[review] ‘Iwalani’s Tree by Constance Hale and Kathleen Peterson

Were you a daydreamer when you were growing up? Was there a special place you frequented to be alone with your thoughts?

Told as a gentle free verse poem, ‘Iwalani’s Tree is an enchanting story about a girl from O’ahu’s North Shore who has a special bond with an ironwood tree that’s her secret friend, muse, elder, and solace.

I like to lean on a low branch of a tree
that stands way way down the beach,
toward Ka’ena,
just on the spot
where the land becomes sand.

Some people call it a paina,
some call it an ironwood.
It has fuzzy brown bark,
a trunk strong and good,
and long willowy needles
that whisper in the wind.

She goes on to explain that the tree is a kind of refuge, a place to go “when the house is too hot/or my brother is bothering me/or the neighbors are making much too much noise.” She leans against its trunk and plays beneath its branches, carrying on conversations with the tree, who never demands or judges, only listens.

In the tree’s presence, ‘Iwalani’s dreams take flight. What better place than in the cool shade, with only the “Sounds of the sea and the sand and the waves and the wind,” the tree whispering as the wind tickles its needles?

Sometimes, when there’s a brisk wind (he makani Mālua), the tree “yowls scary sounds.” Then, ‘Iwalani also hears the mongoose, owl, hawk, and wild boar. She asks the tree what it does all day and night, and the tree, who “speaks” only when the wind blows, tells ‘Iwalani she dreams — after all, she has “legs to rrrrun down the beach/and arms to rrrreach for the sea.” ‘Iwalani thinks that’s silly, but soon changes her mind.

One night there’s a big storm and ‘Iwalani wonders whether her tree will be able to withstand the harsh conditions.

Huge white waves smash onto the sand.
A howling wind tears the leaves off trees.
Lightning cracks the sky open like a coconut.

The next morning ‘Iwalani frantically races down the beach, relieved to find her tree still standing, but something has changed. So much sand has been pulled away, that the tree’s big roots are exposed. They resemble “giant knees and feet.” Having lost so much of its needles, the tree’s branches now resemble “giant elbows and fingers” stretching toward the sea.

So the tree was right all along; it really can have legs to run down the beach and arms to reach for the sea! ‘Iwalani continues to observe how the tree changes with each succeeding storm, only too pleased to while away the hours in its company, dreaming and dreaming.

Communing with nature affords ‘Iwalani many peaceful hours of introspection and a fresh appreciation of the world around her.

Hale’s soothing lyrical verse (which seamlessly incorporates a few Hawaiian words), and Peterson’s lush and evocative jewel-toned illustrations, celebrate Hawai’i’s natural beauty and the ongoing reverence locals have for ocean and shore. I like how the artist’s pastel strokes give the pictures a marvelous texture. This story is also an ode to the child’s imagination, the power of dreams, and the freedom to be oneself.

The lulling, meditative tone makes this a nice bedtime book. In a noisy, competitive world where children are sometimes over-scheduled and raised to believe bigger, faster, and flashier are better, this quiet, contemplative story offers an opportunity for parent and child to slow down and reflect.

 

The tree’s branches bend and lean
over the beach.
Her shadow makes a pool of cool,
and her fallen needles float out
like Mr. Tanaka’s great green net.

A good introduction to free verse with its sensory detail and poetic devices such as personification, imagery, rhyme, rhythm, onomatopoeia, assonance and alliteration, ‘Iwalani’s Tree also has great curriculm connections with science and geography. The author offers teaching guides for each of these disciplines at her website.

I especially enjoyed reading this story, since it transported me to my warm and friendly home state. I could just about feel those gentle trade winds caressing my cheek and hear the tree whispering in the wind:

whaaaaaah shhhhh paaaaah
whooooshh aaaaaaaaahhhh

 

Quite hypnotic; it was easy falling under this story’s magic spell. I definitely felt calmer and more centered after reading it, and recommend it to those desiring a tranquil Hawaiian story with universal themes. Back matter includes information about the ironwood, legends about the ironwood and Ka’ena Point, and a pronunciation guide for the Hawaiian words used in the text. Don’t miss this rare gem!

*

‘IWALANI’S TREE
written by Constance Hale
illustrated by Kathleen Peterson
published by BeachHouse Publishing, September 2016
Picture Book for age 4-8, 32 pp.
*Literary Classics Seal of Approval
**Study Guides for Poetry, Science and Geography available here.

*

Our fearless PF leader Mary Lee Hahn is hosting the Roundup at A Year of Reading. Drift over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Happy Weekend!


*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2016 Constance Hale, illustrations © 2016 Kathleen Peterson, published by BeachHouse. All rights reserved.

**Please Note: Some of the colors in the illustrations shown here differ from the book.

Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

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