Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Tammy Paikai

Today I am delight­ed to fea­ture my friend, the tal­ent­ed Native Hawai­ian author Tam­my Paikai.  Her five pic­ture books cov­er sub­jects that teach chil­dren impor­tant life lessons but do so in a fun and approach­able way that kids — and their par­ents — love. 

Alo­ha, Tam­my. It’s so good to talk with you! For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

I like to describe myself as a kind and good per­son.  I was inspired by my father who was my role mod­el grow­ing up.  He was a gen­tle soul, yet had a wit­ty sense of humor that always made me laugh. 

Being a young mom of three won­der­ful chil­dren, my first career was to help sup­port my grow­ing fam­i­ly.  I worked for 20 years at The Plaza Hotel by the Hon­olu­lu Inter­na­tion­al Air­port as the Senior Reser­va­tions Clerk.  In the hos­pi­tal­i­ty indus­try I could help oth­ers and that gave me the most satisfaction. 

My sec­ond career was for me because I had always want­ed to do some­thing cre­ative in my life.  I worked for Island Her­itage as a Cus­tomer Ser­vice Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Front Office Admin­is­tra­tor for 17 years, and it was such a joy to be around so many cre­ative peo­ple.  I feel so blessed that Island Her­itage gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to write books for chil­dren.  It has real­ly been a dream come true.

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

Although I was born in Hon­olu­lu, Hawaiʻi, my ele­men­tary years were most­ly spent in Rese­da, Cal­i­for­nia.  I returned back to Hawaiʻi when I was 10 years old and attend­ed sev­er­al schools on the West side of the island.  I even­tu­al­ly grad­u­at­ed from Aiea High School.  Liv­ing in Hawaii was where I learned about all the dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties and cul­tures of the islands. 

Who is your biggest supporter?

My biggest sup­port­ers are my fam­i­ly, espe­cial­ly my hus­band of 40+ years.  He always believed in me and my tal­ent.  To this day he loves to share my sto­ries with his young stu­dents.  He has been a Hawai­ian Stud­ies teacher since 1988.  I am so hap­py that he can share these sto­ries with a mes­sage of alo­ha, shar­ing, laugh­ter, fun and self-confidence. 

Why did you become a writer? What inspired you to write for children?

Aloha_IsIt was a desire deep inside of me to be cre­ative.  From child­hood, I drew car­toons and wrote poet­ry for fun.  At Island Her­itage I want­ed to try my hand at being a writer.  The Cre­ative Direc­tor sug­gest­ed that I sub­mit a man­u­script.  I came up with a lit­tle poem called, Alo­ha Is…,and it was accept­ed and pub­lished in 2006.  To this day, it is still one of Island Her­itage’s Best Sell­ers.  This sto­ry is in rhyme and shares the many mean­ings of alo­ha.  Illus­trat­ed by Ros­alie Pruss­ing, the pic­tures are absolute­ly a work of art! I want­ed to write for the chil­dren of Hawaii to give them books about “us.”  I was very lucky to be part­nered with great artists that brought my sto­ries to life.  Their tal­ents helped me share the beau­ty of our peo­ple, our val­ues, our lifestyle and our home. 

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

Too_many_mangoesI real­ly enjoy when the kids con­nect with my sto­ries. Like in Too Many Man­goes, per­haps they have man­goes that they have shared with their neigh­bors or maybe they have a hard-of-hear­ing grand­pa too.  I am in awe when some­one says that my book is one of their favorites.  Nev­er in my wildest dreams did I think that would ever hap­pen!  It makes me feel so proud that I can bring joy to oth­ers in my own lit­tle way.  My great­est chal­lenge would be com­ing up with an idea for a sto­ry.  I want all of my sto­ries to be upbeat and pos­i­tive.  I want to give a good mes­sage to the chil­dren and make them smile. 

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

I_am_Kiki_I_love_meRight now I am just enjoy­ing my lat­est book, I am Kiki!  I Love Me! which just came out this sum­mer 2022.  The sto­ry begins with Kiki singing a song to her­self on the beach of Hawaiʻi until a vol­ley­ball play­er teas­es her for being so short.  Kiki loves her­self and won’t let oth­ers bring her down.  Illus­trat­ed by Eliza Fort­ney,  the beach scenes are absolute­ly beau­ti­ful with lots to look at. 

I have been wait­ing a very long time to have this sto­ry pub­lished.  I love this sto­ry because I hope to inspire young chil­dren to sim­ply love them­selves the way they are and not let oth­ers make them feel bad about them­selves.  Also, I was able to add a lit­tle poet­ry in the sto­ry which is a fun touch for Kik­i’s confidence. 

There are not a lot of sto­ries for or by Native Hawai­ians and Pacif­ic Islanders. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that?

We should always encour­age peo­ple to share their own sto­ries.  Like my co-work­er sim­ply encour­aged me to sub­mit a man­u­script, I thought it would be hard­er than that.   Years, lat­er I encour­aged a friend to sub­mit a man­u­script, now she is a pub­lished chil­dren’s author at Island Her­itage too. 

