Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Kealani Netane

If you rec­og­nize Native Hawaiian/Sāmoan writer Kealani Netane’s name, you’re prob­a­bly a fan of her pop­u­lar book­sta­gram, Lit­tle Pasi­fi­ka Read­ers. Or you might you rec­og­nize her from her thought­ful blog posts at Pacif­ic Islanders in Pub­lish­ing. Now add chil­dren’s book author to her list of pro­fes­sion­al accomplishments.

Her won­der­ful debut pic­ture book, TALA LEARNS TO SIVA (Scholas­tic, 2024) is the sweet­est sto­ry of a child’s desire to dance the tra­di­tion­al Sāmoan taualu­ga just as like grace­ful aunt. Through engag­ing text and beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions by award-win­ning illus­tra­tor Dung Ho, young read­ers learn, like Tala, that they can do any­thing with prac­tice and patience.

We are thrilled to talk sto­ry with Kealani today.

Alo­ha mai, Kealani! For those read­ers who haven’t met you yet, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself? 

Alo­ha! I’m Kealani Netane. I am the author of TALA LEARNS TO SIVA, pub­lished by Scholas­tic. I am Hawai­ian and Samoan. My dad is from ʻUpolu, Sāmoa, and my mom is from Waialua, Oʻahu and Hon­okaʻa, Hawaiʻi. I cur­rent­ly stay home with my three kids though I pre­vi­ous­ly worked in education.

My biggest sup­port­er is my hus­band, Xavier. He is my first cri­tique part­ner and my last before I send a man­u­script to my agent. He’s not a read­er or a writer, but he is Samoan/Tongan so his cul­tur­al per­spec­tive is real­ly helpful.We live in Kapolei, Hawaiʻi.

Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad from?

I was raised in Kailua, Oʻahu until my tween years when we moved to Kapolei. I grad­u­at­ed from Kame­hame­ha-Kapāla­ma in 2008.

Illus­tra­tion @ Dung Ho from Tala Learns to Siva by Kealani Natane (Scholas­tic, 2024)

Con­grat­u­la­tions on your debut pic­ture book! There are not a lot of books for kids by Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander writ­ers. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that?

Thank you! My grand­ma was a great sto­ry­teller. We would holo­ho­lo around the island and she’d tell fan­tas­tic sto­ries about every area, but she was rarely inter­est­ed in writ­ing those sto­ries down. For most of our culture’s exis­tence, there wasn’t a need for books because we passed things down oral­ly. As our world changed, books became more impor­tant. Now there is a need for children’s books by Pacif­ic Islander writ­ers. There are many efforts by local orga­ni­za­tions to cre­ate books for our chil­dren, and there is a small but grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Pacif­ic Islanders in U.S. tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing. Even with all the cur­rent work being done, there is room for much more.

The CCBC found that only .002% of the books pub­lished in 2021 that they received were by Pacif­ic Islanders (Link). That num­ber doesn’t include the books pub­lished local­ly, only nation­al­ly. My biggest goal for my writ­ing and my social media is for our chil­dren to have acces­si­ble books that mir­ror their life. Dr. Rudine Sims Bish­op stat­ed, “When chil­dren can­not find them­selves in the books they read…they learn a pow­er­ful les­son about how they are deval­ued in the soci­ety of which they are a part” (Link). In order for there to be more books by, about, and for Pacif­ic Islander chil­dren, there needs to be more Pacif­ic Islanders in every sec­tor of the pub­lish­ing world. We should all be help­ing to lift and build oth­ers up to ensure that our chil­dren have access to our stories.

I’m real­ly excit­ed about the grow­ing num­ber of Māori and Pasi­fi­ka authors in Aotearoa. The work they are doing there is tru­ly inspir­ing. I’m hop­ing there will be more upcom­ing Pacif­ic Islander authors in the U.S., espe­cial­ly those of Microne­sian and Melane­sian descent. Many peo­ple have reached out to me ask­ing specif­i­cal­ly for books from those com­mu­ni­ties. We def­i­nite­ly need more books for all of Oceania.

