Interview with Native Hawaiian Filmmaker Ciara Leinaʻala Lacy


Ciara-LacyCia­ra Leinaʻala Lacy is a tal­ent­ed writer-pro­duc­er-direc­tor whose pas­sion is telling sto­ries influ­enced by her Native Hawai­ian heritage.

Her doc­u­men­tary-style con­tent has shown at Sun­dance and Berli­nale and on stream­ing plat­forms includ­ing Net­flix, PBS, ABC, and Al Jazeera. The inau­gur­al Sun­dance Insti­tute Mer­a­ta Mita Fel­low, Cia­raʻs work has been sup­port­ed by Tribeca, The Princess Grace Foun­da­tion, the MacArthur Foun­da­tion, and Pacif­ic Islanders in Communication.

Her award-win­ning fil­mog­ra­phy includes Is That Black Enough for You? (2022), This is the Way We Rise (2021), Out of State (2018), We Are Still Here (2018), and 11/8/16 (2017), and as well as oth­er com­mer­cial projects.

And as if all of that was­n’t impres­sive enough, Cia­ra is hum­ble and gra­cious. She recent­ly carved out some time out of her busy sched­ule to talk sto­ry with us.

Click the stills below to see trail­ers of the films.

scene from This is the Way We Rise
scene from This is the Way We Rise

Alo­ha e Cia­ra! For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

I’m Hawai­ian, Chi­nese, Cau­casian born and raised in Cen­tral Oahu. I love to make things  and col­lab­o­rate with teams, and have spent the major­i­ty of my career craft­ing non-fic­tion work, whether for TV or Film, about the Kana­ka Maoli experience.

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

I grew up in Mililani, and attend­ed Kame­hame­ha High School, Kapālama.

Me, too! Go, War­riors! Who is your biggest supporter?

This was a tough one! I’ve been real­ly for­tu­nate to have a TON of sup­port. My par­ents have always been huge sup­port­ers of any­thing I want­ed to do, no mat­ter how crazy, and my hus­band has been as well. I have to give thanks to all my friends who endure watch­ing cuts of my work or read­ing drafts because Iʻm a huge believ­er in the pow­er of feed­back to help make work better.

scene from Out of State
scene from Out of State

Why did you become a film­mak­er? Did you always know you could cre­ate art?

I became a film­mak­er, because I am crazy? I did­n’t always know I could make art, but I have always loved the idea of mak­ing things. I absolute­ly love project based work, and I do love a lit­tle adven­ture in life…so film­mak­ing has giv­en me both!  Itʻs tak­en me a long time to feel com­fort­able call­ing myself an artist because Iʻm untrained and kind of learn by doing, but I think Iʻm get­ting there!

What do you enjoy most about film­mak­ing? What are some of your great­est challenges?

I love the process, even if it can keep me up at night or make me want to tear my hair out at times! And I love to cre­ate col­lab­o­ra­tive spaces, work­ing with oth­ers who are like mind­ed and ded­i­cat­ed to craft­ing the strongest pos­si­ble of work.

I tend to be more of an emo­tion­al, less lin­ear thinker, so I wor­ry that my work is mak­ing sense. I often poke hard at it for this rea­son, which sounds very minor but is a real­ly big deal for me. How can peo­ple emo­tion­al­ly con­nect with or learn from your work, if they donʻt under­stand the basics of whatʻs going on?

Scene from 11-8-16
scene from 11–8‑16

And you nev­er know what peo­ple take away from a film. Some­times you think an idea will mean one thing, and peo­ple take away anoth­er. So Iʻm con­stant­ly dig­ging into feed­back to refine the mes­sag­ing and clar­i­ty of what I am making.

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

My hopes for the next year are very tran­si­tion­al and, hope­ful­ly, very trans­for­ma­tive! Iʻm hop­ing to expand what I do beyond doc­u­men­tary work to include screen­writ­ing and direct­ing nar­ra­tive con­tent. So Iʻm work­ing a screen­play, my first ani­mat­ed short for kids, and two nar­ra­tive shorts. Iʻm hop­ing to do even more, not to sound too greedy, but we shall see what I can accomplish!

scene from We Are Still Here
scene from We Are Still Here

That sounds excit­ing! Do you have any expe­ri­ences as a woman of col­or film­mak­er that you might share with our read­ers? What would you like to see change in the indus­try regard­ing the accep­tance of BIPOC creators?

I am con­stant­ly sur­prised by mis­con­cep­tions and pre­con­ceived notions peo­ple have about Kana­ka Maoli, our sto­ries, and our world­view. This impacts how the work is received, whether peo­ple are in a space to embrace the sto­ry­telling or not.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing filmmaker?

Play! Give your­self time to learn, grow, and real­ly find what you like. Devel­op­ing a sense of per­son­al taste is real­ly impor­tant. You donʻt have to cre­ate work for every­one. Just know what you like and focus on that. Your audi­ence will come!

I love that advice. Where do you get your inspirations?

Every­where! Friends and fam­i­ly, the news, art, radio, going for walks. Inspi­ra­tion can find you any place you’re ready to see it.

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

I’m work­ing on a few things, but per­haps most fun is my first nar­ra­tive piece, a short ani­mat­ed sto­ry for kids. It’s been a real­ly big chal­lenge – I’m learn­ing a ton – and am excit­ed to see what shakes out from it all!

And now a few niele (noisy) ques­tions, if you’d like to answer. Who is your hero?

My hero is Twin­kle Borge of Wai‘anae. She is a kana­ka dri­ven to sup­port com­mu­ni­ty needs, espe­cial­ly for kei­ki and has been able to make tan­gi­ble change for her peo­ple. This is a woman that can move moun­tains, and she inspires me.

Oh, yes, she’s amaz­ing. What is your proud­est accomplishment?

Meet­ing my husband.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Nev­er be afraid to try. You can be creative!

If you could choose to do any­thing for a day, what would that be?

Float in space! How cool would that be?

Very cool. This was so fun, Cia­ra! Maha­lo nui loa for shar­ing your man­a’o with us. We can’t wait to see more from you!

To learn more about Cia­ra Lacy and her films, vis­it her at, on Insta­gram @ciaraleilacy, and on Twit­ter @ciaraleilacy. Stills and photo cour­tesy of Cia­ra Lacy.


Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Gabrielle Ahuliʻi


Gabby-AhuliiLike most Native Hawai­ians, author Gabrielle Ahuliʻi grew up hear­ing the beloved leg­ends passed down from gen­er­a­tion to generation. 

Best known for her pop­u­lar series, Hawai­ian Leg­ends for Lit­tle Ones, and now for her first graph­ic nov­el, Hi’i­a­ka and Panae­wa, Gabrielle beau­ti­ful­ly retells these clas­sic sto­ries for today’s young read­ers and their grown-ups. 

Why is it so impor­tant for chil­dren to know the myths and leg­ends of their ances­tors? Gabrielle explains in an inter­view at Bright­ly:

Expo­sure to sto­ries and leg­ends of cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance in ear­ly child­hood can give chil­dren a deep sense of respect for the place they live and an oppor­tu­ni­ty to engage with the cul­ture around them. Access to and engage­ment with Native Hawai­ian sto­ries empow­ers chil­dren of Native Hawai­ian descent by arm­ing them with knowl­edge to help nav­i­gate their world as Indige­nous peo­ple…If a child under­stands the world around them from a cul­tur­al per­spec­tive, they are not only able to engage more deeply with their cul­ture, but to cre­ate more mean­ing­ful con­nec­tion across cul­tures as well.

We total­ly agree.

Alo­ha e Gabrielle. For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

My name is Gabrielle Ahuliʻi Fer­reira Holt, and I was born and raised on Oʻahu. I live in the ahupuaʻa of Maki­ki, which is also the ahupuaʻa of the school I work at. I am the school librar­i­an at Hana­hauʻoli School, a 105 year old pro­gres­sive ele­men­tary school.

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

I grew up in Hon­olu­lu, and I was for­tu­nate to attend both Hana­hauʻoli School and Puna­hou School. Hana­hauʻoli gave me the gift of crit­i­cal think­ing, a love of learn­ing, and cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing, while Puna­hou school widened my hori­zons and gave me the gift of learn­ing ʻōle­lo Hawaiʻi for four years.

Go Buff n’ Blue! Who is your biggest supporter?

I live an incred­i­bly priv­i­leged life in that I have no lack of sup­port­ers. I have count­less peo­ple in my life who step up, both phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly, and are con­stant­ly and con­sis­tent­ly on my team. I want to rec­og­nize my fam­i­ly, my part­ner, my men­tor, my edi­tor at Beach­house, my friends and col­leagues at Hana­hauʻoli, and the lāhui for always giv­ing me every­thing I need.

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

I didn’t ever see myself as a writer; as a kid, I was an incred­i­bly lazy writer. I didn’t Maui-slows-the-suncon­nect to writ­ing in the way that I deeply con­nect­ed to read­ing. I became friends with some­one who pub­lish­es books for chil­dren in Hawaiʻi while I was in the Library Sci­ences pro­gram at UH. At the time, I was focused on Hawai­ian / Pacif­ic Librar­i­an­ship, and when she heard about my pas­sion, she approached me with a writ­ing project. She and I worked so well togeth­er that we pub­lished six adap­ta­tions of moʻole­lo togeth­er. She allowed me to see myself as a writer.

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

Since I am a school librar­i­an, I get to work­shop ideas and rough drafts with my stu­dents. Their feed­back is invalu­able. I hear their voic­es in my head when I am craft­ing a sto­ry. I love that I get to essen­tial­ly col­lab­o­rate with my stu­dents. Some of them are such pow­er­ful, descrip­tive writ­ers that tru­ly inspire me.

