May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States (AAPI Month). Through out May, I’m going to be posting about books written by Pacific Islanders that celebrate island culture front and center. Up first:
There’s a wide range of what’s considered middle grade, with the sweet spot as a story that’s on at least a 5th grade reading level with a complex story structure centered around themes and characters that reflect the interests and lived experiences of 5th through about 9th graders. Crushes are perfect. Anger, loss, or awareness of a bigger world and the challenges it brings are also appropriate, as are wonder, joy, fear, and humor. Like kids developmentally this age, characters are often exploring away from adult safety nets, but there’s an underlying sense that while things may be different in the end, it’s going to be okay. Stories that deal with more mature themes–things that go beyond first kisses or delve into abuse–are generally considered Young Adult rather than Middle Grade.
And yes, those things happen to middle graders, too. However, most booksellers and librarians try to keep these imaginary boundaries drawn on their bookshelves, which is why Middle Grade is usually in the Children’s section and Young Adult is in the nomad-land of Teen Fiction, more commonly shelved by genre.
Without further ado, here are Pacific Islander Middle Grade titles you need to read. Click on the image to see it on Amazon.
In the story, 12 year old Kino and her mother move to Hawaii to live with her maternal grandparents in Kalihi, Oahu. With her grandfather ill and her family facing eviction from their home, Kino discovers that she has an ancient destiny to save both Hawaii and her grandfather by going back in time to 1825. There she meets the young Kamehameha III just prior to his ascension to the throne. After meeting with a kahuna at a heiau, it becomes clear that in order to return to her own time, Kino must go on a quest for four objects gathered from various parts of Oahu—and of course the young prince is going to come along.
As the adventure quest plot unfolds, Jen deftly weaves in aspects of Hawaiian culture and history. Islanders will recognize kapu customs, protocol, and Hawaiian legends such as night marchers, Pele, Kamapua‘a, sacred waterfalls, ‘aumakua, choking ghosts, and magic gourds and calabashes.
‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda peels back the bandage of what adults think adolescence is like to expose the raw, oozing strawberry of reality. I loved this book for its ability to show all the complicated rules, expectations, and entanglements of being a 12-year-old boy trying to make sense out of adult behavior. Set in ‘Ewa Beach, Hawaii in 1982, Landon DeSilva and his brother Luke know that lickins can fall from the sky like lightning, that a certain side-eye from a parent means a storm’s coming, and that sometimes no matter how long you hold your breath you can’t escape, but have to endure the wave to the end.
For Landon, things are bad at home, but not bad enough. Not enough for child protective services to swoop in and spirit Landon and Luke to a new home, not enough for the cops to do more than show up when his parents’ fights wake the neighbors, and not enough for his mother to realize her marriage is over. Throughout the novel Landon tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do when there’s really nothing he can. His parents’ troubles are deep—there’s guilt, prejudices of class and race, loss, alcohol abuse and valium popping coping mechanisms, unfulfilled expectations, and sheer dysfunction. Landon sees it all with the clarity of a twelve-year-old and his reactions and understandings are heartbreaking and true. Adult readers will read not only the story, but all the words and character motivations between the lines. It’s powerful, immediate, and like a bloody scrapped knee, painfully evocative of the transition between childhood and adulthood.
Find it on Amazon.
Other books to consider:
The Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy by Lehua Parker
ONE BOY, NO WATER
ONE SHARK, NO SWIM
ONE TRUTH, NO LIE
and upcoming Lauele Chicken Skin Story
UNDER KONA’S BED
- The caress of humidity and the weight of bushy, bushy hair.
- The way the elderly security guard’s curt aloha changes when you catch his eye and say, “Oh, ovah dere? Eh, mahalo, Uncle. I get ‘em now.”
- How his smile now reaches his eyes.
- Breathing after saltwater goes up your nose and finally clears decades of desert from your sinuses.