We agree! So what inspired you to choose Sāmoan dance for your debut novel?

I am a dancer. I grew up danc­ing hula, but I always loved watch­ing old­er girls dance the taualu­ga. I thought they were the most beau­ti­ful and grace­ful dancers. As I grew old­er, I learned how to dance the Samoan siva and slow­ly came to under­stand the mean­ing behind the dance. In some ways, this pic­ture book is a reflec­tion of my own life. And in oth­er ways, it’s reflec­tive of how I want to pass on this tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge to my own children.

Illus­tra­tion @ Dung Ho from Tala Learns to Siva by Kealani Natane (Scholas­tic, 2024)

What beliefs are your work challenging?

TALA LEARNS TO SIVA is chal­leng­ing the belief some peo­ple that Poly­ne­sian dances are pure­ly for their enter­tain­ment. I do want to push back on the tourist-cen­tric ideas peo­ple have about our islands and cul­tures. I want our chil­dren to see that their cul­ture is for them first.

You also run a pop­u­lar book­sta­gram. When did you start Lit­tle Pasi­fi­ka Read­ers and why? What are your goals? What inspires you to write your posts and articles?

I start­ed my book­sta­gram, Lit­tle Pasi­fi­ka Read­ers, in ear­ly 2021. When I start­ed writ­ing in 2020, I col­lect­ed resources on Pacif­ic Islander children’s lit­er­a­ture. It was dif­fi­cult to find books, and I imag­ined oth­ers also had a hard time, so I cre­at­ed an avenue to share those resources. I was already fol­low­ing a few oth­er Pasi­fi­ka book­sta­grams and found a com­mu­ni­ty with them when I cre­at­ed my own.

My pre­vail­ing require­ment for post­ing a book is that the book has to be writ­ten or illus­trat­ed by a Pacif­ic Islander. There are many books about us, but not as many books by us. My next require­ment is that the book has to be acces­si­ble, mean­ing the book either needs to be avail­able at pub­lic libraries or there needs to be a web­site where peo­ple can eas­i­ly pur­chase the book.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your social media/writing career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future?

I have so many book and career ideas that I don’t have the time to do all of them, so I have to pick and choose which projects I want to take on. My book­sta­gram account is some­thing fun that I do on the side, and my focus with that is to con­tin­ue to share resources for peo­ple to find Pacif­ic Islander authored children’s books. I don’t keep up with it as much as I’d like because my focus is more on Pacif­ic Islanders in Pub­lish­ing and the work I do with Keala Kendall and Manuia Hen­rich. We are work­ing on cre­at­ing devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for Pacif­ic Islander writ­ers and con­tin­u­ing to share new book releases.

For my writ­ing, I hope to fin­ish the edits of a pic­ture book I’m work­ing on, and then I hope to keep work­ing on my mid­dle grade and young adult projects. I don’t know if I’ll fin­ish those projects this year, but hope­ful­ly they will be ready for sub­mis­sion in the next cou­ple of years. I also have oth­er pic­ture book ideas lin­ger­ing on my com­put­er that I’m unsure about, but I hope to find ways for them to work.

As for projects out­side of my own, I’d love to see more Pacif­ic Islander authored books in all gen­res, espe­cial­ly adult romance and con­tem­po­rary mid­dle grade and young adult.

Illus­tra­tion @ Dung Ho from Tala Learns to Siva by Kealani Natane (Scholas­tic, 2024)

Can you share a bit about what youʻre work­ing on next?

I have anoth­er pic­ture book project that I’m look­ing for­ward to announc­ing soon. I am also work­ing on a mid­dle grade nov­el and a young adult nov­el. Both of those projects are still in the ear­ly phas­es, so it’ll be many years before they will be ready for publication.