After their Hawaiʻi Island trip, one child wrote about the “braid­ed lava.” Anoth­er child wrote the phrase “Pele runs her hand along cre­ation,” and I was just blown away. Just being around their sin­cere, cre­ative ener­gy makes me a bet­ter per­son and a bet­ter writer.

My biggest chal­lenge is keep­ing sto­ries sim­ple. Too often, peo­ple feel that chil­dren need bells and whis­tles in a sto­ry to keep them engaged. Noth­ing is fur­ther from the truth! The most endur­ing, mean­ing­ful nar­ra­tives for chil­dren are often the most sim­ple but pro­found. If you have some­thing to say, say it truth­ful­ly, mean­ing­ful­ly, and in the lan­guage of the world you have built.

Hiʻiaka-and-PanaewaCon­grat­u­la­tions on your new graph­ic nov­el, Hiʻi­a­ka and Panae­wa! Can you share a bit about the book? With­out giv­ing too much away, what is it about?

This book is a re-telling of Hiʻi­a­ka and her first major encounter with one of the moʻo of Hawaiʻi – Panaʻe­wa. My re-telling sim­pli­fies her jour­ney a lot. Itʻs for younger read­ers and for those who may not have a lot of con­text for who Hiʻi­a­ka is, so she sets of on this adven­ture with a slight­ly dif­fer­ent goal than what is dis­cussed in the orig­i­nal ʻoli.

What inspired you to choose that top­ic for your first graph­ic novel?

When I was approached to write this, I sug­gest­ed three Hawai­ian moʻole­lo (hop­ing that this one was the one the pub­lish­ers would con­nect to). I want­ed to write a moʻole­lo with a female pro­tag­o­nist, and I want­ed to bring more of Hiʻi­akaʻs sto­ry to younger readers.

What was your favorite part of writ­ing your graph­ic nov­el? What was most challenging?

I love read­ing and doing research, so I real­ly like that part of the process. I want to make sure that my adap­ta­tions are faith­ful, while also being able to give them my own voice and per­spec­tive. I was­nʻt used to cre­at­ing books in a graph­ic nov­el for­mat, so the biggest chal­lenge was think­ing about what I want­ed each pan­el to look like – not that I nec­es­sar­i­ly told the illus­tra­tor exact­ly what to draw, but I need­ed to think about what my words need­ed to say and where the images could help sup­port the rest of the story.

What was the jour­ney to get­ting that book pub­lished like?

Cap­stone approached me to write an entry in their ongo­ing Dis­cov­er Graph­ics series in Decem­ber of 2021 and I spent 2022 work­ing on the man­u­script. It was pub­lished in Decem­ber of 2022. They found me because of my first series of Hawai­ian Leg­end adap­ta­tions, which has indeed opened many doors for me.

What char­ac­ter­is­tics do you love best about the protagonist(s)?

I love Hiʻi­a­ka as a char­ac­ter because although she is pow­er­ful, she is also fal­li­ble and real­is­tic. I love how coura­geous she is, but also how cocky she can be. I did­nʻt get to include this in my re-telling, but there is a point in her sto­ry when she is par­tic­i­pat­ing in a surf con­test, and she says, “Aia a ʻane e uhi ke kai i ke kua o ke kuahi­wi o kea, a laila, kū koʻu nalu – When the sea ris­es and cov­ers Mau­na Kea, then that is my wave.” So brave, and so bold! I just love her so much and want more of her epic avail­able for chil­dren to enjoy.

Pele-Finds-A-HoneYou are also the author of a suc­cess­ful series of board books. What inspired you to write about folk tales for your first books?

I think there is a true need for moʻole­lo to be acces­si­ble for young read­ers – we have a few very, very good adap­ta­tions, but I want chil­dren to have as many antholo­gies and books about Hawai­ian gods and god­dess­es as there are about the Greek ones. I want more Native Hawai­ian voic­es rep­re­sent­ed as the tellers of these moʻole­lo, and I want a wide vari­ety of moʻole­lo told.

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 would love to con­tin­ue to per­pet­u­ate the cul­ture of lit­er­a­cy that Kana­ka have built. It is a priv­i­lege to get to be some­one who can write these moʻole­lo down for pos­ter­i­ty, so I hope and dream that I con­tin­ue to do it and do it in a way where I make my com­mu­ni­ty and lāhui proud to read them.

My next goal or wish is to cre­ate an anthol­o­gy of Hawai­ian moʻole­lo for mid­dle grades — 3rd to 6th. There is a real need there. The antholo­gies that do exist are good resources for adults. I want old­er ele­men­tary age chil­dren to be excit­ed about the Hawai­ian pan­theon of Gods and God­dess­es in the same way many are obsessed with Greek or Norse mythology.

There are not a lot of sto­ries for kids by Native Hawai­ian, Pacif­ic Islander or BIPOC writ­ers. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that?

I do feel we are see­ing a par­a­digm shift in pub­lish­ing cul­ture. Many are being more crit­i­cal of the books that take up space in the canon of chil­drenʻs lit­er­a­ture and giv­ing it a sec­ond glance. I feel that it is more diverse than when I was devel­op­ing my read­ing skills, certainly.

Hiʻiaka-Battles-The-WindHow­ev­er, it real­ly does boil down to: You canʻt be what you canʻt see. The only books that I read as a child with a Hawai­ian char­ac­ter in it were either so wild­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed as to verge on offen­sive, or writ­ten by a non-Hawai­ian per­son. I think that in order to fix this, we have to empow­er our­selves to take charge, shed our imposter syn­dromes and say, “I can do this, I can tell this sto­ry.” In that way, we can invest in a future where chil­dren have seen them­selves rep­re­sent­ed in their lit­er­a­ture and are encour­aged to not only seek out more, but add on to what has been created.

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

All were such inter­est­ing chal­lenges that it’s hard to rank them. I loved doing the research piece for all the board books — even though the adap­ta­tions are quite short, I want­ed to do the tra­di­tion of moʻole­lo ser­vice and tried to find and read as many ver­sions as I could. I loved writ­ing all of them!

What beliefs are your books challenging?

Maui-Hooks_the_islandsI want to chal­lenge the belief that Hawaiʻi is just this sta­t­ic place that vis­i­tors sim­ply “expe­ri­ence”. I want peo­ple to under­stand that every piece of Hawaiʻi is a moʻole­lo in itself; that every per­son (vis­i­tor, set­tler or ʻōi­wi) here has a respon­si­bil­i­ty to take care of Hawaiʻi and acknowl­edge those moʻolelo.

Can you share a bit about your next book?

I’ve just fin­ished an ʻŌle­lo Hawaiʻi trans­la­tions of my first six board books with Beach­house. David Del Roc­co helped me immense­ly with the trans­la­tion process (I need­ed some lan­guage sup­port — some of my gram­mar was a lit­tle rusty!) I am beyond excit­ed for those re-pub­li­ca­tions to come out. I would love to read them aloud ma ka ʻōle­lo Hawaiʻi some­day soon to a group of children!

What advice would you give an aspir­ing writer?

NaupakaWrite what you know and in your own voice, writ­ing is not a solo process, the project is nev­er tru­ly fin­ished, treat your char­ac­ters with empa­thy and as if they are sit­ting in the room with you.

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

I love read­ing and my super­pow­er is that I am an extreme­ly fast read­er, so I am able to read a lot in a short amount of time. I love authors like Ali Smith who play with the con­ven­tions of what a nov­el is and have such a spe­cif­ic voice. I love all gen­res – although  I donʻt nec­es­sar­i­ly grav­i­tate towards romance or thrillers (except a book called Razor­blade Tears that I thought was stupendous).

Hereʻs a list of authors and/or books that I love:

  • Ali Smith (Sea­son­al Quar­tet, The Acci­den­tal, How to be Both)
  • Rachel Cusk (Out­line trilogy)
  • Her­nan Diaz (Trust)
  • Elif Batu­man (The Idiot)
  • Otes­sa Mosh­fegh (My Year of Rest & Relax­ation, Lapvona)
  • Berna­dine Evaris­to (Girl, Woman, Oth­er)
  • Emma Cline (The Girls, Dad­dy, The Guest)
  • Jes­myn Ward (Sal­vage the Bones, Sing, Unburied, Sing)
  • Made­line Miller (Song of Achilles, Circe)
  • Robert Jones Jr. (The Prophets)
  • Miri­am Toews (A Com­pli­cat­ed Kind­ness, Women Talk­ing)
  • Tom­my Orange (There, There)
  • Yoko Ogawa (The Mem­o­ry Police)

More authors: Mohsin Hamed, Helen Oye­mi, Andrea Levy, Bryan Wash­ing­ton, Michael Ondaat­je, Lisa tad­deo, Juhea Kim, Chanelle Benz, Lau­ren Groff, Zadie Smith, Luis Alber­to Urrea, Bran­don Hobson)

I have so many!

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

I just went to Hawaiʻi Island with some stu­dents and was isnpired by Waiānu­enue / Rain­bow Falls and the moʻole­lo of Kuna the moʻo. I start­ed draft­ing a sto­ry to tell my stu­dents the sec­ond night we were there, so this is a work in progress:

The moʻo took silent steps toward her. The moʻo was cov­ered in a sick­ly translu­cent set of scales, as if the rays of the sun could not reach him. His eyes were a deep mot­tled grey. Hina thought of the lava fields south of Hilo, the smooth lava that in some light looked like bod­ies strewn across a plain. His eyes gave her that same unset­tled but awe-struck feeling.

