Book Review: Aloha Everything


You know me. I LOVE books, art, and films that focus on the Native Hawai­ian com­mu­ni­ty and our Pacif­ic Island cousins. I love them so much that my blog focus­es on inter­view­ing these amaz­ing cre­ators. As native peo­ples, our voic­es have tra­di­tion­al­ly been under­rep­re­sent­ed. Thank­ful­ly, this is chang­ing, with books by Native Hawaiian/Polynesian authors includ­ing Gab­by Ahuli’i, Tam­my Paikai, Malia Mau­nakea, Shar Tuiʻa­soa, Brook Park­er, and now, Kaylin Melia George, enter­ing the market.

Alo­ha Every­thing is a beau­ti­ful, sweep­ing intro­duc­tion to Hawai­ian cul­ture and his­to­ry, espe­cial­ly help­ful for those unfa­mil­iar with the Native Hawai­ian people.

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

The debut pic­ture book by Native Hawai­ian author Kaylin Melia George and illus­trat­ed by Hawaii-based artist Mae Waite, Alo­ha Every­thing is writ­ten in rhyme, an effec­tive sto­ry-telling tech­nique for reach­ing young read­ers and their grown-ups.

The spreads read like dream sequences full of authen­tic Hawai­ian imagery. The book moves quick­ly, touch­ing on the many tra­di­tions that are impor­tant to the Hawai­ian people.

The phrase “What did hula teach her?” is repeat­ed three times in the book, and although the book is not actu­al­ly about hula, the refrain is an effec­tive device that helps orga­nize the glob­al top­ics to make them eas­i­er for young read­ers to grasp.

The back mat­ter pro­vides a pro­nun­ci­a­tion guide and glos­sary in addi­tion to biogra­phies of both author and illus­tra­tor. I love lots of back mat­ter in pic­ture books, and includ­ed enrich­ment mate­ri­als will be wel­comed by schools, hālau, and oth­er readers.

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

Alo­ha Every­thing is one of the most beau­ti­ful pic­ture books I’ve ever seen. At the risk of sound­ing over the top, the illus­tra­tions are stag­ger­ing­ly beau­ti­ful. More than sup­port­ing the text, the art does its own sto­ry­telling. Like all great illus­tra­tions in chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, they are key to under­stand­ing and appre­ci­at­ing the cul­ture and his­to­ry explained in the book. 

Artist Mae Waite is a won­der. Her vibrant, mag­i­cal art­work leaps off the page. I love all of the illus­tra­tions, but my favorite accom­pa­nies the first “What did hula teach her?” refrain. In it, the girl is in a hula pose, as to say maha­lo to the gods and the ʻāi­na: arms stretched before her, eyes closed, her long dark hair swirling all around in hues of pur­ple and laven­der. Gorgeous.

Each spread is rich­ly lay­ered, a riot not just of col­or but of images. You know how some pic­ture books con­tain pret­ty but for­get­table illus­tra­tions that you don’t real­ly stop to look at? Not so with Alo­ha Every­thing. With Ms. Wait­e’s art, I found myself slow­ing down to exam­ine the tiny details that make up the com­po­si­tion as a whole.

More than just pret­ty, the illus­tra­tions are the per­fect jump­ing off point for dis­cus­sions. I can imag­ine a class using an illus­tra­tion as a start­ing point to explore Hawai­ian cul­ture, such as the con­cept of alo­ha in the title, the myth of the demigod Maui las­so­ing the sun, the process of tra­di­tion­al kapa mak­ing, and the var­i­ous flo­ra and fau­na of Hawai­ian forests.

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

As much as I love the imagery, I felt inter­ac­tions the girl might’ve had with ʻohana, espe­cial­ly with her makua, were missing. 

Over­all, Alo­ha Every­thing is a beau­ti­ful intro­duc­tion to Native Hawai­ian cul­ture and a wor­thy addi­tion to any bookshelf.

Alo­ha Every­thing
Writ­ten by Kaylin Melia George, illus­trat­ed by Mae Waite
Mythi­fy, 2023
ISBN 978–1636551128
Sug­gest­ed for ages 5 — 8 

Meet author Kaylin Melia George and illus­tra­tor Mae Waite in our talk sto­ry interviews. 

Please read our dis­claimer to learn our book review pol­i­cy. Mahalo!

Gal­ley review copy and images cour­tesy of Kaylin Melia George.