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

What I love most about writ­ing for kids is that kids are very glued into the specifics. When writ­ing, I have to look at things from the mind of a child and chil­dren notice every­thing so I have to notice every­thing. Chil­dren are fas­ci­nat­ed by the things adults often take for grant­ed, so writ­ing children’s books helps me slow down and appre­ci­ate life a bit more.

The great­est chal­lenge when writ­ing pic­ture books is being able to tell an entire sto­ry arc in very lit­tle words. We also have to leave space for the illus­tra­tor to tell their sto­ry. So it’s a bal­anc­ing act.

What kinds of books do you enjoy read­ing? Any favorites?

I love all kinds of books. I read across age groups and gen­res. There are a bunch of books I’ve recent­ly read and enjoyed. In the pic­ture book cat­e­go­ry, I loved Find­ing Papa by Angela Pham Krans and We Who Pro­duce Pearls: An Anthem for Asian Amer­i­ca by Joan­na Ho. I real­ly enjoyed the mid­dle grade nov­el, Mani Semi­l­la Finds Her Quet­zal Voice by Anna Lapera. I felt like a proud aun­ty read­ing Mani’s fem­i­nism jour­ney. My favorite young adult book so far this year is Drag­on­fruit by Maki­ia Luci­er. The sto­ry is so heart­warm­ing and adventurous.

In the adult cat­e­go­ry, I love read­ing romance and genre fic­tion. My favorite romance authors right now are Kennedy Ryan and Tia Williams. My favorite genre fic­tion book is Evil Eye by Etaf Rum.

I also love non-fic­tion books, espe­cial­ly books focused on Indige­nous knowl­edge like Braid­ing Sweet­grass by Robin Wall Kim­mer­er and social jus­tice like Angela Davis’ Free­dom is a Con­stant Strug­gle. I’ve been get­ting into more his­tor­i­cal books, and I learned so much from Alo­ha, Betrayed by Noe­noe Sil­va and The Hun­dred Year Walk: An Armen­ian Odyssey by Dawn Anahid Mac­K­een. I’ve also been slow­ly read­ing more poet­ry books, and my favorite right now is ‘Āina Hānau/Birth Land by Brandy Nālani McDougall. I tru­ly feel seen by her poems.

As you can prob­a­bly tell, I love read­ing, and I try to read as much as I can although I don’t near­ly have enough time to do so. I do keep a run­ning list on my phone of books I want to read.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing author/blogger?

My advice for aspir­ing writ­ers is to observe, learn, write, edit, seek feed­back, and edit more. Observe your­self. Observe those around you. Learn from our chants, songs, leg­ends. Learn from your own fam­i­ly his­to­ry. Learn from what has already been writ­ten. Learn from oth­er writ­ers. Then, write. There’s only so much we can do in our heads. As the ʻōle­lo noʻeau tells us, ma ka hana ka ʻike. We learn best when we actu­al­ly write. Next, find a writ­ing com­mu­ni­ty. They will help with feed­back. And edit, edit, edit. Once every­thing is ready, either self-pub­lish or query agents/publishers. Also, you don’t have to write some­thing cul­tur­al. Write what­ev­er you want.

Are you active on social media? How can read­ers find out more about you and your work?

My web­site is I also write the blog posts for Pacif­ic Islanders in Pub­lish­ing. Our blog posts are focused on show­cas­ing the lat­est pub­lished books by Pacif­ic Islanders and help­ing Pacif­ic Islanders nav­i­gate the pub­lish­ing industry. 

Maha­lo nui, Kealani, for shar­ing your man­aʻo with us and for the good work you’re going to encour­age more Pacif­ic Islander cre­ators. We look for­ward to see­ing more from you! To learn more about Kealani Netane, please vis­it her web­site, Kealani, her blog posts at Pacif­ic Islanders in Pub­lish­ing, and her book­sta­gram, Lit­tle Pasi­fi­ka Read­ers.

Images cour­tesy of Kealani Netane.