The moʻoʻs tongue slicked out to wet one of those grey eyes. “Hina of Hilo — you meet my eyes as if we are equals. But you do have man­ners, so I will not strike you down here. I have long tired of you and your kind com­ing to this island, assum­ing that you can shape the earth around you with no consequence.”

Hina opened her mouth to argue but remained silent. Some­times silence was better.

The moʻo con­tin­ued. “Your son, the famous Māui, has a hook. He will bring me this hook that he has used to reshape the heav­ens itself, or you will die here, in this pool. This pool is cold and the cur­rent is strong, and the sea of this coast is vio­lent and unforgiving.”

Hina thought. Why should Māui bring this mon­ster his hook?

The moʻo smiled sly­ly. “Why should your son bring me this hook, you may be think­ing. Sim­ply: he does not deserve this extra­or­di­nary tool. This hook belongs to the old Gods, those that were born from the deep roil­ing depths and grew along­side the ferns and fish and birds.”

“The gods them­selves gave that hook to my son, and he has only used it to serve oth­ers. As I have taught him.” Hina stood up straighter.

“Who does he serve when he cracks the sea floor to pull islands to the sur­face? Who does he serve when he bends even the sun to his self­ish will?” The moʻo spoke calm­ly, but Hina could sense the fury puls­ing through the mon­sterʻs veins. His tail tapped slow­ly on the wet cave floor.

“He serves his fam­i­ly and his peo­ple. As is cor­rect,” Hina respond­ed sim­ply. “The respon­si­bil­i­ty of gods and their fam­i­ly is to help and pro­tect the humans who live with us.”

The kids must’ve loved this! Do you have a web­site? Are you on social media? Do your read­ers con­tact you? What do they say?

My web­site is I donʻt real­ly have social media in a pro­fes­sion­al “writer” capac­i­ty. Most peo­ple con­tact me through my web­site. I get mes­sages about how they dis­cov­ered my books or I get images of chil­dren read­ing them. I love that a lot. I also get to meet peo­ple when I do read­ings, which is always so fantastic!

It was won­der­ful meet­ing you, Gabrielle. Maha­lo nui for shar­ing your man­aʻo, and best wish­es always for your con­tin­ued success!

To read more about Gabrielle, includ­ing her work on lit­er­a­cy in Hawaiʻi, vis­it her web­site, Pho­to cour­tesy of author.


Interview with Native Hawaiian Artist Solomon Enos


Native Hawai­ian artist Solomon Enos is a mod­ern-day Renais­sance man: a sought-after artist, book Solomon-Enosillus­tra­tor, mural­ist, sculp­tor, and game design­er. His beau­ti­ful pieces have been exhib­it­ed at mul­ti­ple pub­lic venues, includ­ing the Hon­olu­lu Muse­um of Art, the Hawai’i State Art Muse­um, and the pres­ti­gious Smith­son­ian Muse­um Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cen­ter. Google, Pixar, and Dis­ney’s Aulani Resort are among his famous clients. 

His web­site describes the artist this way:

A self-described “Pos­si­bilist” Solomon’s art express­es an informed aspi­ra­tional vision of the world at its best via con­tem­po­rary and tra­di­tion­al art that leans towards Sci-Fi and Fan­ta­sy. His work touch­es on themes like col­lec­tive-con­scious­ness, ances­try and iden­ti­ty, our rela­tion­ship with our plan­et, and all through the lens of his expe­ri­ence as a per­son indige­nous to Hawaiʻi.

Yet for all his many accom­plish­ments and con­tri­bu­tions to the com­mu­ni­ty, he is a hum­ble man of few words. We are hon­ored to fea­ture the artist, Solomon Enos.

Alo­ha e Solomon. For those who haven’t met you yet, can you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

FamilyI am a native Hawai­ian artist with an inter­est in visu­al­ly trans­lat­ing aspects of Hawai­ian cul­ture into new media and genres. 

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

I grew up in Māka­ha [island of Oʻahu] and went to Waiʻanae High School.

Go Searid­ers! Who are your biggest supporters?

My fam­i­ly and asso­ciates who share a sense of kuleana to our cul­tur­al values.

Why did you come an illustrator/artist? Did you always  know you could cre­ate art? 

From a very young age, as my fam­i­ly gave me all the encour­age­ment I need­ed. 

What do you enjoy most about cre­at­ing art? What are some of your great­est chal­lenges? 

The very mys­tery of cre­ation, and find­ing enough time to work in bal­ance with my oth­er responsibilities.

Liliʻu-Kalākaua-MuralWhere do you get your inspirations?

From a mul­ti­tude of var­ied sources and quite a bit of inter­nal explorations.

Illus­tra­tors and artists, like writ­ers, do a lot of research when theyʻre cre­at­ing. Whatʻs your research process like? 

This is prob­a­bly the most chal­leng­ing ques­tion, as I am con­stant­ly work­ing and cre­at­ing, so I do not sep­a­rate my process from my dai­ly life. To sum it up, I have an unstop­pable belief that I can achieve any vision I set out to cre­ate, pro­vid­ing I man­age my time, as I have mul­ti­ple visions in progress.

What beliefs are your work challenging?

The nature of war as inevitable, and the wor­ship of wealth with­out responsibility.

Gatherer-black-and-whiteThere are not a lot of Native Hawai­ian, Pacif­ic Islander or peo­ple of col­or illus­tra­tors.  Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do to change that? 

I am very much com­mit­ted to inspir­ing oth­er natives, by exam­ple of my work eth­ic, and my aspi­ra­tion to gain con­sen­sus as I move to excellence.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your artis­tic career?

I am blessed to be work­ing on a range of major com­mis­sions simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and I hope to get back to my own projects with all this gained experience.

Art-AttackCan we see a bit of your cur­rent work?

Sure, @solomonenos on Insta­gram is the most cur­rent and eas­i­est way to access my work.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing artist? 

Make sacred work spaces, where you have all your tools and good light­ing. Know that what­ev­er you are cur­rent­ly work­ing on, it is the most impor­tant thing you can be doing with the time you have to give. Be fear­less and take risks with paper and can­vas, and no time used cre­at­ing is ever wasted.

What’s your online pres­ence like? Do your fol­low­ers con­tact you? What do they say?, and I am most active­ly on Insta­gram @solomonenos. I absolute­ly encour­age engage­ment and con­ver­sa­tions, and I have been blessed with many peo­ple express­ing their appre­ci­a­tion and who have found inspi­ra­tion in my work. Those are tru­ly the price­less ways that I thrive and can give back. 

Maha­lo, Solomon, for shar­ing your man­a’o with us today, and best wish­es always for your con­tin­ued success!

To learn more about Solomon Enos, includ­ing his online port­fo­lio of murals and exhi­bi­tions, vis­it his web­site, Pho­to and images cour­tesy of Solomon Enos


Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Malia Maunakea


Malia-Maunakea-Kahiki-PhotographyMalia Maunkea is Native Hawai­ian author of mid­dle grade and non-fic­tion. Her new nov­el, LEI AND THE FIRE GODDESS, a rol­lick­ing sto­ry about an adven­tur­ous Native Hawai­ian twelve-year-old, is a rar­i­ty in chil­drenʻs lit­er­a­ture: a sto­ry for mid­dle grade kids writ­ten by an ʻōi­wi author that fea­tures an ʻōi­wi char­ac­ter. We are proud to fea­ture Malia in todayʻs talk-story.

Hoʻo­maikaʻiʻana on your new nov­el! For those who haven’t met you yet, please tell us a lit­tle about yourself.

Sure! My name’s Malia, named for the Olo­mana song O Malia since my par­ents’ first date was to an Olo­mana con­cert. My mom is from upstate New York and is pure Pol­ish. My dad is from Māʻili (West Side) on Oʻahu. I’ve been mar­ried to my awe­some part­ner for near­ly two decades, and we have two kids who are teens at the time of this inter­view. I love hik­ing and back­pack­ing and trav­el­ing around the con­ti­nent in our tiny campervan.

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

I grew up on Hawaiʻi Island ’til 7th grade and Oʻahu thru high school. I got accept­ed into Kame­hame­ha Schools in 7th grade. I was a board­er for one year, then my fam­i­ly moved over to Oʻahu and, much to my dis­may, I had to move back in with them. I grad­u­at­ed from Kame­hame­ha Schools in 1999. My dad is class of ʻ72. My great-grand­pa is class of ʻ17.

I mua! Go War­riors! Can you share a bit of your upcom­ing debut nov­el, LEI AND THE FIRE GODDESS? With­out giv­ing too much away, what is it about? 

Lei-and-the-Fire-GoddessLEI is about a girl who is raised in Col­orado but goes to stay with her tūtū in Vol­cano, Hawaiʻi every sum­mer for three weeks. She’s part Hawai­ian but doesn’t feel like she’s Hawai­ian enough to fit in there, and she also strug­gles fit­ting in back home in Col­orado where no one believes the things her grand­ma tells her.

This sum­mer she decides she doesn’t believe them either, and all she wants to do is go do touristy things so she can have fun sto­ries to tell her friends when she gets home. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Lei ends up insult­ing Pele, the fire god­dess, who sends her giant hawk to kid­nap her best friend. When Lei goes to res­cue him, she real­izes just how real Tūtū’s moʻole­lo are as she teams up with demigods and talk­ing bats to bat­tle myth­i­cal crea­tures and evade the traps Pele hurls her way. For if Lei hopes to get her friend back, she has to dig deep into her Hawai­ian roots and embrace all of who she is.

That’s an excit­ing idea! What inspired you to choose that top­ic for your debut novel? 