Book Review: Punky Aloha, by Shar Tuiʻasoa

Punky Aloha


It’s a fact of the mar­ket­place that many pic­ture books with the unfor­tu­nate tim­ingPunky Aloha of being released dur­ing the COVID pan­dem­ic were often not giv­en the atten­tion they deserved.

And that’s real­ly too bad, because they mer­it space on our bookshelves.

Punky Alo­ha, the debut pic­ture book by tal­ent­ed author/illustrator Shar Tuiʻa­soa, is one of these hid­den gems. Released in mid-2020 dur­ing the height of the pan­dem­ic, Punky is just the kind of delight­ful sto­ry kids — and their grown-ups — will love.

We meet lit­tle Punky Alo­ha with her best friend, her grand­moth­er. They love to go on all kinds of fun escapades togeth­er. Punky tell us that she was­n’t always the brave adven­tur­er she is now.

It all began, Punky says, with a fresh­ly baked loaft of grand­ma’s banana bread. Need­ing but­ter to slather on the top of the loaf, Grand­ma sends her to the near­by mar­ket to pick some up for her.

Feel­ing a bit fear­ful of going by her­self (“If I go to the mar­ket, I’m sure to bump into some­one new. And when­ev­er I bump into some­one, I start to feel shy,” Punky con­fess­es), lit­tle Punky hes­i­tates, until her grand­moth­er gives her a pair of bright yel­low “mag­i­cal” sun­glass­es that will help her meet the task at hand.

Before Punky leaves, Grand­ma reminds Punky to show her alo­ha by being help­ful, giv­ing, and brave to all she meets.

And so Punky’s big adven­ture begins. Using her wits — and her alo­ha — Punky over­comes her shy­ness to help those she meets on the way to the mar­ket. At the end of the book, Punky and her grand­ma are right­ly proud of her­self, and she is reward­ed with a big dose of con­fi­dence … and a thick slice of banana bread with melt­ing butter.

Illus­tra­tion © Shar Tuia­soa from Punky Alo­ha by Shar Tuia­soa (Harper­Collins, 2022)

I love this book. The inter­gen­er­a­tional sto­ry is charm­ing. The inter­ac­tion between Punky and her grand­ma is warm and sweet.

Ulti­mate­ly, Punky Alo­ha res­onates with kids. They don’t have to be Poly­ne­sian girls to see them­selves in her, a kind, car­ing, adven­tur­ous character.

And did I men­tion that the book is gor­geous? Fea­tur­ing Shar’s trade­mark trop­i­cal col­ors, the illus­tra­tions are vibrant greens, reds, oranges, yel­lows, and blues. Punky her­self is adorable with her messy chignon (a won­der­ful “tita bun”), slip­pers, and skate­board. Each spread is so beau­ti­ful that I bought a sec­ond copy of the book just so I tear the pages out and frame them to dec­o­rate the bed­room of my own lit­tle Punky Alo­ha, my five year old granddaughter. 

Illus­tra­tion © Shar Tuia­soa from Punky Alo­ha by Shar Tuia­soa (Harper­Collins, 2022)

I wish Shar’s pub­lish­er had encour­aged her to pro­vides enrich­ment activ­i­ties around Punky Alo­ha. The book eas­i­ly sug­gests oppor­tu­ni­ties for those seek­ing sto­ry­telling from diverse and under­rep­re­sent­ed voic­es, includ­ing class­room activ­i­ties around the mean­ing of alo­ha. Teach­ers, librar­i­ans, and fam­i­lies can incor­po­rate the book’s theme of social and emo­tion­al learn­ing as Punky demon­strates skills that all kids need to meet challenges. 

For so many rea­sons, Punky Alo­ha is a must read.

Punky Alo­ha
Writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Shar Tuiʻa­soa 
Harper­Collins, 2020
ISBN 978–006379236
Sug­gest­ed for ages 4 — 8 

Meet author/illustrator Shar Tuiʻa­soa in our talk-sto­ry inter­view. Punky Alo­ha and all of Sharʻs gor­geous col­lectible illus­tra­tions and prints are avail­able at Punky Alo­ha Stu­dio.

Images from Brown Baby Books. Please read our dis­claimer to learn our book review pol­i­cy. Mahalo!

Book Review: Too Many Mangoes, by Tammy Paikai



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.

Illus­tra­tion © Don Robin­son from Too Many Man­goes by Tam­my Paikai (Island Her­itage, 2009)

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.

Illus­tra­tion © Don Robin­son from Too Many Man­goes by Tam­my Paikai (Island Her­itage, 2009)

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
ISBN 1–59700-758–7
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. 

