Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Kaylin Melia George

Kaylin Melia George
Kaylin Melia George
Kaylin Melia George

Native Hawai­ian author Kaylin Melia George has always been a sto­ry­teller. She began her career as a screen­writer and is now a children’s author. Her debut pic­ture book, Alo­ha Every­thing, is the ful­fill­ment of a life­long dream: to share the rich sto­ries she grew up hear­ing at her mother’s side. We are pleased to talk sto­ry with Kaylin today.

For those who haven’t met you yet, please tell us a lit­tle about yourself. 

Alo­ha, I’m Kaylin Melia George; and I’m the author of Alo­ha Every­thing!

Grow­ing up, I called many places home. My fam­i­ly moved around fre­quent­ly, and I attend­ed many dif­fer­ent schools from the Pacif­ic North­west, to the South, to the Mid­west, to the South­west, and the West Coast. I also lived in Tokyo for a peri­od. But as much as I moved around, my con­nec­tion to my fam­i­ly – and my family’s sto­ries – has always been one of the few con­stants in my life.

I’ll always remem­ber falling asleep to my mother’s beau­ti­ful bed­time sto­ries. She would tell me of Hawai­ian leg­ends and his­to­ries passed down to her from gen­er­a­tions before. She would also share her own expe­ri­ences grow­ing up on Molokaʻi – how she adven­tured on the islands, how she per­formed hula, and how her and her cousins would get in and out of mis­chief togeth­er. The plant­i­ng of these ear­ly seeds inspired me to ded­i­cate my life to sto­ry­telling. It’s become an impor­tant part of who I am and the sto­ries I tell.

Why did you become an author? Have you always want­ed to be an author? 

When I was a lit­tle girl, my dream was to become an author. How­ev­er, I real­ized from a pret­ty young age that my family’s sto­ries weren’t present on the book­shelves of my schools or libraries. As I grew up, I learned that is because Pacif­ic Islander is one of the least rep­re­sent­ed groups in children’s lit­er­a­ture. But, I still dreamed of writ­ing! I end­ed up start­ing in screen­writ­ing – work­ing for many years as an award-win­ning direc­tor and screen­writer of com­mer­cials, films, and doc­u­men­taries. I even­tu­al­ly found my way back to my child­hood dream with my debut children’s book, Alo­ha Every­thing! I’m deeply grate­ful for all the peo­ple who made this book pos­si­ble and all the peo­ple who have become a part of the Alo­ha Every­thing ʻohana. I wrote this book with the hope of shar­ing and pre­serv­ing my family’s sto­ries, and I believe it will be the first of many to come.

What do you enjoy most about writ­ing, espe­cial­ly for kids? What are some of your great­est challenges? 

There’s a huge respon­si­bil­i­ty that comes with the cre­ation of a book like Alo­ha Every­thing – a respon­si­bil­i­ty to the accu­ra­cy and the tonal­i­ty of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Hawaiʻi-based sto­ries. That’s a chal­lenge. I do not pre­tend that the book could, on its own, rep­re­sent even a sliv­er of the full breath of beau­ty, depth, and vibran­cy of what Hawai­ian cul­ture, his­to­ry, and life tru­ly is in full. But, I know that Alo­ha Every­thing has an impact. There’s noth­ing more breath­tak­ing than see­ing kei­ki fall in love with the sto­ry and become inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Hawaiʻi and Hawai­ian cul­ture. And because Pacif­ic Islander sto­ries are so rarely rep­re­sent­ed in children’s lit­er­a­ture, meet­ing kei­ki who feel per­son­al­ly con­nect­ed with the book – who feel that they are see­ing their home rep­re­sent­ed – those are incred­i­bly spe­cial moments.

Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

Can you share a bit of your upcom­ing debut pic­ture book, Alo­ha Every­thing? With­out giv­ing too much away, what is it about? 

Alo­ha Every­thing is a jour­ney of adven­ture and learn­ing. With­in its pages, you’ll encounter mighty canoes crash­ing over ocean waves, roy­al hawks soar­ing high above the clouds, and, most impor­tant­ly, you’ll meet a coura­geous young girl who learns, grows, and comes to love her island home with all her heart. In the book, knowl­edge sur­round­ing Hawai­ian his­to­ry, ecol­o­gy, and cul­ture is care­ful­ly woven into a beau­ti­ful rhyming scheme that will lull lit­tle ones into bril­liant dreams of vibrant adventure.

What char­ac­ter­is­tics do you love best about the pro­tag­o­nist? Is she mod­eled after some­one specific? 