My son was big into Greek mythol­o­gy for a while, and I tried explain­ing to him that we Hawai­ians have our own amaz­ing gods and leg­ends, but he sor­ta brushed me off. I decid­ed the only way I could get him to lis­ten was maybe if I put it in a book that could be on a shelf that his class­mates might pick up and read, like a Per­cy Jack­son type sto­ry. So I came up with this sto­ry to try share a lot of the myths and moʻole­lo I learned grow­ing up in Hawaii with a new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers who may or may not be famil­iar with our stories.

What was your favorite part of writ­ing your nov­el? What was most challenging? 

My favorite part was going back through my mem­o­ries and pic­tures from liv­ing in Vol­cano and vis­it­ing Hawaiʻi Vol­ca­noes Nation­al Park and remem­ber­ing all the icon­ic art and songs that I was able to thread through­out the sto­ry. The most chal­leng­ing was bring­ing it up to speed. Things have changed since I moved from the island, and I want­ed to make sure I was still on point with var­i­ous land­marks and understandings.

What char­ac­ter­is­tics do you love best about your pro­tag­o­nist, Anna Leilani Kamaʻe­hu? Is she mod­eled after some­one specific? 

I love that she’s sort of a jump-right-in-and-fig­ure-it-out-as-we-go kind of a per­son. I pulled a lot of my own strug­gles of not feel­ing Hawai­ian enough and dif­fi­cul­ties mak­ing and keep­ing friends as mate­r­i­al for Anna.

What was the jour­ney to get­ting your nov­el pub­lished like? How long did it take to write your book?

I draft­ed this book from April to August of 2020 then spent two years in revi­sions. My jour­ney was super fast com­pared to some folks, and not as fast as others.

In the fall of 2020 I applied for a num­ber of men­tor­ships and end­ed up being select­ed for both We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and my region­al Soci­ety of Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors (SCBWI) pro­grams. I worked inten­sive­ly with Alan Gratz and Andrea Wang to rewrite, revise, and improve my sto­ry from Jan­u­ary to May of 2021, then sub­mit­ted it to #APIP­it (a pitch event on Twit­ter) in May of 2021. I received inter­est from a num­ber of agents, so I sent out my queries and inter­viewed dif­fer­ent agents, select­ed an agent, did more revi­sions, sent the book out on sub­mis­sion to pub­lish­ers in June, end­ed up hav­ing mul­ti­ple pub­lish­ing hous­es inter­est­ed and went to auc­tion in August.

We sold in Sep­tem­ber 2021 in a two book deal and start­ed work­ing with my fab­u­lous edi­tor Eliz­a­beth Lee at Pen­guin Work­shop (an imprint of Pen­guin Ran­dom House). So since then it has been many more rounds of revi­sions, and now work­ing on book two!

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

I loved writ­ing when I was young but was advised by teach­ers that it wasn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly my strong suit and that I was bet­ter at the maths and sci­ences. I also loved read­ing but abhorred book reports and most of the required read­ing from my class­es. It wasn’t until I was an adult with a cou­ple of careers under my belt when I popped my head up from the grind and won­dered if it was pos­si­ble for me to try writ­ing again.

We are so glad you did. What do you enjoy most about writ­ing, espe­cial­ly for kids? What are some of your great­est challenges? 

I love writ­ing excit­ing, fast-paced action scenes—showing kids how clever and strong and brave they can be. My great­est chal­lenge is to get the char­ac­ters to have an arc, to have them change over the course of the sto­ry. A men­tor told me once that peo­ple don’t fall in love with plot; they fall in love with char­ac­ters. The char­ac­ter needs to be three dimen­sion­al and flawed, so read­ers can root for them and under­stand why they’re going through what they’re going through. That is chal­leng­ing for me as I usu­al­ly come up with fun cir­cum­stances that I want to have hap­pen to my char­ac­ter, but they usu­al­ly don’t tie in to a theme or deep­er mean­ing (which prob­a­bly ties into why I strug­gled with Lan­guage Arts and book reports in school.)

You also wrote anoth­er book, BACKPACKING WITH CHILDREN book, which is on a very dif­fer­ent top­ic. What made you decide to write this book?

Backpacking-with-ChildrenI actu­al­ly start­ed that one before LEI AND THE FIRE GODDESS. A friend of mine pub­lished a book for begin­ner back­pack­ers, and I thought that if he could do it, I could do it. They say to “write what you know,” so I wrote about my expe­ri­ences back­pack­ing with our kids over the past ten years and 600+ miles. While that book was on sub­mis­sion, I had a lot of time to wait, and so I decid­ed to write the next thing, and the next thing, and then anoth­er thing. And that last thing end­ed up becom­ing LEI!

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

I have so many ideas and not enough time! I’m work­ing on revis­ing the sequel for LEI right now and work­ing on a young adult con­tem­po­rary nov­el that I describe as Pride and Prej­u­dice meets WILD. I’d love to do well enough that I’m able to get back to Hawaiʻi and spend time with kei­ki in the schools there.

Hopes and dreams? How big you want to know? Heck, if we go big time, I’d love for some­one like Dwayne John­son or Jason Momoa or Barack Oba­ma to pick it up (they all have daugh­ters and prob­a­bly oth­er kids that they could gift it to after they’re pau read­ing) and talk about it so that it gets on the radar of Tai­ka Wait­i­ti and scooped up into a movie. Then some mys­te­ri­ous bene­fac­tor who is look­ing to give back to kāna­ka in Hawaiʻi offers to give a copy to every kid in Hawaiʻi (so many times grow­ing up I nev­er had mon­ey to get a book at those book fairs) and rents out the movie the­aters so all the kids and their fam­i­lies can go see it for free. 

Clear­ly I’m not real­is­tic when it comes down to the fact that this is a busi­ness since I want to just give it all away. I’d absolute­ly love to have a long, steady career in writ­ing, but even if LEI is the only fic­tion book I ever sell, it’ll have been an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence.

I love your big dreams, Malia. What beliefs are your work challenging?

I’m not sure if this is chal­leng­ing beliefs, nec­es­sar­i­ly, but I’m try­ing to do a cou­ple things with this story:

  1. Help kids who might not feel like they are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their own cul­tures or eth­nic­i­ties under­stand that they are enough and
  2. Help increase aware­ness of some of the issues Hawai­ians are fac­ing in an age appro­pri­ate way that doesn’t feel over­ly teachy/preachy— men­tion­ing the day the Hawai­ian flag was tak­en down from ‘Iolani Palace, by men­tion­ing the tele­scopes on Mau­nakea and pro­tec­tion efforts there, hav­ing Anna face dis­crim­i­na­tion by a local girl when she doesn’t pick the right sticky rice at the gro­cery store.

Do you have any expe­ri­ences as a Native Hawai­ian writer that you might share with our read­ers? What would you like to see change in the indus­try regard­ing the accep­tance of BIPOC creators? 

Our voic­es are so impor­tant! The way we view the world, inter­act with nature and our fam­i­lies, process trau­ma, and per­haps come from a more col­lec­tivist cul­ture (pri­or­i­tiz­ing the group above the indi­vid­ual) are all so dif­fer­ent than expe­ri­ences tra­di­tion­al­ly por­trayed in stories.

Some of us don’t fol­low tra­di­tion­al west­ern sto­ry­telling pat­terns, and that’s okay! I’m real­ly excit­ed about some new up and com­ing Kana­ka authors, like Makana Yamamoto’s Ham­ma­jang Luck and Megan Kakimoto’s Every Drop Is A Man’s Night­mare and your own Kahoʻo­lawe! All of our sto­ries are impor­tant, and it’s nec­es­sary for a pletho­ra of us to have our voic­es out there so none of us is bur­dened with rep­re­sent­ing the entire lāhui, the entire Native Hawai­ian pop­u­la­tion. We are each so unique with­in our shared expe­ri­ences, it is crit­i­cal that read­ers are able to see Hawai­ians as indi­vid­ual fla­vors, not just all coconut all the time.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing writer? 

Find oth­er writ­ers to learn with, prac­tice with, and com­mis­er­ate with! If you love it, it isn’t a waste of time. If your strengths lie else­where, you can do both! Keep this as a hob­by as you explore oth­er things as well.

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

Hmm, one of my ear­lobes is attached, and the oth­er isn’t. Oh, and I have a preau­ric­u­lar pit on one ear. And I get ran­dom songs stuck in my head a lot of times and end up mak­ing epic mash ups of songs but can nev­er remem­ber any of them. Oth­er­wise, I’d have been an awe­some DJ.

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

As a kid I loved Garfield and The Far Side (I prob­a­bly would have devoured graph­ic nov­els if they’d been around!). Then I got into creepi­er things, RL Stine to Christo­pher Pike to Stephen King (it was quite the jump, but there weren’t many young adult options that I knew of way back in the 1900s). Now I love read­ing fun­ny, action-packed mid­dle grade sto­ries and young adult or adult rom-coms with strong female leads and lots of wit­ty ban­ter. I go through them too quick­ly to remem­ber a favorite!

Do you have an online pres­ence? Do your read­ers con­tact you? What do they say? 

My web­site is, and on social media I’m on Twit­ter, Insta­gram, and Face­book. My book was­n’t out then, but I did some vir­tu­al class­room vis­its in Feb­ru­ary and read a cou­ple chap­ters of my book to kids, and a num­ber of the class­es sent me thank you notes. Oh, my good­ness, my heart was not pre­pared for the sweet­ness and love­li­ness of their expres­sions. They are why writ­ing for kids is the best thing ever. 

It was so much fun talk­ing sto­ry with you, Malia! Maha­lo nui loa for shar­ing your man­a’o with us! E pili mau nā pōmaikaʻi me ʻoe (best wishes!)

