Some picture books are classics. They tell timeless tales that teach us about the world and our place in it.
One such classic also happens to be one of the first Native Hawaiian-themed books written in an authentic voice. Too Many Mangoes by Tammy Paikai is a story based on the author’s childhood experience.
This gentle story is about two Hawaiian kids, Kama and Nani, who love to climb the mango tree at their grandpaʻs house. One day grandpa asks them to pick some mangoes, but when he realizes that the kids have picked way too many for their family to eat, he instructs them to give the mangoes away to their neighbors.
Thus the adventure begins. We are introduced to a delightful community of generous and kind neighbors. The kids go to each house to share the mangoes and, in return, are given wonderful treats — baked goods, fruit, jam, even an orchid plant — that the book calls “mahalo gifts.” The last spread is at the table where grandpa and the grandkids are happily feasting on their unexpected bounty.
What I love most about this book is the Native Hawaiian lessons of sharing without expectation of anything in return and in being happy with what nature gives you. Kids can be picky eaters, and this story shows then that delicious produce doesn’t have to be blemish-free: mangoes donʻt have to be perfect to be, well, perfect. As the neighbors explain, overripe mango can be sprinkled with sweet-and-salty li hing powder or made into pickles or bread. I was delighted to find that my favorite way to eat slightly underripe mango — with a thin marinade of shoyu, vinegar and chili pepper water — was featured in the book.
Too Many Mangoes offers many enrichment opportunities and has been adapted by teachers, librarians and parents in curriculum for first graders, including math, food and backyard agriculture, and culture and diversity. The book has been adapted into classroom plays and reader theaters and community read-aloud events.
The illustrations, by popular local Hawaiʻi illustrator Don Robinson, are gorgeous, with muted tropical vibes youʻd expect from a children’s book about Hawaiʻi.
Some book reviewers have made an issue about so-called grammar errors. I found just one spread toward the end of the book where the tense shifts from the present to the past then back to the present. More a stylistic hiccup than a grammar mistake, the shift in tense is minor and does not detract from the story.
Perhaps the best vindication is that Too Many Mangoes was a featured title by the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Dr. Sarah Dryden-Peterson described the Books of Belonging program “where we find big, hard questions about the world packaged with love between the covers of a book.”
And that describes Too Many Mangoes perfectly.
Too Many Mangoes, A Story about Sharing
Written by Tammy Paikai. Illustrated by Don Robinson
Island Heritage Publishing, 2009
Suggested for ages 2–6
Meet author Tammy Paikai in our talk-story interview and discover her other Hawaii-themed picture books. Too Many Mangoes is available at Native Books Hawaiʻi and at your favorite online booksellers.