- The newly sharp scent of everything—plumeria, red dirt, garbage, gecko dust, keawe smoke, laundry soap, and coconut sunscreen slathered on pink skin carrying big Matsumoto’s rainbow shave ice.
- When driving along Kamehameha highway, wave as you slow just enough to let cars merge or turn in front of you because giving them two of your seconds now can literally save hours for others later.
- Quick car beeps are for howzit; long honks are from the mainland.
- Modesty and respect are mindsets and not measured in inches.
- “Where are you from?” and “Where did you go to school?” are the first steps in an intricate how-are-we-related dance.
- ‘Ohana means EVERY TIME you walk past a certain bakery, the owner chases you through the parking lot and gives you loaves of his amazing bread because you are friends with his cousin’s cousin’s friend.
- Nervous tourists constantly approach you with questions because you seem to know things like how to get places, what to order, and where bathrooms are. You have to remind yourself to switch off the Pidgin when you respond.
- It’s “locals,” not Hawaiians, unless they are kanaka maoli.
- Don’t ask cashiers and security guards where’s a good place to eat. Ask them where THEY like to eat. Kalua pork wrapped in luau leaves and cooked in an imu is a thousand times better than in an Instant Pot, crockpot, or oven. Real plate lunches have poi as a side option. Real haupia tastes like coconut, not cornstarch.
- Kids and teachers give you side eye when you first walk through the door. You can almost see the WTF thought balloons over their heads. But five minutes later they are calling you Aunty and laughing. They never ask how to pronounce Lehua or Niuhi. Their burning questions are all about ‘Ilima, the dog who obviously isn’t just a dog.
#homeagain #amwriting #HawaiiStories #OneBoyNoWater
Ten year-old Jon Nainoa walked along the edge of the sea, his slippahs flip, flip, flipping sand up the backs of his legs and sticking to the ‘okole of his swim trunks.
Jon didn’t care.
The sun was shining. His belly was full, stuffed with a bamboocha spam musubi given to him by Aunty Nora, the kind lady who lived near Hari’s convenience store. She often kept treats and snacks in the pockets of her big work apron and made like it was no big deal to hand them out to Jon whenever she saw him.
But it was a big deal.
It was the first meal Jon had eaten in two days.
The twins were younger and came first. Everyone knew that.
Walking along, Jon bopped to the song playing in his head. He often listened to music playing in ways only he could hear. He didn’t think about it much. Head-music was better than a radio whose batteries could die or some uncle or cousin’s off-key singing.
Plus head-music helped drown out all the voices he heard, voices no one else did.
It was the sound of a trombone slide, a sound that wasn’t music, not quite, but always came just before something bad happened.
His slippah broke.
Jon stopped and fished it out of the water. He inspected the damage: the post had pulled through. “Ah, man!” he said, “Now how I going walk home? Hot, you know, on the asphalt! I cannot hop all that way!”
“Grab the bread tie,” said a gravelly voice.
“What?” Jon looked around.
“The bread tie! The red one! It’s almost buried in the sand right next your other foot. Hurry!”
Jon snatched the u-shaped tie just before the white seafoam hid it forever. “Got ‘em!” he said.
“Great. Now push the post through the puka in the bottom of the shoe and slide the bread tie so it secures the post to the bottom.”
Jon fiddled a moment, then said, “Like this?” He gave the strap a tug. “Oh, I get it! It works! Wow! Mahalo…” he trailed off. “Eh, where you stay?”
Jon whirled around. “Where?”
“Down here,” said the voice.
Jon tilted his head down and stood there, mouth open and blinking hard. “Are you for real?”
“Of course. At least as real as you are.”
“But you’re a turtle,” Jon said.
“Yeah. The best folks are.”
Writing prompts: a turtle, a plastic bread tie, a trombone
This short was created on Jan. 14, 2021 for PEAU Women’s Writing Crew. More Lauele stories staring Jon to come!
Aloha, Gang! I’m heading home to Oahu for an extended stay, April through May 2021. While I’m planning on research, writing, and relaxing, I’d love to talk story with students, writing groups, bookstores, libraries, or community organizations.