To read more about Malia, includ­ing her cool list of fun facts, vis­it her web­site, Pho­to cred­it: Kahi­ki Photography


Interview with American Library Association President Lessa Pelayo-Lozada

Lessa Pelayo-Lozada

Lessa Pelayo-LozadaPres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, Native Hawai­ian Lessa Kananiʻop­ua Pelayo-Loza­da is a war­rior. With politi­cized book bans on the rise, the nation’s librar­i­ans bat­tle to pro­tect intel­lec­tu­al free­dom. Lessa works to strength­en the ALA’s com­mit­ment of keep­ing the nation’s libraries as safe spaces that offer every­one — regard­less of their socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus — free and equal access to news, infor­ma­tion, and edu­ca­tion. The fight is daunt­ing, but Lessa and are all in:

We are resisters at our core. We pro­tect all our patrons, uphold intel­lec­tu­al free­dom, and serve our com­mu­ni­ties. Yes, the wins we see every day are a reward, but know­ing that we have resist­ed for yet anoth­er day and con­tin­ue to pro­vide that safe space is a reward in and of itself for me, and I hope for all of you as well.  — Lessa Pelayo-Loza­da, Amer­i­can Libraries Magazine

Lessa is the first Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander to be elect­ed pres­i­dent of the ALA. She is also the youngest per­son ever elect­ed to that posi­tion. We are grate­ful that this hard-work­ing, ded­i­cat­ed leader made some time to talk sto­ry with us. 

Con­grat­u­la­tions on your elec­tion to pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Librar­i­ans Asso­ci­a­tion! For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

I am a mixed-race, con­ti­nent born and raised Native Hawai­ian woman from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. I’ve been in pub­lic libraries since 2007 and have worked as library page, clerk, Children’s Librar­i­an, Teen Librar­i­an, and now am the Adult Ser­vices Assis­tant Man­ag­er at the Palos Verdes Library Dis­trict in South­ern California.

I am the cur­rent Pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion and am a past Pres­i­dent and Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Asian/Pacific Amer­i­can Librar­i­ans Asso­ci­a­tion. I have also served as a board mem­ber for the Cen­ter for the Study of Mul­ti­cul­tur­al Children’s Lit­er­a­ture for the last ten years and con­tribute to our best books list annually.

I used to dance hula for Kaulana Ka Hale Kula ‘O Nā Pua ‘O Ka ‘Āina in Tor­rance, Cal­i­for­nia, and am a cur­rent mem­ber of the Hawai’i’s Daugh­ters Guild of Cal­i­for­nia. My hus­band, Chris­t­ian Loza­da, and I co-authored the book Hawai­ians in Los Ange­les from Arca­dia Press.

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

I’m born and raised in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, in the cities of Tor­rance and Gar­de­na. I went to Bish­op Mont­gomery High School in Torrance.

Go Knights! Have you always want­ed to be a librar­i­an? When did you real­ize that being a librar­i­an was your calling?

Orig­i­nal­ly I want­ed to be an ele­men­tary school teacher, teach­ing either kinder­garten or sec­ond grade. While I was work­ing at Bor­ders Books, I met a num­ber of librar­i­ans from the Los Ange­les Pub­lic Library who showed me that librar­i­an­ship was a viable career path – one I thought I would fol­low after I would spend time teach­ing. After two days in the teacher cre­den­tial pro­gram, how­ev­er, I knew for sure that librar­i­an­ship was my call­ing and start­ed work­ing as a page that same sum­mer and have nev­er looked back!

What made you decide to run for the ALA’s high­est office?

Two things:

First, as an ALA Exec­u­tive Board mem­ber from 2017–2020 and chair of the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee on Orga­ni­za­tion­al Effec­tive­ness from 2018–2020, I iden­ti­fied the need for ALA’s struc­tures to change and become more nim­ble in today’s chang­ing world. The work I began as an EB mem­ber I hoped to fin­ish as pres­i­dent, and I am hap­py to say that we have got­ten a num­ber of things accom­plished dur­ing my year, such as mod­ern­iz­ing the ALA bylaws which will go to a full mem­ber vote this spring.

Sec­ond, the pan­dem­ic and all the ways that library work­ers were show­ing up for their com­mu­ni­ties inspired me to run for Pres­i­dent. As a front fac­ing library work­er, I saw all the ways that we need­ed ALA to show up for us, but as some­one who under­stands the capac­i­ties of ALA, I also knew that the cur­rent struc­ture couldn’t sup­port the labor needs of library work­ers. I ran to push the enve­lope in work­ing on for­ti­fy­ing the ALA struc­tures that can sup­port these needs, such as the ALA-Allied Pro­fes­sion­al Asso­ci­a­tion, a com­pan­ion orga­ni­za­tion to ALA. Although the process has been slow, we’ve been mak­ing progress in this realm.

What are some of the biggest chal­lenges that librar­i­ans face today?

The biggest chal­lenge fac­ing libraries, library work­ers, and librar­i­ans today are book chal­lenges. The unprece­dent­ed num­ber of book chal­lenges and the tox­i­c­i­ty and harass­ment of library work­ers around these book chal­lenges is cre­at­ing dif­fi­cult and impos­si­ble work­ing con­di­tions for many across the coun­try. To help com­bat book bans, I encour­age folks to vis­it and explore ways they can fight back. We can’t do this alone as library work­ers – we need the pub­lic to join in this fight!

What are your great­est strengths that you bring to the ALA and its membership?

One of the great­est strengths I bring are my val­ues of kuleana and kōkua. My com­mit­ment to library work­ers and libraries is root­ed in these two val­ues and help me to keep per­spec­tive on the long road ahead towards being spaces of life­long learn­ing, edu­ca­tion, and true inclu­sion when it comes to access to infor­ma­tion and I believe allow me to com­mu­ni­cate a spe­cif­ic vision that can be shared by ALA mem­bers everywhere.

I also can facil­i­tate a great meet­ing and work hard to ensure all voic­es and nec­es­sary stake­hold­ers are includ­ed in deci­sion mak­ing, mod­el­ing the inclu­sion that I hope we all embrace.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?

Learn­ing new things! Whether it is learn­ing some­thing through a ref­er­ence inter­ac­tion, learn­ing a new song for sto­ry time, or learn­ing anoth­er person’s sto­ry, it’s impos­si­ble to get through a day as a librar­i­an with­out learn­ing some­thing new – and some­thing you might not have sought out to learn on your own!

Dur­ing your cam­paign, you received many endorse­ments. What does this recog­ni­tion mean to you?

The num­ber of endorse­ments and sup­port I received dur­ing my cam­paign was a huge hon­or and a tes­ta­ment to the rela­tion­ships I try to devel­op in doing work on behalf of the asso­ci­a­tion. Even if I didn’t win the pres­i­den­cy, know­ing that I had all of those peo­ple to do great work with in the future, and have done great work with in the past was a big win.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

Right now I am focus­ing most of my time on my role as ALA Pres­i­dent which includes being the pri­ma­ry spokesper­son for the asso­ci­a­tion, chair­ing the Exec­u­tive Board and Coun­cil, and work­ing with ALA mem­bers and com­mit­tees to fig­ure out the path for­ward around book challenges.

The role of spokesper­son is a big one, as it includes media inter­views like the one I did for Teen Vogue as well as trav­el­ing the coun­try and inter­na­tion­al­ly doing keynote speech­es and speak­ing on pan­els like I did when I vis­it­ed Hawai’i for the Hawai’i Library Asso­ci­a­tion Con­fer­ence and Cen­ten­ni­al Celebration!

I am also a mem­ber of the pro­gram com­mit­tee for the Inter­na­tion­al Indige­nous Librar­i­ans Forum to be held in Hon­olu­lu this Novem­ber. I hope folks will join us!

What advice can you give some­one who might be con­sid­er study­ing library science?

Be firm in your “why” – why you want to work in libraries and what kind of impact you want to make. It can be a dif­fi­cult field when book chal­lenges, con­tin­ued bud­get cuts, and hier­ar­chi­cal bureau­cra­cies can pre­vent you from doing your job, but rec­og­niz­ing the impact you have, can, and will make on your com­mu­ni­ties can help keep you motivated.

I also always encour­age folks to be open to the myr­i­ad of oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able in libraries. There are so many paths you can take and you don’t always know what they all are when you start in libraries, so be open to new oppor­tu­ni­ties and expe­ri­ences you nev­er thought pos­si­ble. That kind of mind­set helped me to become ALA President.

And a few niele ques­tions, if you’d like to answer:

Who is your hero?

I have a lot of heroes! My grand­fa­ther and grand­moth­er, Alcario  and Mary Pelayo, are my pri­ma­ry heroes. They mod­eled and inspired me to live a life of ser­vice and lead­er­ship and sup­port­ed my many, many inter­ests grow­ing up, even if they didn’t always under­stand them.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My hus­band!

What is your proud­est accomplishment?

Putting on the 2018 Joint Con­fer­ence of Librar­i­ans of Col­or as a Steer­ing Com­mit­tee Member.

What do you enjoy doing in your down time?

Bak­ing, exer­cise, hiking.

Where can read­ers find you online?


Maha­lo nui loa, Lessa, for shar­ing your man­aʻo with us! As an author, life-long learn­er, and library patron, I offer my best wish­es to you for your con­tin­ued success!

Interview with Award-Winning Author Rukhsanna Guidroz

Rukhsanna Guidroz
Rukhsanna Guidroz
Rukhsan­na Guidroz

Award-win­ning author and Maui res­i­dent Rukhsan­na Guidroz has always lived life on her own terms. Born in Eng­land and edu­cat­ed at the Sor­bonne in Paris, Rukhsan­na has been a world trav­el­er, jour­nal­ist, radio pro­duc­er, and now, teacher. Her books fea­ture plucky female char­ac­ters in sto­ries that charm and delight young readers…and their adults, too.

