keep your eyes on the hands: Carla Golembe’s The Story of Hula

Tired of winter’s bleak, gray landscape? Feeling a little cooped up and color starved?

You’ve come to the right place!

We’re going to extend Hawai’i Month just a little longer here on alphabet soup. After all, it’s still cold and snowy out, and we must keep up our mantra of warm warm warm. A great way to do just that is to dance the hula — gently bend your knees, step right and left, then let your arms and hands tell a story. Once you’ve got the hang of it, roll your hips!

The best way to acquaint young readers with the history, meaning, and spirit of hula is with Carla Golembe’s,The Story of Hula (Bess Press, 2004). Carla, herself a student of hula, and lover of all things warm, tropical, and soul-nourishing, expresses her love of this Polynesian art form in this charming, informative, interactive, gorgeous picture book/CD treasure.

Open the book, and listen to a kumu hula (teacher), gather keiki (children) around her to tell them all about hula’s origins as part of an ancient oral tradition of chants partnered with dance. Learn about costumes and instruments, basic steps and arm movements, and how westerners contributed to hula’s evolution.

The best part, though, is the emphasis on the power of story, as it’s been handed down through the generations. Young readers learn that hula is a vehicle for retelling legends about gods and goddesses, such as Pele, or chants about the history and geneaology of Hawaiian royalty (ali’i), or stories about man interacting with the natural world, such as the one included in the book, about a fisherman who’s seeking the perfect place to fish.

Just as pictures illuminate and extend a story, the dance movements of hula convey not only events, but essential emotions and spiritual essence. This is described in Golembe’s lyrical prose:

Swim like honu
as you glide
through quiet waters
side by side.

Let your fingers bring down
afternoon rain,
and with the passing of the storm
your hands will tell the story
of a rainbow being born.

If you are not yet familiar with Carla Golembe’s art, you’re in for a real treat — color-drenched pictures rendered in deep, luscious jewel tones, a naive style depicting adults and children dancing, playing instruments, and celebrating the joy and beauty of their world. Tropical fishes and flowers border some of the spreads, adding visual appeal and interest.

To round things out, there’s an end note clearly outlining hula’s history, with a glossary of Hawaiian words used in the text. The included CD is perfect for younger children who might like to simply listen to the story, or for beginning readers who want to follow along with the narration. It’s also a wonderful way to hear all the Hawaiian words pronounced correctly by a native speaker.

The Story of Hula won a Hawaiian Music Award (children’s category), and was a finalist both for the Benjamin Franklin Children’s and Audiobook Award, and Foreword Magazine’s Books of the Year. It is highly recommended for any study unit on Hawaiian culture, or for anyone seeking to increase his/her appreciation for the oral and intergenerational aspects of hula.

*And don’t miss Carla’s companion book, The Story of Surfing (Bess Press, 2006), to plunge yourself into this ancient sport of kings and queens!

For more about Carla, visit her beautiful, eye-popping website!

*All interior spreads posted by permission of illustrator, copyright © 2009 Carla Golembe, published by Bess Press. All rights reserved.

21 thoughts on “keep your eyes on the hands: Carla Golembe’s The Story of Hula

  1. Just added to my Amazon list. Sounds interesting! Beautiful artwork, too. Thanks, as always, for sharing. It’s great to have someone who can help expand our usual repertoires!


  2. You probably have. She has several self illustrated titles, and she’s also done illos for other authors (like me)! Lucky for us, she’s agreed to an alphabet soup interview :). Stay tuned!


  3. Thanks so much, Susan. That may just be about the nicest comment I’ve ever received on a book review post! I never review anything I have mixed feelings about — only books I genuinely love and appreciate. You made my day!!


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