Contact me at AuntyLehua@LehuaParker.com and we’ll find a time we can meet. A hui hou!
College Daughter: Mom! My anthropology professor wants to know the provenance of our poi pounder. What’s the story?
Me: (takes deep breath) Circa 2003, Waimea, Big Island, local craft fair. Composed of ceramic red clay with fake stone flocking.
Me: It’s not real. If it was, it would be 20 times heavier and in a museum. And the koa poi pounding board underneath?
Me: Acacia serving tray from Target. I bought it two years ago.
Me: Yeah. Sorry to pop that inheritance bubble.
#Didn’tyoueverpickitup? #holeinthebottom #fauxHawaiiana #Istilllikeit
When the college kids first moved back home, device chargers and cables started disappearing. I stomped around the house, ticked that I suddenly couldn’t plug in my phone or tablet while on the couch or in the kitchen or at any place I was used to.
There was much grumbling and stink-eye flying on my part and some non-committal shrugging from the rest of the adults in the house.
After a couple weeks of this, I didn’t have to look anymore. Great, I thought, people are leaving my stuff alone.
Nope. I found out this weekend that my husband has a hidden stash of chargers and cables. He’s been secretly replacing the ones that go missing before I realize they’re gone. For a YEAR. 🤣
#truelove #don’ttouchmystuff #HomeU #keepMomhappy
For a while now, my style has been best described as tropical middle-aged frump with a side of at-least-I’m-not-naked–a.k.a. old fut titah-rella with shoes. But there was a time when I wore smart business attire, cocktail dresses, and even formal wear. I’ve kept all the classic and timeless pieces in my closet, waiting for day the when I’d need them again.
Y’all, this closet is chocked full and the size of a kid’s bedroom. In the original house plan, it was an office.
But since October, I’ve lost some of my fluffy, so much that I have to get new everything. Apparently, my family thinks it’s a problem when my yoga pants fall off as I walk upstairs. This is the result of a permanent lifestyle change, not a diet. These clothes are never going to fit again.
It’s strangely hard to purge my closet. Some of it is fear–what if I need these clothes again? Then there’s the memories attached to certain things. And the freak out at the waste that I didn’t comprehend until it was Marie Kondo’d in front of me. (Still tags on this? Really?! What was I thinking?!!!)
It’s taken me days to go through it all, and I had a couple of minor panic attacks where I temporarily “rescued” a few things.
But I then I thought about the woman having the right kinds of clothes for a new job. I thought about the plus-sized teen needing something for a special dance and the grandma that would love to wear bling-y palm trees and pineapples to bingo. These gently/only once/never-worn clothes are going to be put to good use, far better than faux soothing any hoarder-anxiety.
And me? I’ll still look on-brand as a middle-aged bag lady author. I’m holding onto a bunch of hoodies, a couple of pairs of jeans that I can keep up with a new baseball belt–a truly magical invention–and a few t-shirts. They’ll be easy to find among the rows of empty hangers.
#notallgoingtofitinthecar #donations #onlypantswithbeltloopsfornow #newclothesinsummer
College Daughter comes home for the weekend and discovers a massive new dog pillow in front of the fireplace.
Writing is like deep-sea diving. You spend a lot of time preparing and planning. There’s specialized gear and uncommon knowledge to acquire, some kiddie pool practice before venturing out into the open ocean, and a lot of effort to travel to new and unexplored dive sites.
Immersed in an alien macrocosm, time’s suddenly up, and you have to leave long before you’re ready. Before transitioning to surface world, you must decompress–otherwise Very Bad Things can happen.
On even the most routine dives, there’s always something unexpected, be it creature, human, weather, or something technically challenging. When you’re not diving, you’re dreaming about it and planning the next trip.
Yeah, writing is like diving to me. Which writing analogies resonate with you?
#amwriting #divingdeep #hawaiiansinspace #timeforadivetrip