Hi, Ruk­shan­na! For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself? 

I am an edu­ca­tor and writer. I moved to Maui from Hong Kong in 1996.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Man­ches­ter, Eng­land, and grad­u­at­ed from a small pri­vate school out­side the city. Man­ches­ter has cold, wet, grey win­ters. I remem­ber the sun­ny days being such a wel­come sur­prise. I went to Seat­tle in March last year, and the crisp, cool weath­er was famil­iar to me. Even though I’ve lived in a warm cli­mate for 30 years, my body still remem­bers cold tem­per­a­tures. I don’t think I could live any­where else but Hawaiʻi now that I’ve been spoiled.

Who is your biggest supporter? 

My hus­band is one of my biggest sup­port­ers. Writ­ing and forg­ing a path as an author can be a long, lone­ly endeav­or. There have been many times when I’ve con­sid­ered giv­ing up and mov­ing on. My hus­band has always believed in me and encour­aged me through uncer­tain times. 

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

I have always enjoyed writ­ing. In mid­dle school, I wrote a poem that end­ed up being pub­lished in the school mag­a­zine. I nev­er con­sid­ered pur­su­ing writ­ing as a career, but there was some­thing in me that felt the need to write that poem. It was a chan­nel through which I could freely express myself. There came the point in my life when I felt I need­ed more than just writ­ing sto­ries for myself. I start­ed see­ing the sto­ries in book form. When writ­ing was­n’t enough, I knew I was ready to begin sub­mit­ting my work to agents and editors.

As a teacher and tutor, I have always enjoyed being with kids. Spend­ing time with them allows me to see the world through their eyes. When you put your­self in some­one else’s shoes and per­ceive the world around you, it’s incred­i­ble what you see. 

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

Mina-and-the-MonsoonWrit­ing for kids allows me to be a child again. Our youth­ful years are often spent work­ing out our place in this com­pli­cat­ed world. Feel­ings can be mixed up and con­fus­ing. We are try­ing to under­stand who we are and where we belong. That vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is a uni­ver­sal theme. It’s what we all share as human beings, no mat­ter where we live or what sit­u­a­tion we were born into. For me, it’s a rich ground for explo­ration and story.

My most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges are stay­ing in their youth­ful space and not return­ing to adult life before I fin­ish my work. Remain­ing in char­ac­ter as I write can be tricky. I have to con­stant­ly remind myself who I am and what dri­ves me as a char­ac­ter in the sto­ry. I have found tricks to help me, though. Tak­ing breaks for tea, a stretch, or a walk helps me. Chang­ing the font in my doc­u­ment can feel like I’m read­ing a peer’s work, not my own. That dis­tance allows my con­struc­tive voice to come through and spot areas that need adjusting. 

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 would like to think I could be a pro­lif­ic writer and write book after book. That’s not me. I wish it were, though. I want to write a chil­dren’s fan­ta­sy nov­el at some point. The idea fright­ens me because it’s a genre I’ve nev­er writ­ten in, and maybe the chal­lenge is what attracts me. Start­ing my next project is always refresh­ing, excit­ing, and intim­i­dat­ing at the same time. 

I would love to see more books out there by mar­gin­al­ized voic­es. Those lit­tle unknown sto­ries are pre­cious gems and much need­ed in our world. I think it’s essen­tial for our chil­dren to see them­selves in books so they can feel val­ued and val­i­dat­ed. Lit­er­a­ture has the pow­er to do that.

There are not a lot of sto­ries for kids by writ­ers from your com­mu­ni­ty. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that? 

I have nev­er met any­one who is Indi­an-Chi­nese. It took me many years to real­ize that being seen as unique or unusu­al is not neg­a­tive. As a per­son of mixed her­itage in Eng­land, I always felt like an out­sider. But now that I appre­ci­ate my iden­ti­ty, I see the pos­si­bil­i­ty of many stories.

Leila-in-SaffronIt takes courage to write, and then, of course, you have to find a way to pub­li­ca­tion, whether it’s tra­di­tion­al­ly or self-pub­lish­ing. On your way to pub­li­ca­tion, you have to find peo­ple who believe whole­heart­ed­ly in you and your work. The pub­lish­ing indus­try has been dom­i­nat­ed and still is by white peo­ple. When brown and black peo­ple fill some of its key posi­tions, per­haps there will be more books that reflect the true diver­si­ty of this world.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work? 

I am cur­rent­ly work­ing on a pic­ture book biog­ra­phy about a chef. Food was such an impor­tant part of my child­hood. It brought the fam­i­ly togeth­er, whether we were hav­ing a good or bad day. It was an equal­iz­er and neu­tral­iz­er. My moth­er embraced my father’s Indian/Pakistan roots, and our meals were most­ly com­prised of ingre­di­ents and dish­es from his cul­ture. My sis­ter and I had a favorite dish we loved to cook. Grow­ing up, we ate a lot of Chi­nese food, and dim sum was a favorite Sun­day. Writ­ing a book about cook­ing came nat­u­ral­ly to me.

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

Writ­ing each of my books was a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence. When I wrote Mina vs. The Mon­soon (Yali Books) I had fun craft­ing a sto­ry about a qui­et­ly per­sis­tent girl who is pas­sion­ate about soc­cer. Imag­ing the scenes of this sto­ry were espe­cial­ly fun because I had many col­ors and their tones in mind, and the illus­tra­tor who cre­at­ed the art­work per­fect­ly cap­tured the feel I wanted.

Samira-SurfsMy nov­el in verse, Sami­ra Surfs (Pen­guin Ran­dom House) is about a Rohingya refugee who finds peace and empow­er­ment in an all-girls surf com­mu­ni­ty. It was prob­a­bly the most chal­leng­ing writ­ing because I had nev­er writ­ten a nov­el-length sto­ry. It is also a his­tor­i­cal sto­ry, and I spent near­ly two years research­ing the polit­i­cal and social aspects of the con­tex­tu­al set­ting. It stretched me as a writer, but I learned much along the way.

What beliefs are your books challenging? 

My books chal­lenge the idea of lim­i­ta­tions on girls. I did­n’t set out to write about this theme, and I did­n’t real­ize it was so impor­tant to me until I start­ed writ­ing. I believe it’s vital that any human being who wants to express their voice should have the avenues to do that. Girls and women are often over­looked in work, sports, and edu­ca­tion­al arenas.

In my sec­ond pic­ture book, Leila in Saf­fron (Simon & Schus­ter) young Leila comes to appre­ci­ate who she is through self-dis­cov­ery. It’s a sto­ry of female empow­er­ment, although it can apply to boys or any­one unsure of their iden­ti­ty. I think my biggest com­pli­ment would be if even one girl is inspired to speak up after read­ing one of my books.

What’s your expe­ri­ence with get­ting your books published? 

Writ­ing books can be an exer­cise in open­ing your heart and sur­ren­der­ing. Once a pub­lish­ing con­tract is made, the author has to let go of com­plete con­trol of the book. A whole team of peo­ple comes on board, and the project then becomes a col­lab­o­ra­tion with an agent, edi­tor, illus­tra­tor, art direc­tor, etc. I have had pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences with my work and can only speak to the val­ue of work­ing with pro­fes­sion­als who know how to shep­herd a book from idea to bookshelf.

Do you have a web­site? Are you on social media? Do social media play a role for you as an author? Do your read­ers con­tact you? What do they say? 

I have a web­site and social media accounts, so my read­ers can find and engage in my work fur­ther. I was reluc­tant to go so “pub­lic” at first, but I see the ben­e­fits of being vis­i­ble world­wide. I have received some enthu­si­as­tic emails, tweets, and posts, which always bright­en my day.

What advice can you give an aspir­ing writer? 

Nev­er give up. Work on your craft and find oth­er writ­ers. Build a com­mu­ni­ty, join one, and get involved in a cri­tique group. Writ­ing is a soli­tary activ­i­ty and can lead to long lone­ly peri­ods indoors. Often in my break with friends or out in nature, I’ll find inspi­ra­tion, a way through a block, and a word or phrase that was elud­ing me. Do any­thing you can to savor and refine your creativity. 

Thank you, Rukhsan­na, for a shar­ing your work and your man­aʻo with us! 

You can learn more about Rukhsan­na Guidroz by vis­it­ing her web­site and fol­low­ing her on Insta­gram and Face­book

Interview with Polynesian Illustrator Shar Tuiʻasoa


Tal­ent­ed Poly­ne­sian artist, illus­tra­tor and design­er, Shar Tuiʻa­soa is the cre­ative force behind the huge­ly pop­u­lar Punky Alo­ha Stu­dio. Fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion from Kailua High School (Go Surfrid­ers!), Shar pur­sued a degree in fine art in Cal­i­for­nia Shar-Tuiasoabefore return­ing home to Hawaiʻi.  Best known for her beau­ti­ful images of Poly­ne­sian women, Shar’s graph­ic illus­tra­tions are bold, col­or­ful and always exciting. 

Alo­ha, Shar! For those who haven’t met you, where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Kailua on O’ahu, and it is where I live today with my ‘ohana.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My part­ner, my hus­band, my side­kick, Keali’i. He has stood by me through this crazy roller coster. From day 1.  He helped me get through col­lege, he helped find my way back to me. When I first start­ed Punky Alo­ha, he helped me pay for my busi­ness license and for my first busi­ness cards and prints. I guess you could say he was an ear­ly investor.  He helped my run my shop in the very begin­ning, and still helps me install murals to this day.

Why did you become a artist? What do you enjoy most about cre­at­ing art?

