommend reading as much as you can in the language you’re learning. At the start, that could be as simple as changing the language on your phone or computer—but as you build fluency, you’ll find yourself able to read more and more and watch movies or shows in that language too. It really helps build proficiency the more you surround yourself with the language you’re learning.

And in terms of great reads, I’ve got three suggestions in three languages:

  1. In Portuguese, I recommend Diario de un mago (The Pilgrimage) by Paulo Coelho, a book of recollections from the author after he completed El Camino de Santiago, a famous walk in Spain.
  2. In Spanish, I’m currently reading a biography, Hernan Cortes by a Mexican author, Juan Miralles. The Spanish invasion of Mexico was led by Cortes, the most famous Spanish Conquistador.
  3. And in English, I recommend Andre Agassi’s autobiography—Open. This is a truly eye-opening read about a tennis legend who is extremely honest about the challenges he faced to get to the top of his sport.

What do you love reading to your kids?

We love books at home, and I love reading to my kids. Dr Seuss, Asterix & Obelix, and TinTin are the best ones.  

Describe your perfect Saturday/Sunday?

I love waking up early, grabbing a coffee, and spending the day with my family on the beach. I’d ideally be catching plenty of waves myself and helping my kids on theirs, but more likely just watching in awe as my oldest catches far more waves than I do these days!

I’d then follow this with a Brazilian-style barbecue including lots of meat that is always cooked on charcoal, with friends.

Who would your ideal lunch companion(s) be, dead or alive?

I don’t have just one, but I am sure Winston Churchill, Pele, or Ayrton Senna would have some really good stories to tell, especially over a good meal.