I’m working on an introduction to short story I wrote that’s going to be in an anthology of retold fairy and other traditional tales published by University of Hawaii. My into is waaaaaay overdue. I’m working on the fourth completely new version–I didn’t like my previous attempts. Hoping fourth time’s the charm.
But as I’ve been thinking about fairy tales and what makes a story Hawaiian vs Islander vs Malihini vs Outsider, I remembered the first time I heard a western fairy tale told through an islander lens. It was a record called Pidgin English Children’s Stories. I heard it in the “listening center” at Kahului or maybe Kihei elementary school, a corner of a large classroom that had a record player and a couple of big can headphones that connected into the player with giant phone jacks. The headphones were so big–or our heads were so small–we had to hold them onto our heads with both hands. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the dusty wood smell of the cabinet where the records were kept and even feel the wobbly cardboard cover. We had two records in our listening center–this one and “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones. Not kidding. Life really is weirder than fiction.
It’s also true that everything is on the internet. Originally recorded in 1961, I found one of the stories from the album–Cinderella–on YouTube. Listening to it again, here’s a lot I didn’t understand as a kid. But maybe the best stories are that way–they grow with us. If you’re interested, here’s the link. And now to get back to that intro I’m writing! (Sorry! It’s coming today, promise!)
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
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!
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
PEAU Women’s Writing Crew
January 7, 2021
Prompt: A New Year’s resolution, a pacifier, fireworks
about 300 words
by Lehua Parker
It was exactly the kind of thing Liz hated doing.
And guaranteed to make a much bigger mess before it was over. Her mother used to say cleaning closets was a lot like eating an artichoke—to get to the heart, you had to unpeel layers that were never going to ever fit together again.
But it was late November and her New Year’s resolution to organize—get rid of—all the boys’ old baby stuff boxed in the top her closet couldn’t be pushed to next year.
Standing on her tippy-toes, the first box teetered before tumbling over, showering her with bits of desiccated spider and gecko droppings.
“No, no, no!” she shrieked, shuddering as she dropped it. “Ugh! I did not sign up for this! This crap had better not be in my hair!”
She bent forward, shaking her head and running her fingers through her hair. When she was confident that nothing ugi was crawling along her scalp, she whipped her hair into a titah bun and sighed. “Just do it, Liz,” she said. “When you’re done, you can reward yourself with the last of the butter mochi before the kids get home from school.”
The first thing she saw when she opened the box was a long red string of stale firecrackers. She laughed. Paul must’ve confiscated them from Jay a couple of years ago. The burns on the ceiling and cement floor of the carport were still there. Fortunately, back then all Jay could get his hands on were firecrackers. Heaven only knew what he would do with grownup fireworks.
The next thing she pulled out made her pause: a pacifier without a nipple. Zader, she thought. Even as a baby he destroyed everything he chewed.
The Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah (PEAU) Women’s Writing Crew meets online Thursdays at 8 pm MST. Here’s a link to all the latest info: https://pik2ar.org/peaulit/ All women writers are welcome, particularly those writing from a Pacific Islander perspective. Each week there are suggested writing prompts, group critique, and a craft discussion. After each workshop, I’ll post my example on my website. Most of the time, they’ll be little snapshots about characters from the Lauele Universe, including the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy, Lauele Chicken Skin Stories, Lauele Fractured Folktales, and more.
PEAU Women’s Writing Crew
December 9, 2020
Prompt: pig, string or rope, bicycle
about 500 words
‘Alika and Arnold
by Lehua Parker
Tuna burst through ‘Alika’s bedroom door.
‘Alika’s punch landed solidly in her gut. “How many times I wen tell you no come—”
Tuna bent over, one arm on her stomach, the other braced against the door jam. “Banana leaves,” she wheezed. “Big bunches of ti leaves. Chicken wire.”
‘Alika stood there, mouth open and catching flies. “What? What you said?”
“Try look!” Tuna said, pointing toward the window.
Through the jalousies ‘Alika could see Uncle Butchie and Uncle Kawika rummaging in the back corner of Tutu’s lot.
“This pig more small than last year’s,” Uncle Butchie said. “At least we no need dig the imu deeper.”
“Yeah,” said Uncle Kawika. “Not too much rubbish to clear, either.”
Uncle Butchie jammed his shovel in the loose dirt. “You saw the banana stalks and ti leaves Myrna wen bring?”