Surf QueenI have always want­ed to be an artist. I don’t know that I ever thought about being any­thing else. And that’s not to say that I was always good at draw­ing, because I def­i­nite­ly was­n’t. Haha! That took a lot of years of hard work.  But I grew up watch­ing my mom draw. She is a won­der­ful illus­tra­tor and painter, and she raised us up sur­round­ed by art.

I think what I love about mak­ing art the most is just being able to cre­ate the world that lives in your head. It’s almost like hav­ing a bit of con­trol over some­thing in your life. Even if it only exists on paper, being able to share your visions with peo­ple can be empow­er­ing and healing.

You also wrote and illus­trat­ed a pic­ture book. What inspired you to write your first book?

Punky AlohaAs an illus­tra­tor, I think many of us have mak­ing a chil­dren’s book on our buck­et list. I know I did. So when I was pre­sent­ed the oppor­tu­ni­ty, I went with what I knew best: me. I based my book on my child­hood and what some of my expe­ri­ences were like.

What are some of your great­est chal­lenges in writing?

I don’t con­sid­er myself to be as strong a writer as I am an illus­tra­tor, so I came across a lot of chal­lenges, espe­cial­ly writ­ing for chil­dren. I want­ed to go on this epic adven­ture with my pro­tag­o­nist, but you only have 32 pages and 800 words to do so, and you also have got make sure you remem­ber who your audi­ence is — 3–7 year olds! So it presents all sort of chal­lenges but also oppor­tu­ni­ties in find­ing new ways to tell a story.

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

My old­er broth­er is a very tal­ent­ed writer. He went to film school and has this real­ly great comedic way of sto­ry­telling. We have been talk­ing about work­ing on either a graph­ic nov­el togeth­er or maybe a children’s book. Some­thing. So that’s in my mind a lot right now. Ive also got a cou­ple ideas brew­ing, so we shall see what the future holds. An ulti­mate dream of mine would be to have an ani­mat­ed series based on my books with a full pasif­ka and local to Hawai’i cast! Pasi­fi­ka showrun­ner, edi­tors, ani­ma­tors, voic­es, etc!

That would be amaz­ing! 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?

There aren’t, sad­ly 🙁 In fact, Punky Alo­ha was the first children’s book pub­lished by a big main stream pub­lish­er that was writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by (and starred) a Pacif­ic Ulu MamaIslander. I didn’t real­ize that until it came out. And I think the lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion is some­thing that is final­ly being addressed more and more.  On one end the media very rarely gives us a plat­form, so if we aren’t see­ing our­selves rep­re­sent­ed, why would we even think we belong in cer­tain spaces? So I think its a part­ner­ship in a way. We as PI and NH (Pacif­ic Islander and Native Hawai­ian) should feel inspired to take up cre­ative space, and we should do what we can to learn those skills so that we can share our sto­ries with our voic­es. Also, these cre­ative plat­forms should keep look­ing out for all the tal­ent we have to offer because there is A LOT! I always say: Greet oppor­tu­ni­ty with prepa­ra­tion. So when there is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you to share your cre­ativ­i­ty, be sure you are pre­pared with a strong voice and a strong skillset! We got this!

We do! Do you have a web­site? Do you blog? When did you get start­ed on social media? What do your read­ers say?

I do 🙂 is where you can find my port­fo­lio of work, info and shop. I start­ed my social media pres­ence around 2018.

Lanikai DiverWhat advice can you give an aspir­ing author/illustrator?

My advice is to keep going! Keep work­ing at what you are doing and most impor­tant­ly, cre­ate work that you love. If that is what you are putting out into the world, that is what you will be hired to do.

What beliefs is your work challenging?

I like to chal­lenge what our PI stereo­types. I have always tried to illus­trate our peo­ple as I know them to be. They are my fam­i­ly, my friends, my peers. There have been so many ver­sions of how we are illus­trat­ed that its hard to sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion. So it’s a del­i­cate bal­ance.  I also like to chal­lenge peo­ples per­spec­tive on what we in Hawai’i are capa­ble of doing. It’s easy to dis­miss us because we are from a small clus­ter of islands in the ocean, but we have as much to offer as any­one and we can do any­thing in the world. There is so much tal­ent here.

Where do you get your inspirations?

Punky PuaFrom home. From Hawai’i. From Moana (the ocean, not the Dis­ney char­ac­ter. Even though I love her haha!)

Do you have any plans for anoth­er book?

I do! I have two set to release in 2024. One will be anoth­er Punky Alo­ha book, and the sec­ond is a book I have illus­trat­ed for Illi­ma Todd. She has writ­ten a beau­ti­ful book about Mau­na Kea, and I am so excit­ed to work on it.

We canʻt wait! Can you share a bit about what youʻre work­ing on next?

Right now I am just jug­gling a bunch of projects. I have a few murals com­ing up, and some free­lance projects, try­ing to bal­ance it all with also hav­ing a fam­i­ly to nur­ture and spend time with 🙂

This has been awe­some! Maha­lo nui, Shar, for shar­ing your art and your man­aʻo! You can learn more about Shar Tuiʻa­soa by vis­it­ing her web­site, Punky Alo­ha, and fol­low­ing her on Insta­gram

Interview with Native Hawaiian Artist Brook Kapūkuniahi Parker


We are delight­ed to fea­ture the accom­plished Native Hawai­ian artist and his­to­ri­an, Brook Kapūku­ni­ahi Park­er. He has illus­trat­ed sev­er­al chil­dren’s books for ʻAha Pūnana Leo Hawai­ian Emer­sion Schools and cre­at­ed numer­ous stun­ning com­mis­sion pieces for clients through­out Hawai’i. His pas­sion is to Brooke-Parkercre­ate breath­tak­ing art that brings life to our ances­tors, and he does so through his exten­sive knowl­edge of  Native Hawai­ian his­to­ry and culture. 

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

I have always loved to draw since I was lit­tle but only start­ed paint­ing in 2009. I’ve been mar­ried for 32 years, 5 chil­dren, two grand­chil­dren. My biggest sup­port­er is my wife and busi­ness part­ner, Drena. 

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

I was raised in Kahaluʻu, Heʻeia, and Kāneʻo­he, Oʻahu. I attend­ed Cas­tle High School and grad­u­at­ed class of ’79. 

Go Knights! Why did you become an illus­tra­tor? Did you always know you could cre­ate art?

KamehamehaI learned art by watch­ing my dad cre­ate his art. I am pas­sion­ate about fam­i­ly his­to­ry and hon­or the ances­tors by paint­ing their sto­ries and accomplishments. 

Note: Brook’s father, David Kaleiomanoanahu­lu Waipa Park­er, was a gift­ed writer and aliʻi mem­ber of the Roy­al Order of Kamehameha.

What do you enjoy most about cre­at­ing art? What are some of your great­est challenges?

I enjoy telling the sto­ries of our kūpuna and keep­ing their names and mem­o­ries alive visually.

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

Brook-Parker-artI am thank­ful I am able to pro­vide for my fam­i­ly by paint­ing and hope to pub­lish a book on the Great Chiefs of Hawaii which will include the art I have created.

We are look­ing for­ward to that! There are not a lot of Native Hawai­ian, Pacif­ic Islander or peo­ple of col­or kid lit illus­tra­tors. Why do you think that is?

Yes, I agree. We need more Pacif­ic nation artists to tell our sto­ries through our own eyes.

Do you have a web­site? Are you on  social media?

My web­site is Hawai­ian at Art. Iʻm also on Insta­gram and Face­book

What advice would you give an aspir­ing illustrator?

Don’t give up, holo­mua, move for­ward, improve your skills, and be pas­sion­ate about what you do.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

I am cur­rent­ly com­plet­ing a large paint­ing of Chief Kaiana with his broth­ers, Nahi­olea and Namakeha.

Where do you get your inspirations? 

Liliʻu-TributeFrom books, sto­ries and oth­er gift­ed artist I admire.

Illus­tra­tors and artists, like writ­ers, do a lot of research when theyʻre cre­at­ing. Whatʻs your research process like? 

I study, med­i­tate and pray before projects.

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

Iʻm not quite sure yet, maybe some­thing of a Hina vibe.

We have much to look for­ward to from you! Maha­lo, Brook, for shar­ing your man­aʻo! To learn more about Brook Park­er and to view sam­ples of his art, vis­it his web­site at and fol­low him on Insta­gram

Interview with Author Vera Arita


Hawaiʻi-based author Vera Ari­ta has spent her life help­ing spe­cial-needs chil­dren to suc­ceed. Her chil­drenʻs books focus on Hawaiʻi themes and encour­age chil­dren to  delight in the world around them. 

Vera-AritaMaha­lo, Vera, for allow­ing me to fea­ture you on my blog. For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

Alo­ha all! I’m Vera Ari­ta, and I am a retired spe­cial edu­ca­tion teacher.  I taught for 32 years, and then I retired from Mililani Ike Ele­men­tary in Cen­tral Oʻahu in 2016. I am cur­rent­ly a half time field ser­vice instruc­tor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaiʻi at Manoa, and I help stu­dents learn how to be spe­cial edu­ca­tion teach­ers. I live in Mililani with my hus­band, Neal, and we have two sons/two daugh­ters-in-laws, two grand­sons and a granddaughter. 

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

I grew up in Waipahu and went to Waipahu Ele­men­tary, Inter­me­di­ate and High School.

Go, Maraud­ers! Who is your biggest supporter?

For sure my hus­band, Neal, our sons and extend­ed fam­i­ly! I also have great teacher and church friends who come out full force to sup­port my book signings.