From the begin­ning, my mother’s sto­ries about grow­ing up on Molokaʻi were a huge inspi­ra­tion for the sto­ry. So, when we were design­ing our pro­tag­o­nist, it felt only nat­ur­al that the char­ac­ter be par­tial­ly mod­eled on my moth­er her­self. Mae Waite (the incred­i­ble illus­tra­tor of Alo­ha Every­thing) and I ref­er­enced old pho­tographs of my mom grow­ing up on the islands. We were look­ing to cap­ture land­scapes, flo­ra, and ani­mals to ref­er­ence in the book. But, even more impor­tant­ly, we were look­ing to cap­ture the spir­it of a lit­tle girl who deeply loves her island home.

I remem­ber one pho­to­graph in par­tic­u­lar that was heav­i­ly ref­er­enced. It’s my mom as a lit­tle girl, and some­one was clear­ly try­ing to catch her with the cam­era, but she shows up a lit­tle blur­ry because she just wouldn’t stay still for the pho­to! Even with the blur­ri­ness of the pho­to­graph, the one thing that’s absolute­ly clear is the image of a child who is full of ener­gy and adven­ture and excit­ed to be out­side and tak­ing in the joy of the islands. That’s a feel­ing that we try to recre­ate in every illus­tra­tion of Ano, the pro­tag­o­nist of Alo­ha Every­thing.

What was your favorite part of writ­ing your book? 

We always dreamed that the sto­ry would be not only an exhil­a­rat­ing adven­ture but also an oppor­tu­ni­ty for learn­ing. That’s why, while the book was still in ear­ly stages of devel­op­ment, we con­sis­tent­ly con­sult­ed with teach­ers, par­ents, and, of course, with kids them­selves. We brought the book into over a dozen class­rooms and to non­prof­it read­ings to see stu­dents of every age expe­ri­ence the book, and that was def­i­nite­ly one of my most favorite parts of the process. See­ing kei­ki as young as preschool age and as old as fifth grade all deeply engaged and learn­ing and inter­act­ing with the book in dif­fer­ent ways has tru­ly been such a remark­able gift. I met stu­dents who were so joy­ful to see Hawai­ian words they rec­og­nized includ­ed in a book for them. I met oth­er stu­dents that were so excit­ed to learn Hawai­ian words for the first time. Those expe­ri­ences, and see­ing the gen­uine excite­ment in stu­dents’ eyes, are some­thing I’ll cher­ish forever.

I must also say that as much as I hope that Alo­ha Every­thing will be an awe­some learn­ing expe­ri­ence for kids every­where, cer­tain­ly no one has learned more from cre­at­ing this book than I did. And that is most def­i­nite­ly my oth­er favorite part of writ­ing the book.

Grow­ing up away from the islands, I always learned about my Native Hawai­ian her­itage from my mother’s sto­ries. But through the cre­ation of this book, I found an oppor­tu­ni­ty to seek out new learn­ings in a whole new way. I was hav­ing new con­ver­sa­tions with my fam­i­ly about our his­to­ries and our her­itage. I was inter­view­ing inspi­ra­tional and influ­en­tial kumu. I was spend­ing years in read­ing and research. And I was hav­ing the most incred­i­ble inter­ac­tions with mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty who have been so kind as to share with me their per­son­al sto­ries and their man­aʻo. It has been tru­ly trans­for­ma­tive for me; I was con­stant­ly learn­ing new things about myself that I had nev­er known. And I am so grate­ful for that jour­ney and every­one who has made it possible.

Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

Can you tell us about the writ­ing style of Alo­ha Every­thing?

Alo­ha Every­thing is a poet­ry book pri­mar­i­ly writ­ten in anapes­tic meter with a sim­ple rhyme scheme. It’s a mul­ti­lin­gual book, some­times called a “lan­guage-mix­ing” book, as it’s writ­ten in Eng­lish but fea­tures twen­ty-five Hawai­ian words to learn. I decid­ed to write the book in this style for a few dif­fer­ent rea­sons but espe­cial­ly because rhyming and poet­ry have been shown to have a pos­i­tive effect on mem­o­ry and learn­ing, and I hope that the rhyth­mic nature of the text makes it eas­i­er for some stu­dents to learn the Hawai­ian words includ­ed in the text.

We’ll post an inter­view with Mae com­ing up in a cou­ple of weeks, but what can you say about the medi­um for the book’s illustrations? 

Mae worked with mixed phys­i­cal medi­ums for the cre­ation of the illus­tra­tions. She used acrylic, gouache, and gold leaf. Each illus­tra­tion start­ed as a sketch, and she went through, usu­al­ly, a dozen or more iter­a­tions until we knew that it was as good as it could be. Then paint­ing would begin. Each extra­or­di­nary paint­ing was cre­at­ed metic­u­lous­ly over the course of weeks, and we put so much love into each and every piece, which is what makes them all so spectacular.

Do you have any expe­ri­ences as a Native Hawai­ian writer that you might share with our readers? 