Images from Wel­come to the Islands. Please read our dis­claimer to learn our book review pol­i­cy. Mahalo!

Book Review: Hiʻiaka and Panaʻewa, a Graphic Novel by Gabrielle Ahuliʻi



When I was a kid, I had a set of books called Great Illus­trat­ed Clas­sics. They were fat vol­umes full of sto­ries embell­ished with black and white draw­ings. The scari­est tales were from Greek and Roman mythol­o­gy where the hero bat­tled bad guys and won (most of the time.) 

Even in school, the myths we read were lim­it­ed to Greek and Roman gods with names like Zeus, Athena, Posei­don and Mars.

But where were the col­or­ful pic­ture books about Pele, Maui, Kaʻahu­pa­hau, Kama­puaʻa, the mene­hune? There weren’t any, not in the kidlit sec­tion of the library or in any of the illus­trat­ed clas­sics that lined my child­hood bookshelf.

The mes­sage native kids like me got loud and clear was that those Greeks and Romans were the clas­sic heroes, the only heroes worth learn­ing about.

Thank­ful­ly, times are chang­ing. More Native Hawai­ian authors and artists are revis­it­ing and retelling our tra­di­tion­al sto­ries for today’s young audiences.

The lat­est is a graph­ic nov­el, Hiʻi­a­ka and Panaʻe­wa, by Native Hawai­ian author Gabrielle Ahuliʻi. Intend­ed for the pic­ture book crowd, ages 4 – 8, and their grown-ups, this book is the per­fect intro­duc­tion to Hawai­ian myths for the youngest readers.

The sto­ry, as described in the sum­ma­ry, is: 

Hiʻi­a­ka wants to make the forests of Hawaiʻi safe for peo­ple. But sheʻll have to bat­tle an evil lizard named Panaʻe­wa and his army to do it. With a lit­tle help from her sis­ter, her friend, and some spe­cial pow­ers, sheʻs ready for a great battle.”

This is a sto­ry of friend­ship and sis­ter­hood. Faced with the task of keep­ing the for­est safe for the peo­ple, Hiʻi­a­ka, accom­pa­nied by her friend Wahineʻō­maʻo, must decide how to chal­lenge the fear­some guardian mo’o, Panaʻewa.

In one of my favorite scenes, Hiʻi­a­ka seeks strength by look­ing up at the stars and remem­ber­ing the courage it took for her ances­tors to brave the vast Pacif­ic Ocean to set­tle in Hawaiʻi. This sim­ple pan­el con­veys such emo­tion in a deeply Hawai­ian way.

The small cast of char­ac­ters are total­ly like­able. They expe­ri­ence some fears and doubts, but ulti­mate­ly they find strength from with­in and from each oth­er. The bat­tle with Panaʻe­wa is scary, but the scene is not too intense for young readers.

As expect­ed in a children’s sto­ry, the heroes pre­vail, and the end is hope­ful. The last pan­el neat­ly ties up the sto­ry by reflect­ing the very first pan­el of the island below and the man­uokū fly­ing above.

I appre­ci­ate that the sto­ry is pre­sent­ed as a short (32 page) graph­ic nov­el. The for­mat with its thought­ful word choice and poet­ic devices is per­fect for its intend­ed audi­ence of begin­ning read­ers but also as a read aloud.

The illus­tra­tions are inten­tion­al­ly sparse. Kids can eas­i­ly get over­whelmed in tra­di­tion­al com­ic book style, but in this book, fran­tic, over­drawn pan­els are avoid­ed. Instead, the col­or­ful, pic­ture book-like illus­tra­tions con­vey both sto­ry and emo­tion appro­pri­ate for the intend­ed age group.

More than any­thing, I love the author’s authen­tic voice. Every­thing, from imagery – espe­cial­ly Pele’s skirt and lei, the voy­ag­ing canoe, the man­uokū seabird, the moʻo – to the select­ed words in ʻōle­lo Hawaiʻi feels pono. For tra­di­tion­al­ists in my com­mu­ni­ty, this sto­ry of Pele and Hiʻi­a­ka is respectful.

The bookʻs back mat­ter con­sists of help­ful resources, includ­ing writ­ing prompts, dis­cus­sion ques­tions, and a short glossary.

In her author’s note, Ahuliʻi writes, “I hope our ances­tors look on my telling with pride.”

I am sure they are.