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

All-Around-The-IslandsIn my teach­ing career, I always had a dream to write children’s books to share the love, care and life lessons I’d grown to appre­ci­ate. I believe the inspi­ra­tion also comes through my faith in Christ. My first book, All Around the Islands, came out in 2005.  I ded­i­cat­ed my first book to my par­ents, Bolo and Eileen Sone­da, because my dad was very ill, and Iʻd promised him that I would write a book someday. 

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

Alphabet-HukilauI think hav­ing kids learn about ani­mals or the sounds of the let­ters in rhyme is very reward­ing. My fourth book, Alpha­bet Huk­i­lau, was writ­ten on an iPad! I was just kick­ing around with the idea of a net catch­ing let­ters instead of sea ani­mals. At the back of the book there is non-fic­tion infor­ma­tion of the sea ani­mals since much of our con­tent stan­dards deals with read­ing non-fic­tion books. 

The chal­lenge for any author is find­ing a pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny who is will­ing to risk cre­at­ing a book with your words. 

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?

Teach­ing chil­dren has been, and is, my pas­sion, and cur­rent­ly my pub­lish­er is con­sid­er­ing a count­ing book that is quite whimsical.

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?

Again, you have to find a pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny who believes in your writ­ing.  I believe that in Hawaii, most pub­lish­ers have to cater to the tourist mar­ket for their books to sell. I’m hop­ing that my new book, which pro­motes char­ac­ter edu­ca­tion, will be in all schools in Hawaii and nationwide.

Do you have a web­site? Are you on social media? Do you do school visits?

I do not cur­rent­ly have a web­site, but I am on Insta­gram Vera­sonedaari­ta or you can email me. I do school vis­its where I share the writ­ing process and share sketch­es of how a book is formed.  I often browse through reviews on Ama­zon of my books and find it very hum­bling to get such rave reviews.

What advice do you have for aspir­ing writers?

Nev­er give up on your dreams. You have to reach out to many pub­lish­ers and not get dis­cour­aged. My pub­lish­er told me she receives sub­mis­sions near­ly every day, and few are picked up to be published.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

Alo­hasaurus is a sto­ry that I think many peo­ple can real­ly relate to.  It’s about a dinosaur who has no friends because he looks dif­fer­ent, and he sounds dif­fer­ent.  In Alohasaurusmany ways it’s like my broth­er, Mike, who, was socially“different.”  Mike was born with men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenges.  Sad­ly, Mike recent­ly passed away in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber 2022, so he did not get a chance to see the book.

In the sto­ry, a group of curi­ous and coura­geous chil­dren befriend the dinosaur, and in turn, he teach­es them ways to be kind and how to mod­el alo­ha. Through their new­ly found friend­ship, they name him “Alo­hasaurus.”

As a sub­sti­tute teacher, I’ve been test mar­ket­ing the draft of the book with stu­dents, and it has got­ten “5 star” reviews from them! I have even shared the book with some mid­dle school stu­dents, and they real­ly liked the sto­ry. Their encour­age­ment has been uplift­ing and so precious.

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

Animals-Sing-AlohaMy third book, Ani­mals Sing Alo­ha. It is a phon­ics book that teach­es how to write and sound out the alpha­bets cor­rect­ly. It was a sur­prise because the draft was lit­er­al­ly writ­ten on the back of an anniver­sary card while I was in a Maui hotel lob­by on vaca­tion. I tell stu­dents that when inspi­ra­tion hits, you have to be ready to write!  That book has been my best-sell­ing book to date.

Most chal­leng­ing is Alo­hasaurus because it’s been on the back burn­er since 2007!  I wrote the draft on the back of ser­mon notes in church and always felt that this would be a great book; how­ev­er, the pub­lish­er wise­ly was wait­ing for the right time to cre­ate it — and now is the time!

What beliefs are your books challenging?

They chal­lenge peo­ples’ beliefs that you have to look and act like every­one else to be suc­cess­ful. The les­son to the read­ers is that you can be a suc­cess if you are kind to oth­ers, speak respect­ful­ly, work hard and are a team player.

What’s your expe­ri­ence with pub­lish­ing your books?

I learned that when you sign a con­tract, all your future man­u­scripts go to them first and if they reject it, then you are free to go to anoth­er pub­lish­er. Also, the pub­lish­er can edit your writ­ing if they feel it flows bet­ter a dif­fer­ent way. There needs to be trust that the pub­lish­er knows what it takes for a suc­cess­ful book; how­ev­er, there may be times when you must per­se­vere and not give up on a reject­ed book.

Where do you get ideas for your books?

Can-You-Catch-A_Coqui-FrogIt seems that dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly times pro­vid­ed inspi­ra­tion for me to write. In 2006 my broth­er, Mike, had a seizure and hit his head very hard and became brain-dam­aged.  While he was in an extend­ed coma, I promised to write anoth­er book and ded­i­cate it to him. Thus, Can you Catch a Coqui Frog was written. 

Authors write to per­suade, inform or enter­tain.  My books fall between inform­ing and enter­tain­ing. As a teacher I couldn’t find a book that men­tioned all eight Hawai­ian Islands, so that’s how All Around the Islands came about.  Alo­hasaurus men­tions dif­fer­ent kinds of car­ing for peo­ple and for our ʻāina.

Which char­ac­ters do you relate with eas­i­ly? Why?

In fic­tion­al sto­ries, I relate to the char­ac­ter who real­ly aren’t out­stand­ing, but through much deter­mi­na­tion and hard work, they are able to achieve a lot.  One of my favorite bible vers­es is Philip­pi­ans 4:13: I can do all things through Christ Jesus. A good exam­ple of this is that I recent­ly decid­ed to enter the Hon­olu­lu Marathon with three months left to train. I did it 10 years ago but trained for a year back then. With the Lord’s help, I can do it again.

Maha­lo nui, Vera! To con­tact Vera Ari­ta and learn more about her books, please fol­low her Vera­sonedaari­ta in Instagram.

Interview with Illustrator Dru Santiago


Hauoli Makahi­ki Hou, every­one! I love the start of a shiny new year. We also cel­e­brate Chi­nese New Year around here. Kung Hee Fat Choy

What bet­ter way to start a new year but with tal­ent­ed Native Hawai­ian and Hawaiʻi based writ­ers and creators!

Meet the won­der­ful Dru San­ti­a­go, Hawaiʻi based illus­tra­tor and the 2021 Soci­ety of Chil­dren’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors Nar­ra­tive Art award.


First of all, con­grats, Dru! For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

Hel­lo! My name is Drus­cil­la San­ti­a­go, and I draw pic­tures for kids and grown ups. I’m from Waipahu, but I live in town with my hus­band and our son, now. These days, I most­ly work on illus­trat­ing kids books, but I also do pri­vate com­mis­sions and graph­ic design/illustration work for local busi­ness­es and non-profits.

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

I love this ques­tion! I lived on the main­land for a while in my twen­ties, and every time I ran into some­one from Oahu, we’d always be like, “What high school you grad?” With­out fail. And I’m proud to say I grad­u­at­ed from Leile­hua High School in Wahi­awa. Go mules!

Dru-cookingIndeed! My hus­band, Tim, is a proud Leile­hua grad, too. Why did you become an illus­tra­tor? Did you always know you could cre­ate art?

I think I’ve always been an illus­tra­tor even though I didn’t know to call it that. I’ve loved to draw since I was a kid. My mom went to art school when I was very young, and I used to watch her draw and get into her expen­sive art sup­plies and draw my own lit­tle pic­tures along­side her. From there, my love of pic­ture books, car­toons, and comics sort of lead me to this career.

That’s so cool. What do you enjoy most about illus­trat­ing? What are some of your great­est challenges?

Ooh. So, I kind of live in my head and draw­ing is the best way to express myself. You know? It’s like talk­ing. So in a way, what I like specif­i­cal­ly about illus­trat­ing is that I can tell a sto­ry with­out hav­ing to say words.  And I think the great­est chal­lenge of being an illus­tra­tor is tak­ing this love of draw­ing and mak­ing it a job. Because my mind wan­ders, and it’s impor­tant to stay on task. So maybe the real chal­lenge is stay­ing focused? Yeah, that’s it. Dru-art

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

I’m just get­ting start­ed, so my hope and dream is to keep going!

Do you have a web­site? Are you on  social media?

Yes, my web­site is, and my insta­gram han­dle is @adventurefunclub. I’m on insta­gram more than I should be, and while I enjoy engag­ing on social media, the best way to con­tact me is via email. Don’t get lost in the DMs! 🙂 

What advice would you give an aspir­ing illustrator?

I would say, what I tell myself all the time, there is no “right” way to achieve your goals. Keep work­ing at your craft, and you will get there. For real. And if any aspir­ing illus­tra­tor read­ing this is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in Pic­ture Books? Join Soci­ety for Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors! Seri­ous­ly, click this link:  Join­ing SCBWI and attend­ing a nation­al con­fer­ence was incred­i­bly help­ful and enlight­en­ing for me. 

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

I’d love to! I am cur­rent­ly work­ing on a Hands-On Sci­ence series by Lola Schae­fer. It’s my first pic­ture book project, and I am lov­ing it. The first book in the series, called MATTER, is set to be released this sum­mer 2023. The oth­er two books in the series will be about Geol­o­gy and Motion.Dru-art-surfer 

We love STEM pic­ture books! Can you share a bit about what you’re work­ing on next?

Not real­ly next, but in addi­tion to the Sci­ence series, I am work­ing on a won­der­ful book called A HAT FOR A HOUSE by Audrey Per­rott. I’m not sure how much I can say about it, but it’s exciting! 

It is! Maha­lo, Dru! We’re look­ing for­ward to your upcom­ing books! To learn more about Dru San­ti­a­go and view a gallery of her sketch­es,  vis­it her web­site and blog, Adven­ture Club