Like the keiki (children) depicted in Disney’s Moana, growing up in Hawaii is full of magical mysticism. From well-known legends spanning the Pacific Islands to unique cultural traditions, these stories are carefully crafted and shared in traditional Hawaiian children’s books. Here are six classics that will leave anyone inspired.
Keiki are no stranger to cockroaches—especially the big ones that are seemingly invincible. Since the mid-’90s when the book was originally published, local children (and adults too) have reimagined the disgusting flying insects, taking on a new perspective of the common household pests. This picture book focuses on a young cockroach named Kimo who proves that even the most undeserving of insects can dream big. You can purchase this book at local bookstore Nā Mea Hawaiʻi in Ward Village and online.
This beautifully illustrated book tells the tale of a native Hawaiian tree snail and the struggle to survive in a forest full of deadly invasive species. Sadly, this is the reality of native plants and animals in Hawaii; of the 99 species of Hawaiian tree snails, 74 are already extinct. The story has impacted local readers who were taught at a young age to mālama ʻāina (take care of the land) and now contemplate the effects of their actions on the natural environment and those it impacts, including the tiny tree snails. You can find copies of this book here.
The story unfolds in the sleepy town of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island where Sonny Mendoza’s tale is told in 11 short stories all tied together through the ocean. Salisbury writes from his own experience growing up in Kailua and Kamuela. Children from around the world will be drawn to this lovely story showcasing the people, history, and culture of the islands and what it’s like to grow up in a place unlike any other. This short story is available here.
Gill McBarnet wrote this classic bedtime story over 25 years ago, and it is still a local favorite. Moʻo (lizards and geckos) are a prominent ʻaumakua (family god) and play a large role as shapeshifters in Hawaiian mythology. The book-turned-play features a family of geckos in a Hawaiian home—now that isn’t too far-fetched—with one little gecko who slowly becomes less afraid of the night. You can purchase this book here.
This vibrant digitally rendered set of books introduces children to the magic of Hawaiian legends and mythology through four of the most famous local tales. They feature Pele, the goddess of fire, Maui and his magic fish hook, Hina the moon goddess, and Naupaka. Each tale answers the burning questions of keiki, such as “How did the Hawaiian Islands come to be?” and “Why does the white naupaka flower look like it’s cut in half?” This book set is available at Hawaiian bookstore Nā Mea Hawaiʻi and online.
Since mango season is such a special time in Hawaii, this book brings back many childhood memories for locals. On the islands, everyone has a relative who is known for having the sweetest, most juicy mangos grow on their backyard tree, and everyone eagerly waits for that moment when they finally ripen. Paikai captures the importance of the community in the book, which features lovely artwork by Don Robinson that’s almost as colorful as the mangos themselves. You can find copies of this short story here.
Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku by Ellie Crowe
Every keiki in Hawaii has heard of Duke. This picture book recounts the remarkable true story of Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic gold medalist known around the world as the “Father of Modern Surfing.” You can purchase it here.
Limu, the Blue Turtle by Kimo Armitage
Though Limu the turtle is teased for being blue, he doesn’t let that stop him from going on adventures across the ocean. He meets other marine animals like an ʻopihi, colorful reef fish, and a humpback whale, all common to Hawaiian waters. You can buy the first in Limu’s adventures and subsequent books here.
The Musubi Man: Hawaii’s Gingerbread Man by Sandi Takayama
Takayama puts a local twist on the well-known tale of the Gingerbread Man by using one of Hawaii’s favorite snacks. This story written in Hawaiian Pidgin English is available here.