What advice do you have for aspir­ing writers?

 If I can do it, so can you!  Write what you know about, what you enjoy, what you love, etc.  Also, read it out loud to your­self, over and over again to make sure it is just right.  Have a good mes­sage or moral if it is a chil­dren’s sto­ry.  Take pride in your work! 

Which of your books did you have the most fun writ­ing? Which were the most challenging?

I enjoyed writ­ing Too Many Man­goes, a sto­ry about shar­ing.  Grand­pa has so many man­goes that he asks his grand­chil­dren to share the man­goes with the neigh­bors.  Illus­tra­tor Don Robin­son’s char­ac­ters are so delight­ful. I was able to incor­po­rate my fam­i­ly’s names in the sto­ry, and I real­ly did climb my Grand­pa’s man­go tree when I was a child.  By the way, my grand­pa’s name was Mr. Wong, just like the in the story! 

Grandpas_mixed_up_luauWhich were the most chal­leng­ing?  I want­ed to do a fun­ny book with rhymes.  Grand­pa’s Mixed-Up Lūʻau is what hap­pens when a lov­able, but hard-of-hear­ing Grand­pa tries to help Grand­ma get ready for a lūʻau.  Also illus­trat­ed by Don Robin­son, the sto­ry unfolds with his beau­ti­ful pic­tures. At first things were flow­ing nice­ly:  “boy” rhymes with “poi,” “Malia” rhymes with “hau­pia.” But I strug­gled with a rhyme for “kalua pig.”  Then inspi­ra­tion came from above, “Canoe that’s big!” 

What’s your expe­ri­ence with pub­lish­ing your books?

It’s been excel­lent!  The Cre­ative peo­ple at Island Her­itage, a.k.a. The Mad­den Cor­po­ra­tion were not only pro­fes­sion­al but super cre­ative and extreme­ly tal­ent­ed.  I’m sure it helped me by being a co-work­er/friend to the Cre­ative Depart­ment.  Their web­site has not only my books but also they have beau­ti­ful Hawai­ian themed gifts and souvenirs. 

Where do you get ideas for your books?

Honu_honu_where_are_youHon­esty, I believe my inspi­ra­tion comes from “above.”  Some­thing hap­pens and the title pops in my head and the writ­ing part comes easy after that.  For exam­ple, one day my neigh­bor came to our house and asked if we saw her pet tur­tle that they lost.  I thought to myself, Honu, Honu, Where are You? and then wrote the rhyme for that play­ful sto­ry about baby dol­phin look­ing for his friend, Honu, the sea tur­tle.  Yuko Green who clev­er­ly illus­trat­ed the book using flaps to help hide the tur­tles in  this story. 

Anoth­er time, my daugh­ter was telling me that she put capers in her salmon dish.  I heard “papers” and ques­tioned her about what kind of papers?  She was annoyed, but I thought it was fun­ny.  So I came up with Grand­pa’s Mixed-Up Luau.    

Which char­ac­ters do you relate with eas­i­ly? Why?

Kiki would be the char­ac­ter that I most relate too.  She is short, wears glass­es and is hap­py-go-lucky.  As a young girl my broth­er would tease me and I did­n’t stand up for myself.  I wrote Kiki want­i­ng young girls to love them­selves so that if oth­ers tease her, it would not affect her self-esteem.  My daugh­ter was work­ing on a project a few years ago about empow­er­ment for women of col­or.  That project inspired me to write I am Kiki! I Love Me!  

This is great, Tam­my. Any­thing else?

Maha­lo to my long time friend, Kamalani Hur­ley.  I am so hon­ored for her to share my hum­ble sto­ry.  Also, many thanks to the peo­ple of Hawaii for mak­ing me feel spe­cial and embrac­ing my sto­ries that I real­ly loved writ­ing.  Dreams do come true, thanks to you!

Maha­lo to YOU, Tam­my! We look for­ward to many more of your sto­ries for kei­ki! To con­tact Tam­my Paikai and learn more about her books, please vis­it the Island Her­itage website

4 thoughts on “Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Tammy Paikai”

  1. I loved read­ing this about not only a fel­low Island Her­itage author, but also the author of some of our kids’ and Adorables’ (grand­kids) favorite books! We love GRANDPA’S MIXED-UP LUAU!
    Thank you, Kamalani and Tam­my, for shar­ing these won­der­ful and inspir­ing insights! Maha­lo and alo­ha, Mar­go Leipua’ala 😉

  2. I am a kinder­garten teacher. I would love to see a short video inter­view with Tam­my Paikai to share with my class. Read Across Amer­i­ca is in March so I like to extend it by read­ing chil­dren’s sto­ries from diverse authors. As part of the les­son I like to include short video clips of the authors as a kind of “Meet the author” session.

    • How won­der­ful! I’ll send your mes­sage along to Tam­my, so please look for an email from her soon. Aloha!


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