Two Youth Books Produced on Maui

I greet all the artistic materials that cross our editorial desks at MauiTime with great enthusiasm. Usually it’s CDs and nonfiction paperbacks and guides to the best golfing spots. But recently something different landed in my inbox: two independent keiki books of local authorship.

Giraffe Juice, The Magic of Making Life Wonderful, written by Mauian Marci Winters and Kauai resident JP Allen, is a story and program advocating nonviolent communication (NVC), and aims to distribute one million copies (either paper or electronic) worldwide by January 1, 2012.

It follows heroine Eva Cassidy, a “freckle-faced strawberry blonde” from Fairtown, South Carolina who loves to play the harmonica and her metallic blue guitar—a guitar that she speaks to as she might to a doll, and has named Blue Shine. One winter morning, in her father’s old barn, she discovers a magical talking giraffe nicknamed Marvel, who, through the course of the book, teaches Eva (and us) how to deal with school bullies and be a peaceful communicator.

The story then enters into the lexicon the term “Giraffe Juice,” defined as “a powerful energy that bubbles up inside of us when we know we have made life wonderful for ourselves or others.”

To help young people, parents and educators learn more, the book closes with five pages of additional resources, as well as a four-page list of words for “feelings” and “needs” pertaining to satisfaction and dissatisfaction, to expand kids’ vocabulary in expressing themselves.

With great generosity, the book’s author-duo and panel of developmental editors encourage interested readers to share the book—available in its entirety for free, in full color—by downloading it online and forwarding it to others. “Ninety percent of the sales of the physical book (at will be allocated to spreading Giraffe Language throughout the world… the remaining ten percent will be donated to the Center for Nonviolent Communication to support its social change and peace-making efforts.” They also say they make “lots of free copies of this book” available for schools and libraries.

That’s a good thing, as the paperback affords a bit of sticker shock. Before knowing their altruistic endeavors to distribute the book, seeing a slim paperback priced at $24.95 is more startling than its chaotic typeset, replete with font changes and swirling onomatopoeia.

All in all, the book latches onto a neat concept and has well-meaning sights. And if but one life in a million is made more wonderful, all its efforts are well worth it.

Johann Sebastian Humpbach is the story of the kidnapping of Johann, the sea’s most popular singing baleen, known by revelers of the scale and tentacle sort as “the Pavarotti of whales.”

Twins Keoni and Leilani are a lovable pair who live under the wing of Aunty Pua and Uncle Kalani. For their birthday, tied up in comic strips and silver string, the keiki receive snorkel gear, binoculars and two tickets aboard the Hana Hou (to enjoy Johann’s do-re-mi). The gifts inspire them to embark on an adventure, unraveling the evildoings of humpback-snatcher Dr. Vile.

Most easy to appreciate is the vocabulary. The book doesn’t assume too little of its young readers—as kids books so often do—and its colorful descriptiveness makes good use of analogy that does not, with any regularity, err toward cliché.

Author Jamie David has a knack for good dialogue that moves the story effectively—even when it includes talking animals (which when mixed with humans, more often than not makes me cringe). The fact that the plot doesn’t shy away from the fantastical is a plus. Because while I believe there is such a thing as too much pretend, I am also of the opinion that good-natured imagination is fast slipping away from our plugged-in kids nudged well beyond their years.

So here’s my call to action to those in the local kids lit market (or those seeking to enter it): The precocity of Hawaii’s diverse keiki—the bands of (ought to be) barefoot and sweaty handed mini-we who inspire such works—deserve a lot. Playful disposition and less accumulated years can easily lend to a disregard of intelligence, and what we write for our children should not reflect what we so quickly have forgotten. Assuredly it’s a difficult balance to strike, but with the lessons we wish to impart, there must also be solid synonymity with tone and theme. No one—even someone of small stature—is comfortable with being talked down to… or bored, for that matter.

Our keiki are sea sponges alive and longing to be challenged! They are complex and capable of learning by anecdote, of hard emotion and by wit. They are desirous of consuming (do it right, and their appetite is voracious) that which both keys into the appeal of vigorous whimsy and pushes their cognitive grasp so as to excite creativity and exploration of their own.

Some of my happiest childhood moments were spent in public and school libraries, on the Bookmobile and at home with my treasured shelf-full, cultivated by me and Mom. The children’s literature that impressed upon me for a lifetime was metaphorical and wild, and the imagery that colored its cover and pages (or didn’t, a la Shel Silverstein) was masterful and unique.

To the authors of these two books, thank you for being bold enough to make such exhaustive leaps into a realm with little grown-up reward (you know, fame and fortune and all that stuff). Thank you for sharing and thank you for creating with a desire to entertain and educate developing minds. I hope to see more local work in our young locals’ hands.

Giraffe Juice
Follow Your Joy Press
P.O. Box 208
Anahola, Hawaii 96703

Johann Sebastian Humpbach
Chai Yo Maui Press
P.O. Box 331
Kihei, Hawaii 96753