Skip to content

Native Hawaiian Children’s Picture Books

By Ikaika Keliʻiliki and Halie Kerns 

Ikaika is a student in the MLIS program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and a library technician at the Hawaiʻi State Library. As a person of predominantly Native Hawaiian descent, he is particularly interested in the representation of Native Hawaiian culture and people in various media, particularly picture books.

Halie is a graduate student in the LIS program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and a library assistant at Windward Community College. Her library-related interests include exploring the intersection between librarianship and social justice and developing diverse collections. She currently serves as a graduate student intern for the Diverse BookFinder.

Introduction

Ukulele music... palm trees... grass skirts and leis... relaxing on the beach in your aloha shirt...

All of these images come to the mind when considering the Hawaiʻi of the popular imagination. However, the conjuring of an island paradise is in no way grounded in the experiences of the Native Hawaiian people who are indigenous to its lands. Taking a quick look at the Hawaii tag in our database, it’s clear that the setting of Hawaiʻi is severely underrepresented compared to other parts of the country. Due to its history and location, Hawaiʻi’s population is very diverse, a topic covered in several of our titles. However, if you take an even closer look at the Native Hawaiian/Kanaka Maoli books featuring depictions of the people indigenous to Hawaiʻi, you will find only six books. Out of the 290 books featuring First/Native Nations/American Indian/Indigenous characters in our collection (representing 9% of the total Diverse Book Finder available books), only 2% of them feature Native Hawaiian characters. This minute percentage shows an alarming deficit.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, over 500,000 Native Hawaiian people lived in the United States, with the majority in Hawaiʻi or on the West Coast. So, where are their stories?

Hawaiʻi was annexed as a U.S. Territory in 1898 following the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani by wealthy American businessmen, before becoming a state in 1959. Prior to  the overthrow, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi had existed for almost a hundred years after being unified in 1795 by Kamehameha the Great. In total, the Kingdom had eight different monarchs who, among other things, sought to create educational systems to promote and celebrate Native Hawaiian culture. In fact, according to the Hawaiʻi Department of Education, in 1840, King Kamehameha III established a public education system, one of the earliest in the country, based entirely in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Language). Following the overthrow of the queen, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, among many other Hawaiian cultural practices, was banned from the educational system for several decades. Thus the suppression of a language and an entire culture was sewn into the fabric island’s (unwelcome) transition to become part of the US. 

In the last sixty years, there has been a resurgence of Native Hawaiian cultural materials, including childrenʻs books, that aim to educate on Native Hawaiian culture and history. This is different from books focusing on Hawaiʻi, as many other diverse groups now call Hawaiʻi home. Books about children who live in Hawaiʻi tend to lean heavily on ideas of “local culture” which may include elements of Native Hawaiian cultural knowledge, but also rely heavily on the multicultural aspect of the population. For the following list, we wanted to highlight Native Hawaiian picture books, those that contain characters and narratives that identify as Native Hawaiian, explore Native Hawaiian culture, and/or employ ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi in text. Many of these books are created by Native Hawaiian authors and artists. Popular publishers include Kamehameha Publishing, Bess Press, and Mutual Publishing. Through these titles, both already in and coming soon to our collection, we hope that early readers can learn about and celebrate the power and legacies of Native Hawaiian people. 

Recommendations & Notes 

Princess Pauahi (2005) (Coming Soon!)

by Julie Stewart Williams and Robin Yoko Racoma Kamehameha Publishing

Written to introduce very young children to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter and last descendent of Kamehameha I. Her love for the Hawaiian people led her to leave her lands for the education of Hawaiian children, a legacy which is continued in today's Kamehameha Schools. The major events in her life are beautifully depicted in color throughout. 

As mentioned above, prior to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the subsequent annexation of the islands to the United States, the Hawaiian islands had been ruled by a monarchy that was established by King Kamehameha the Great. Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop was one of the last direct descendants of King Kamehameha the Great, and this book tells the story of her life and legacy. Though the book is written in English, author Julie Stewart writes in a way that evokes the patterns and poetic nature of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, the Native Hawaiian language. 

Pele and Poli‘ahu (2005) (Coming Soon!)

by Malia Collins and Kathleen Peterson, BeachHouse Publishing

A retelling of the classic Hawaiian legend when Pele ventured off her fiery mountaintop to make mischief and challenge Poliahu to a sled race down the snowy slopes of Mauna Kea. It is the story about the power of nature, the power of wills, the power of skill, and an explanation of why the Big Island, to this day, is an island of contrasts.