Hiʻi­a­ka and Panae­wa, A Hawai­ian Graph­ic Leg­end
Writ­ten by Gabrielle Ahuliʻi. Illus­trat­ed by Sarah Demon­teverde
Pub­lished by Pic­ture Win­dow Books, 2023
ISBN: 9781484672907
Sug­gest­ed for ages 4 – 8

Learn about the author in our talk sto­ry inter­view with Gabrielle Ahuliʻi. To look up the def­i­n­i­tions of the Hawai­ian terms used in this post, please vis­it Nā Puke Wehewe­he.


Book Review: Lei and the Fire Goddess, by Malia Maunakea



Lei and the Fire God­dess by Malia Mau­nakea is a rare gem in kid lit: an epic com­ing-of-age sto­ry writ­ten by a Native Hawai­ian author fea­tur­ing Native Hawai­ian characters.

The sto­ry intro­duces us to twelve year old Lei, with all the joy and snark­i­ness and inse­cu­ri­ty that are part of grow­ing up. It didn’t take long for me to get into the sto­ry. From the very moment she steps off that air­plane at Hilo air­port, Lei is a ful­ly devel­oped, ful­ly like­able character.

So are the sec­ondary char­ac­ters, espe­cial­ly Tūtū, ʻIlikea, Moʻo, Kama­puaʻa, and the for­mi­da­ble Pele. I won’t spoil it for you by reveal­ing too much. Just know that the char­ac­ters of Hawai­ian leg­ends come alive in the author’s vivid sto­ry­telling and are inte­gral to Lei’s grow­ing aware­ness and maturity.

There is so much I love about this book.

I loved Lei’s char­ac­ter arc, watch­ing her grow, fac­ing her fears, devis­ing solu­tions, and fac­ing the con­se­quences. The excit­ing major scenes — between Lei and Kama­puaʻa, between Pele and Poliʻahu, the holua sled race — grab the read­er and donʻt let go.

But even the qui­et moments, such as Lei vow­ing not to share the water­fall on social media and lat­er real­iz­ing why tele­scopes donʻt belong on Mau­nakea, speak vol­umes,  espe­cial­ly to ʻōi­wi readers.

I love how the lan­guage is geared to today’s audi­ence with­out being dis­mis­sive of the mem­o­ries and upbring­ing of the old­er read­ers the sto­ry might appeal to. The ʻōle­lo Hawaiʻi is not a trope but a real sto­ry­telling device. For exam­ple, Tūtūʻs “close the mouth” line in an ear­ly scene is such a Hawai­ian way of teach­ing and learning.

I loved what felt like inside jokes but are real­ly evi­dence of the author’s authen­tic voice: KTA, the tin roof, Iz’s song, li hing mui snacks, pid­gin. I love that the first hula that comes to Lei’s mind is the one we all learn as kids, Kahuli Aku. And I laughed out loud at the chap­ter titled “Ma-ke Die Dead.”

Now the ele­phant in the room. At first I was super ner­vous about Pele being a main char­ac­ter. Our kūpuna teach us to respect and revere her. There will always be tra­di­tion­al­ists who feel the Pele sto­ry should nev­er be retold in a mod­ern voice.

Yet, for me, more than any­thing, I love how cre­ative the sto­ry is. It’s respect­ful and authen­tic and adds to the Pele and Kama­puaʻa canon for today’s kids. Pele tru­ly sounds like the god­dess I grew up hear­ing about. That she becomes Lei’s fren­e­my is edgy and feels right. 

Kids’ books by lived experience/own voic­es authors are so impor­tant. I am Native Hawai­ian and grew up in the 1960s. There were no books – not one! – where the char­ac­ters looked like me, did the things I did as a kid, ate the foods I ate, or used the pid­gin I spoke. All kids deserve to see them­selves in chil­dren’s lit.

This is why books like Lei and the Fire God­dess are so impor­tant. It’s a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten, rol­lick­ing excit­ing-scary-fun­ny sto­ry that kids every­where will love. For all these rea­sons, LEI is a must-read.

Lei and the Fire God­dess  
By Malia Mau­nakea   
Pen­guin Ran­dom House
ISBN 9780593522035
Sug­gest­ed for ages 8 – 12

Maha­lo to Sier­ra Pregosin at Pen­guin Ran­dom House for access to the galley! 

Learn about author Malia Mau­nakea in our talk-sto­ry inter­view. To look up the def­i­n­i­tions of the Hawai­ian terms used in this post, please vis­it