"The land was wet and fat and fed its people well," reads this portion of the story of Kamehameha's youth. The illustration by Imaikalani Kalahele shows workers harvesting a loi, or taro patch.
Kamehameha’s childhood vivid
"Lumpy Poi and Twisting Eels," by David Kawika Eyre, illustrated by Imaikalani Kalahele (Kamehameha Publishing, 30 pages, $14.95)|
The second historical fiction in a series on Kamehameha, conqueror of the islands, "Lumpy Poi and Twisting Eels," tells of the early boyhood of this famous man. Thoroughly researched, it shows the deliberate way his teacher, Nae'ole, formed the boy's character.
Before Kamehameha's birth, his mother had craved the eye of the man-eating shark, a tip-off to the greatness of the child she carried. Aware that a rival plotted to kill the newborn, she arranged for the babe to be whisked off to a distant part of the island of Hawaii to be raised by Nae'ole.
At first, Kamehameha was allowed to frolic with the other children, hidden among his people and being treated as an equal. The author includes a nursery rhyme and a game, giving us a taste of the culture of boyhood.
Unlike European royalty, Kamehameha was not coddled. As he grew older, he learned to do the daily work of the commoners. When he fished, he set aside the first catch as an offering at the temple. While his friends played, he weeded the loi, or taro patch, developing an appreciation for labor.
The title of the book comes from a couple of his experiences. When he learned to pound poi, the rock was heavy and he grew tired. He gave up before the lumps were pounded out. His teacher made him eat the poi anyway, choking down the lumps. The next time he pounded poi, he was careful to complete the job.
As to the twisting eels, this comes as a lesson in sharing abundance. When the eels were plentiful, Kamehameha shared them with the village, ensuring the welfare of the people.
One day he was taken high in the mountains to see a special bird with three yellow feathers. He was told that one day he would wear a cape made from those feathers. To keep him humble, his teacher explained that "we are alii because of the aloha of our people."
Full-color illustrations bring out the already vivid descriptions of the setting and the work of the people.
I particularly enjoyed the authentic feel of ancient Hawaii. For instance, instead of saying the boy was 5 or 6 years old, the author uses the traditional method, saying, "when he was old enough to carry two coconuts" or, later, "when he was old enough to carry a small child." Seasons are not described as being summer or the month of August, but as being "the time of the sugar cane tasseling." It was a culture attuned to nature, without written language, calendars or scales.
At the back of the book, "Five Tips for Applying the Lessons of this Book" will be useful for educators and parents alike.
Viewing the story from the perspective of our keiki being raised with Disney's Zack and Cody as playmates, I would have liked to have more emotion in the story: He "thinks about" his mother -- does he wish he could be with her? Surely he was aware of the danger. When the sentry blows the conch to signal that no strangers are on the path, does he feel relief that he is safe for another night?
But, overall, the book is a great addition to the series, giving us a window into a culture now overlaid by many others and defining the formative years of a great patriarch.
Elaine Masters is a writing coach and author. Her newest book is "Momi's Birthday Surprise." E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org