“Yeah, get plenny. Eh, when you like do ‘em?” Uncle Butchie asked, tilting his head toward the pig pen.
“Bumbai,” Uncle Kawika said. “When ‘Alika-dem stay school. I no like him getting all ulukū.”
“Arnold,” ‘Alika breathed. He shoved Tuna aside and raced out of the room.
“Wait!” Tuna puffed. “Arnold’s not in the pen!”
Halfway down the hall, ‘Alika screeched to a halt. “Where?”
“I left him by the Nakamura’s side fence tied to the big coconut tree.”
‘Alika nodded and turned toward the front door. He gave Tuna one last look as she tried to stand up straight. “Eh, sorry, yeah?” he said as he slipped outside. “But I did tell you fo’ knock first.”
When ‘Alika rounded the corner by the Nakamura’s fence, all he saw was Tuna’s bike leaning against a coconut tree. “Arnold?” he whispered.
Creeping closer, he spotted some jute twine wrapped around the coconut trunk and disappearing into the hibiscus hedge. “Fo’real, Tunazilla?” he muttered. “This string wouldn’t hold a mongoose. Arnold better still be here or I’ll whop yo’ jaw fo’real.”
He ran his fingers along the string and crawled under the hedge to discover a big pig dozing in the shade.
Startled, the pig grunted and jumped. Seeing ‘Alika, his curly tail whirled like a hula hoop, and he made happy pig snuffle noises as he ran to him.
“Shhhhhhh,” said ‘Alika as he scratched behind Arnold’s ears. “It’s good to see you, too, buddy. But we’ve got to get out of here.” With one quick tug, ‘Alika snapped the string from the coconut tree and wrapped it around his hand.
What to do? Where to go?
‘Alika’s eyes landed on Tuna’s bike.
But it’s a girls’ bike, he thought. No way.
From the house Tutu’s voice called, “‘Alika! Your breakfast is getting cold. You better hurry or you going miss the bus!”
“Screw it,” ‘Alika said. “Sometimes you just gotta hele. C’mon, Arnold.”
‘Alika threw his leg over the bike seat and pedaled away, Arnold following like they’d done this a million times.
The Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah (PEAU) Women’s Writing Crew meets online Thursdays at 8 pm MST. (I’ll post links and more info soon!) All women writers are welcome, particularly those writing from a Pacific Islander perspective. Each week there are suggested writing prompts, group critique, and a craft discussion. After each workshop, I’ll post my example on my website. Most of the time, they’ll be little snapshots about characters from the Lauele Universe, including the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy, Lauele Chicken Skin Stories, Lauele Fractured Folktales, and more.
In mid-June, I gave a three day workshop at University of Hawaii, Manoa, via Zoom about how to take traditional stories—Western fairy tales, Hawaiian mo’oleleo, Asian folktales, whatever—and turn them into something new.
We spent some time talking about simple vs. complex story structures, inner and outer character arcs, and how so many traditional stories are missing key story beats that western audiences expect because traditional stories were created for entirely different purposes.
One of my examples was Snow White, for the selfish reason that I was getting ready to write another novella for Tork Media as part of their Fractured Fairy Tales serials. It was due in completed form by mid-July. By mid-May, I’d done the research and had already pitched a couple ideas to my editor. I had a rough outline for my novella—as much of an outline as a pantster ever does—but I thought hearing a story pitch might be helpful for participants and lead into discussions about how publishers’, editors’, and agents’ ideas can shape a book, and how important it was to meet the audience’s expectations.
I also wanted participants to be fearless in giving and getting critique, so I set myself up as the first victim, pitching two different Snow White stories.
I knew the first example I gave wasn’t an appropriate Snow White story for Tork Media’s target audience. It featured drugs, mental illness, dysfunctional family dynamics, and a main character that wasn’t Disney warm and fuzzy. Once the gang realized I was serious about critique, they had no trouble telling me that.
Whew, I thought. They got it.
The second story I pitched was much closer to Snow White. It involved a young hula dancer named Hua (Snow White), a jealous older dancer, Nini (Wicked Witch), a phony hula ratings app (Mirror), Menehune that helped the young dancer (Dwarfs), a toady male dancer named Renten (the Huntsman), and diabolical sabotages at a high school hula competition where Hua could be crowned with a majorly made-up hula title as the greatest and youngest ever—and the reason Nini was jealous.