Pele, goddess of fire and volcanoes, and Poli‘ahu, goddess of snow and ice, are among the most enduring of the ancient Hawaiian deities, perhaps because their striking presence is still felt on the mountains where they reside. In this retelling of the ancient story, Pele leaves her domain at Mauna Loa and Kīlauea and travels to snow-capped Mauna Kea, the home of Poli‘ahu, to challenge her to a holua sled race. This confrontation between fire and ice is brought to life by Kathleen B. Peterson’s beautiful, fluid, and vibrant paintings.

Ka‘imi’s First Roundup (2008) (Coming Soon!) (This title is out of print; look for used copies online.)

by ‘Ilima Loomis, Island Heritage

Join Kaimi on his quest to be a real paniolo (cowboy) as he sets out on his first round-up with his papa and other cowboys. Through the experience, Kaimi finds that being a cowboy is much more challenging than he expected.

Paniolo (‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i for cowboy) and their ranches play an important (and often unsung) part in Hawai‘i’s history and culture. This story follows an aspiring young paniolo named Ka‘imi as he embarks on his first round-up. Author ‘Ilima Loomis sprinkles this tale with Hawaiian vocabulary while local artist and illustrator Don Robinson illuminates the story with gorgeous illustrations.

Mutual Publishing, LLC

Hawai‘i has a long history of multiculturalism as a result of the many ethnic groups which have made Hawai‘i their home throughout the years. Malia in Hawai‘i is about a little girl whose many names reveal her multi-ethnic background. In this story, Malia visits many places, samples the cuisine, and embraces the diverse cultures that make her who she is. 

Naupaka (2008) (Coming Soon!) (This title is out of print; look for used copies online.)

by Nona Beamerand Caren Loebel-Fried, Kamahoi Press

In this book, revered cultural expert and icon Nona Beamer recounts an ancient story of forbidden love. In the story, a princess from the mountains falls in love with a commoner from the seaside, but the union is not approved by the proper authorities, so they are forced to separate. While this tragic story accounts for the two varieties of naupaka plants that grow separately in the mountains and by the sea, it also provides a glimpse into the social customs and protocols of ancient Hawai‘i. The story is presented in both English and ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i.

Mohala Mai ʻo Hau/How Hau became Hauʻula (2010) (Coming Soon!)

by Robert Lono ʻIkuwā and Matthew Kāwika Ortiz, Kamehameha

Hau, a young girl from Ko'olauloa, is overshadowed by her beautiful and talented older sisters named Niu, Pūhala, and Lehua. But with the help of her kupuna, Hau begins to blossom as she discovers her unique talents and contributions.

Set in the modern-day, this is the story of a girl named Hau, the youngest of four sisters who are personifications of different trees. In the beginning, Hau is diffident and awkward because she does not feel as beautiful, graceful, or important as her three sisters. After her kupuna (ancestor) appears to her in a dream, assuring her of her worth and beauty, Hau blossoms into a confident young woman. In this tale, author Robert Lono ʻIkuwā brings Native Hawaiian practices and beliefs to the present by depicting secular elements such as traditional plant use and spiritual elements like ancestral aid received through dreams. This book is also bilingual, containing English and Hawaiian text.

‘Ohana Means Family (2020) (Coming Soon!)

by Ilima Loomis and Kenard Pak , Holiday House Inc.

Join the family, or ohana, as they farm taro for poi to prepare for a traditional luau celebration with a poetic text in the style of The House That Jack Built. This is the land that's never been sold, where work the hands, so wise and old, that reach through the water, clear and cold, into the mud to pick the taro to make the poi for our ohana's luau.

Few things are more central to Native Hawaiian culture than ‘ohana (family), ‘āina (land), and kalo (taro, an important staple crop). This cumulative tale by ‘Ilima Loomis reveals how the ‘ohana works with the ‘āina in order to bring forth the kalo, which is pounded to make poi for a lū‘au. This book highlights the connection and aloha (love) that Native Hawaiians feel for nature and each other.

Conclusion

One of the most well known but least understood words of the Hawaiian language is aloha. Aloha has many meanings, but at its core are connotations of love, compassion, and charity. When Native Hawaiians greet each other or part with the word aloha, the word does not simply mean hello or goodbye; instead, it is confirmation of the existence of aloha between those who utter the word. The books above were made with aloha and depict the Hawaiian people’s aloha for their culture, history, homeland, and each other. We hope that by seeking out these books, others can feel that aloha as well.

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
Using Tiny Framework Log in

STAY UP-TO-DATE ABOUT TRENDS IN MULTICULTURAL PICTURE BOOKS!

Sign up for our newsletter and get a FREE

color poster of our unique picture book categories