When I was young, I very rarely ever saw fam­i­lies like my own rep­re­sent­ed in the pages of a book. That impact­ed my idea of what kind of peo­ple could build careers in this indus­try. I had such a love for sto­ry­telling, but I was afraid that no one want­ed to hear my stories.

How­ev­er, I am no longer afraid. When Alo­ha Every­thing launched on Kick­starter, I found a com­mu­ni­ty who gave us so much sup­port, push­ing us into the top 50 most suc­cess­ful children’s books to ever launch on the plat­form – out of 12,000 books! I believe that all the sup­port Alo­ha Every­thing found goes to show that not only are these sto­ries need­ed, but also that they’re desired and beloved by readers.

As long as read­ers con­tin­ue to sup­port sto­ries that are impor­tant to them, I feel very hope­ful about what book­shelves will look like for future generations.

You decid­ed to crowd-fund your book. Why did you choose that route to pub­li­ca­tion? What was the jour­ney to get­ting your book pub­lished like? How long did it take to write your book? 

It took about three years to com­plete Alo­ha Every­thing. Mae and I worked on the book with a new and inno­v­a­tive inde­pen­dent pub­lish­er called Mythi­fy. Because Alo­ha Every­thing was a first book for every­one involved, we had no idea what demand for the book would be like. For all we knew, we could have been mak­ing the book for only a hand­ful of peo­ple, and we were okay with that! But that’s the rea­son why we decid­ed to use Kick­starter as a pre-order plat­form; it allowed us to esti­mate demand. And it’s a good thing that we did, because we received so many more orders than we ever could have imag­ined! We nev­er would have print­ed enough books to cov­er demand if we hadn’t used a plat­form like Kick­starter for pre-orders first. Through Kick­starter, we real­ly found a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple who love and sup­port our sto­ry, and we are so grate­ful for that. Addi­tion­al­ly, I’m so excit­ed to say that there are more won­der­ful things com­ing soon for Alo­ha Every­thing! Mythi­fy and the Alo­ha Every­thing team have now part­nered with a pub­lish­er called Red Comet Press to cre­ate a retail edi­tion of the book. Alo­ha Every­thing will be launch­ing for retail on large plat­forms such as Ama­zon, Barnes & Noble, and Tar­get in Spring of 2024. I am so look­ing for­ward to this part of the jour­ney and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the book avail­able to more keiki!

Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

Can you share a bit about what you’re work­ing on next?

One of the most amaz­ing parts of cre­at­ing Alo­ha Every­thing was meet­ing Mae. She tru­ly is an incred­i­ble col­lab­o­ra­tor and an amaz­ing friend. And while I can’t say too much yet about my future projects, I can say that I absolute­ly look for­ward to work­ing with Mae again soon!

What advice would you give aspir­ing writers? 

Have patience with your­self; you’re learn­ing! Each and every project will always be dif­fer­ent and you’ll always be learn­ing new things. It’s okay to take your time as you grow as a cre­ator. This is some­thing I’ve def­i­nite­ly learned over time

A cou­ple of niele per­son­al ques­tions, please. Who is your biggest supporter?

Ulti­mate­ly, I have to say that my all-time biggest sup­port­er must be my moth­er. All my life, she has encour­aged my writ­ing and my pas­sions. I’m so grate­ful that she trust­ed me to tell her sto­ry and that she shared so much of her kōkua and her alo­ha in the cre­ation of the book

Is there a fun fact youʻd like to share about your­self with young readers?

Because Alo­ha Every­thing is so bright and col­or­ful and vibrant, peo­ple are some­times sur­prised to learn that I’m a huge lover of every­thing spooky! I’m a haunt­ed house lover, a hor­ror movie addict, and a Hal­loween fanat­ic. Maybe one day, Mae and I will bring some­thing both spooky and cute to the children’s lit world!

That’s cool! What’s your online pres­ence? And how can read­ers show their support?

I am avail­able on social media, and I absolute­ly love to connect!
@alohaeverythingbook is on Insta­gram, Tik­Tok, and Face­book. But the quick­est way to con­tact us is via email at!

I’m so grate­ful for all the peo­ple who have been kind enough to reach out and share their sto­ries with us. Receiv­ing those encour­ag­ing mes­sages makes all the chal­lenges of book pub­lish­ing worth it!

If you’ve read Alo­ha Every­thing, please con­sid­er leav­ing us a review on GoodReads or else­where, as it real­ly helps us get the word out. Maha­lo nui loa!

It was so fun meet­ing you, Kaylin! Maha­lo for shar­ing your man­a’o with us! To learn more about Kaylin and to pre-order her book, vis­it her Kick­starter web­site, Alo­ha Every­thing: A Hawai­ian Fairy Tale.

Images cour­tesy of Kaylin Melia George.