This one wasn’t as deep as the drug story, but it better fit the target audience. I was about to turn the pitching session to their stories when somebody said, “I don’t like Hua. I think this should be Lilinoe’s story. We don’t hear much about her in the Niuhi Shark Saga. She disappears, and that’s too bad.”
What they didn’t know was book three of the Niuhi Shark Saga was supposed to be One Dance, No Drum. It was supposed to be Lilinoe’s story, and in many ways, it was supposed to parallel Zader’s. It was a hula story, too, fame vs. love of the dance, and it was how Lili reconnected with her biological mother’s family—they’d come to see her while she was preparing and competing for Miss Aloha Hula at Merrie Monarch. The seeds for this story are all through the Niuhi Shark Saga, particularly early editions before the books got cut from five to three.
Okay. If this is now Lilinoe as Snow White, that makes this Snow White story much higher stakes and a lot more interesting for me to write. But it can’t be Merrie Monarch; Lili’s too young.
Loooong story short, I fell into a deep hole full of research about hula lore and protocols. I started thinking about where this story fit into the Lauele timeline and realized dance, poetry, and music would be the way Lili would deal with her grief and anger over Zader’s death and Jay’s loss of his leg.
Lili’d be torn between wanting to be the dutiful daughter and listening to her newly discovered mother (who’d keep butting in because to her it’s all about winning), listening to Liz (her adopted mother/bio-aunt) and others with more traditional hula views, and Lili’s own heart’s desire to dance as catharsis. Liz would also have a few choice things to say (and do!) about Nancy suddenly wanting to be the mother.
And what would Lilinoe dance? Not something typical. Of course! She and her kumu hula would create new hula—‘auana and kahiko—plus mele and oli centered in Lauele that expressed herself.
Wait. NEW hula, mele, and oli?!!! All about Lauele, Zader, Jay, and ‘ohana? That worked on at least two kaona levels? I think I’m giving myself a heart attack.
We are now so far from Snow White, there’s no going back.
There’s also no time. If I have to write poetry and beg someone to translate at least part of it into proper Hawaiian, there’s no way I’m hitting a mid-July completion for publication date.
This isn’t novella length, either. It feels novel-ish.
But sometimes the muse rides hell for leather. Like an ocean wave, you have to go with the flow. This story is not going to be Snow White. It’s not going to be One Dance, No Drum, either. Guess I need to sit my pants in my chair and let the words flow.
I’m going to be as surprised as anyone to see Lilinoe’s story unfold.
But, really, telling your own story beats reworking a traditional story any day.
Under the Bed was the first story I wrote when I was thinking about writing fiction again. Back in 2009, my sister Soozy challenged me to enter a local newspaper’s Halloween short story contest. She said write something that’s true, but nobody believes. Called Sniff, it was about a mainland boy who has something under his bed, a something with an overdeveloped sense of smell that likes sweet things and hates stinky things. It was for an adult audience, and the underlying theme was about how busy parents miss important things going on with their kids, and if they aren’t careful, Bad Things Happen.
Sniff won a nice steak dinner for me and my husband and reminded me that I like telling stories. It led to me reaching out to the local writing community and eventually writing and publishing fiction again.
Over the years, I’ve dusted this story off and rewritten it multiple times, changing the location to Hawaii and adding more story. I even submitted a version to Bamboo Ridge a couple of years ago, but no dice.
Last June, I found it again. I had the idea to write some island-style books for kids 9-14 or so, quick reads that had elements of Hawaiian-kine ghost stories and adventures similar to Goosebumps, but with more bite. I figured I’d call the series Lauele Chicken Skin Stories and set them in my imaginary area of ‘Oahu called Lauele. I had a bunch of scary stories that I’d written and published years ago and now had the publishing rights back. In my head, it wouldn’t be too hard to create new versions of these stories and roll them out pretty quickly.
The first one was going to be Under the Bed. It has a great cover. It should have gone to print in early September and been in readers’ hands by now, just in time for Halloween.
I have an editor I work with. He’s a genius who knows more about story structure than most editors twice his age. And he really hated Under the Bed. He wasn’t shy about telling me why. He said the ending sucked, that I broke the promises I made with the reader in the beginning and the payoff isn’t there. He said it also hit all his hot buttons—a kid neglected by his parents who dies in the end. The more I explained, the more he just rolled his eyes and said, “Who is your audience?”
To prove him wrong, I sent it out to a few beta readers. They really liked it. Then I gave it away in ebook form at different conventions and tracked follow-on sales and comments.
