The gift of books


POSTED: Monday, December 14, 2009

When Christmas shopping for kids in a sea of plastic fads, books remain a classic gift. Whether buying for local keiki who will embrace themes involving familiar settings or mainland kids who could use a taste of local culture in their library, there are many offerings this year worthy of a second, third or fourth read.


Top Picks

”;Too Many Mangos”;
By Tammy Paikai / Illustrated by Don Robinson Island Heritage, $9.95

Too many local children's' book authors think all you need to write a kids' book is a few Hawaiian words and a good illustrator. “;Too Many Mangos”; has both those elements but also a delightful plot and a lesson about sharing, local style.

When Grandpa has too many mangos to eat, he sends his cherubic grandchildren through the neighborhood with a wagon full of fruit. The neighbors are so grateful they give the kids ono local treats in return.

This lesson of good behavior being rewarded resonates with keiki, as my 5-year-old now wants to tour the neighborhood with some of the apple bananas from our yard.

Whimsical illustrations and a delightfully told tale with a moral—what more can you ask for from a children's book?

”;Keoni's Special Gift”;
By Dorinda Lum / Illustrated by Michael Furuya Mutual Publishing, $14.95

The animators at Disney have got nothing on Michael Furuya. In the story, Keoni the fish discovers that he was happier being a fish swimming through his mountain stream, rather than being bird soaring high above the islands.

This literal fish out of water tale is well done, although there is some question as to how Keoni makes his way home after the spell that had given him bird wings wears off.

Still, backed by the power of Furuya's enchanting illustrations, “;Keoni”; will undoubtedly prove to be a special gift for many keiki this year.


10 More to Check Out

”;What Am I?: A Hawaii Animal Guessing Game, Vol. 2”;
By Daniel Harrington / Illustrated by Susan Brandt Mutual Publishing, $12.95

Daniel Harrington follows his popular guessing game book with a new crop of local critters. Descriptions are intriguing and include animals both common (shark and humpback whale) and obscure (Hawaiian turkeyfish).

The name-this-animal formula has been well covered in the realm of children's books, but it's always well received by the under-7 set.

”;Waikiki Lullaby”;
By Beth Greenway / Illustrated by Alexis America BeachHouse Publishing, $7.95

This board book reads like a local “;Goodnight Moon.”; Soothing watercolor illustrations follow three island keiki as they leave the beach and go to bed. The dreamy pictures and refreshingly uncluttered pages lead readers through a lyrical bedtime story.

”;Animals Sing Aloha”;
By Vera Arita / Illustrated by Ron Louie BeachHouse Publishing, $7.95

Not your typical alphabet book, “;Animals Sing Aloha”; includes a score for singing the book and a dotted guide for tracing each letter with a child's finger to give them a tactile learning source, in addition to the obligatory phrase that begins with each letter.

This multidisciplinary approach to the alphabet tries a bit too hard to cover all its bases, especially with the unnecessary pronunciation guide for each letter. But the illustrations are delightful, and as kids start to write they can continue to refer back to pages for letter stroke order, giving this book a longer shelf life than most board books.

”;Can You Catch a Coqui Frog?”;
By Vera Arita / Illustrated by Edna Cabcabin Moran BeachHouse Publishing, $12.95

Virtually the entire book is phrased in questions, so be prepared for your keiki to stop the story frequently to try to answer. Each quizzical page features questions about a different animal, and some rhymes turn out well—the gecko's, “;Can you guess what he is feeling as he crawls across your ceiling?”;—while others come off awkwardly—“;Can you watch an urchin sit on the coral reef so fit?”; But younger readers will be so mesmerized by the pastel sketches and animal-filled borders that accompany each page, they won't even notice.

”;There was an Old Auntie”;
Illustrated by John Aardema BeachHouse Publishing, $12.95

“;Auntie”; is a cute read with a funny ending as the local version of the old lady who lived in a shoe transforms her blue suede shoe into a bright pink slipper to make it more like the island home she misses. I guess she never should have sailed in her canoe “;from Hana to Hilo to Kalamazoo.”;

Light on logical plot points, the story features an adorably round auntie but no credited author.

”;'O Kaina Ke Kumu Koa: Kaina the Koa Tree”;
By Kulamanu Kawai'ae'a, Emilia Ka'awa, Kawehi Keolanui and Malia Kruger Kamehameha Publishing, $14.95

This ambitious bilingual story from Kamehameha Schools' publishing division tells a complex story with both English and Hawaiian translations on each page.

The story of Kaina goes far beyond the simple Hawaiian word for each alphabet or body part that passes as culture in most Hawaiian language children's books. These authors don't shy away from their multicultural purpose with liberal usage of Hawaiian words even in the English translation.

This is not a book to send to your friend's kids on the mainland, or they'll spend so much time in the glossary that they'll lose the charming story of a koa tree trying to find its way home from the beach to the uplands with help from lots of local flora and fauna friends.

Perhaps the most unique feature is the Hawaiian language lessons page, giving some basic sentence structure explanations.

”;When the Cassowary Pooped”;
By Tamara Montgomery and Jodi Parry Belknap / Illustrated by Joseph D. Dodd Calabash Books, $16.95

If you loved the Kennedy Theatre production of this story earlier this year, you'll likely be a fan of the book, as well.

Joseph D. Dodd, University of Hawaii professor of scenic design, spectacularly illustrated this tale of endangered species in New Guinea. The repetitious text describes the rainbow of fruit the cassowary bird eats and consequently poops out. Kids will love their first taste of bathroom humor.

Activities, including instructions on creating a tissue box theater to perform your own 'Cassowary' play, can be downloaded from calabashbooks.com/forteachers.html.

”;A President from Hawaii”;
By Dr. Carolan and Joanna Carolan Banana Patch Press, $18.95

What might come off as gaudy and overworked to adult eyes translates as visually stimulating and splashy to kids. Every page of this book, which was selected to represent Hawaii at the 2009 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., screams to local keiki that our president is from Hawaii and loves the things that you love, too.

The book, which also includes a four-song CD by Amy Hanaiali'i and Kelii Kanealii, is also perfect for mainland kids who can learn about the president and the things that make Hawaii unique.

”;New Friend for Nai'a”;
By Katie Grove-Velasquez / Illustrated by Michael Ogata Mutual Publishing, $14.95

Katie Grove-Velasquez used her knowledge as a marine naturalist to bring forth this educational tale of a baby dolphin and a baby humpback whale comparing their differences and similarities. The book finishes with a guide to the colorful creatures found on the Hawaiian reef.

”;For a Girl Becoming”;
By Joy Harjo / Illustrated by Mercedes McDonald University of Arizona Press, $17.95

What's a book that incorporates American Indian themes and published in Arizona doing on a local book list? you may wonder. Joy Harjo is the answer. The part-time Honolulu resident authored this book, which dispenses wistful advice to girls on the precipice of leaving childhood with thoughtful illustrations set to evoke the mood of the lesson at hand.