“In Hawai’i the warm breeze often carries the sound of the ocean waves, the rustling leaves, and the rhythmic chants of the hula. It is not difficult to imagine rocking one’s child, or keiki (keh kee), to sleep to the accompaniment of this gentle cadence.” ~ Foreword, Hula Lullaby, by Erin Eitter Kono.
High quality picture books about Hawai’i always get my immediate attention because they are so few and far between. This one just happens to be beautifully produced and culturally authentic, making it even rarer and cause for unabashed adulation.
Hula Lullaby is pitch perfect — from the title page, awash in deep, Prussian blue and graced by red anthuriums, to the Foreword spread, set against the red-orange sky of a Hawaiian sunset, to the simple, soothing, repetitive rhyme of the lullaby itself, as it enfolds the reader in its warm, tropical spell:
Come little keiki
Crawl into my lap
Listen to the ipu
thump tap thump-a-tap.
See the fire’s glow
Toss its golden light
Watch the dancers sway
Against the starry night.
There is a wonderful feeling of completeness here, a reverence for and connection to the natural world, which is underscored by a prevalence of round/circular images — mother’s arms caressing her child, hula skirts, lei, waves, moon, flowers. The lilting chant is accompanied by instruments made from natural materials — a pahu, or drum made from a hollowed tree, an ipu heke, made from two gourds, and the pu’ili, bamboo rattles.
The reference to sky, mountain, land, and sea reminds me of a well-known chant by Hawaiian translator, ethnographer, and composer, Mary Kawena Pukui, entitled, “Behold,” which is often taught to grade school children.
all birds in air
all earth’s flowers
all forest trees
all ocean fish
sing out and say
again the refrain
Behold this lovely world.
In Erin Eitter Kono’s entrancing book, the whole world partakes in this nighttime symphony.
The primitive acrylic and pencil illustrations are rendered in lush jewel tones, remniscent of Tahitian paintings by Gauguin. The movement of the dancers, the rolling and crashing of the sea waves, and the drift of warm breezes, all perfectly complement the pacing of the text, as the mother rocks, rocks, her baby to sleep. I love the sensual detail, too — smell of the sea, fragrance of flowers, sounds both natural and manmade, which further envelops the reader in its comforting embrace.
Hula Lullaby received the Excellence in a Picture Book Award from the Children’s Literature Council, and was named Best Lullaby and Goodnight Book by Nick, Jr. Magazine. Because of the traditional hula instruments (explained briefly in the Foreword), various Hawaiian flora and fauna, and its lyric beauty, this book, aside from being a lovely bedtime story, is an excellent resource for general Hawaiian study.
*As a special treat, Erin has agreed to share one of her favorite recipes, Chocolate Truffles! She says it’s not Hawaiian, but “really really good.” Since it calls for Belgian chocolate, I need no convincing. Now, this is what I call the perfect way to sweeten the new year!
from Erin Eitter Kono
1/2 lb. bitter sweet chocolate (preferably Belgian)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (preferably Irish)
Melt chocolate and butter over simmering water. Refrigerate until firm. Scoop 1/2 inch balls and roll in hands until round, drop into crushed almonds and roll until coated. Try not to eat all in one sitting. Can also substitute almonds with other nuts, or cocoa.
For more about Mary Kawena Pukui, see my Poetry Friday post here.
And be sure to check in with Anastasia Suen’s Picture Book of the Day for today’s Roundup!
**Interior spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2005 Erin Eitter Kono, published by Little, Brown. All rights reserved.