There were no sales that went from Under the Bed to any of my other works that I could track.
Bummahs to the max.
Stupid genius editor was right. The story doesn’t work. I took off my author’s hat and put on my own editor’s hat and started reworking the story, trying to figure out what was missing.
Halting publication of Under the Bed derailed my entire schedule for the rest of the year, but it had to be done. If your first impression sucks, no way a reader is going to pick up any other book in your series.
I was stewing about what to do when I attended Utah Valley University’s Book Academy last week. I’d given a presentation about establishing resonance with your audience through the story’s setting and then hung around for some of the other presentations. Lisa Mangum, a powerhouse of an editor and conference speaker, gave a presentation, Endings That Don’t Suck.
A light bulb went off.
The people who liked Under the Bed were all adults. They were also probably more excited about the Pidgin and other local aspects than the actual story.
But the new intended target was kids, and they were going to hate it. Kona needs to be the hero, not the victim. Kids already know that adults are clueless. They need to see a kid overcome adversity—and win. I needed to completely gut the story and start over. The only things that could stay were the monster under the bed and the desire Kona has to protect his family.
I don’t know when this work is going to be ready for publication. I have to leave Under the Bed for a while to write other works under contract.
But never fear, Constant Reader. New works are coming. In addition to the Lauele Chicken Skin Stories, I have three reimagined Western fairy tales that are almost ready to publish under Lauele Fractured Folktales. And audio books of the Niuhi Shark Saga are in the works, too.
It’s just taking a lot longer than I planned.
But I think you’ll find the wait was worth it.
I’m so excited to add these books to my collection. They are the same book with two different covers in two different languages: Hawaiian and English.
Published by Awaiaulu Press, the English edition is The Epic Tale of Hi’iakaikapoliopele as told by Ho’oulumahienhie and translated by M. Puakea Nagelmeien. The Hawaiian edition is Ka Mo’olelo o Hi’iakaikapoliopele.
This ancient saga details the quest of Pele’s younger sister, Hi’iakaikapoliopele, to find the handsome Lohi’auipo and bring him back to their crater home. Graced with a magical skirt and wielding supernatural powers, Hi’iaka and her companions make their way through dangers and ordeals, facing spectral foes and worldly wiles. It is a very human account of love and lust, jealousy and justice, peopled with deities, demons, chiefs and commoners. It highlights Hi’iaka’s role as a healer, source of inspiration, and icon of the hula traditions that embody the chants and dances of Pele and Hi’iaka. At over 500 pages, this is the most extensive form of the story every documented, offering a wealth of detail and insights about the social and religious practices, poetry and hula, the healing arts, and many other Hawaiian customs.
Did I mention the illustrations? Fabulous.
One day I hope to be able to flip easily between the two, but that day is a looooong way off.
In my office are shelves full of books I cannot read yet. I buy them because I think it’s important to support native language books. If we believe that language and is life and that written words connect generations, then we need to support these kinds of efforts in ways beyond good thoughts and well-wishes.
You want more diverse books, characters, films, music, art? Then support the arts in all forms. Go to local plays, concerts, art shows, books signings, film festivals, and kokua as you can. Simply leaving a positive review or spreading the word does more good than people realize.
The world’s a better place with many voices telling their stories. Let’s amplify and pass the mic.
He’s not wrong.
In this short treatise derived from his real world experiences in mastering and teaching English in Hawaii, Lee Tonouchi—Da Pidgin Guerrilla—demonstrates that not only Pidgin speakers CAN, they CAN with eloquence, intellectual rigor, and knuckles bruised in schoolyard scraps, call out the biases endemic in anti-Pidgin rhetoric and the cultural erasure politics of the myth of Standard English.
But da buggah wen tell ‘em more bettah in Pidgin, yeah? More easy for unnastand without all da haolified words and phrases.
Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture by Lee A. Tonouchi and published by Tinfish Press is a scholarly dive into what makes a language, who are its guardians and keepers, and how language is identity. Don’t let the size of this book fool you—the thoughts and ideas run wide and deep in this collection of talks and concrete poems.
Like Lee, I learned early on that Pidgin speakers were more defined by perceptions of what they couldn’t do than the realities of what was possible. I’m passionate about islanders telling their own stories in their own words. And as any Hawaiian islander will tell you, when it comes from the heart, it’s in Pidgin.
Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture by Lee A. Tonouchi is available in paperback from Amazon.