I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest some children’s books, since Moana offers a prime opportunity to introduce Polynesian culture to young kids. BeachHouse Publishing, based in Honolulu, specializes in children’s books about Hawai‘i and Hawaiian culture. BeachHouse recently published my own book, ‘Iwalani’s Tree, and has just started a series of board books introducing toddlers to some of Hawai’i’s most well-known legends—Māui the demigod, Pele the goddess of volcanoes, Hina the goddess of the moon, and the legend of Naupaka. Other BeachHouse titles to consider include The Sleeping Giant by Edna Cabcabin Moran, a tale about a legend from Kaua‘i, and The Shark Man of Hana by U‘i Goldsberry, a retelling of a traditional story. Bess Press is another Hawai‘i-based publisher. Bess is a family-owned company whose mission is to introduce Hawaiian concepts to kids. Along with bilingual picture books like No Ka Wai o Ka Puna Hou / The Water of Puna Hou and No Ke Kumu ʻUlu / The ʻUlu Tree, both by Kawehi Avelino, they publish a series of Hawai‘i-themed coloring books.
Go to Native Hawaiian sources when possible—or at least to authors who read the Hawaiian language. As a linguistic resurgence takes hold in the islands, our understanding of Hawai‘i is radically changing. With luck, many more books will be written by novelists, scholars, journalists, and fine storytellers who can incorporate primary sources such as 19th-century Hawaiian-language newspapers and the amazing corpus of chants that have survived the battering of the past two centuries.
The go-to store for all of these books is Nā Mea Hawai‘i in Honolulu and online. The name of the store means “things of Hawai‘i,” and in this case the things include scholarly books, trade books, island crafts (from shell necklaces to wooden boxes to handmade soaps). There is also a selection of very non-touristy clothing, for those with an allergy to a place like Hilo Hattie’s. (The store is run by a long-time friend of mine, Maile Meyer. After Stanford and USC (where she got an MBA), Meyer returned to Hawaii curious about combining commerce and culture. Her staff can point you in the direction of exactly the right “Hawaiian thing,” book or otherwise.