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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 1, 2006

Hawaiian myths attract all ages

By Jolie Jean Cotton
Special to The Advertiser

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Hawaiian mythology is the subject of a pair of colorful new books geared toward young readers and adults alike.

"AKUA HAWAI'I: HAWAIIAN GODS AND THEIR STORIES" by Kimo Armitage, illustrated by Solomon Enos; Bishop Museum Press, $16.95, all ages

"Akua Hawai'i" is a basic introduction to more than 30 Hawaiian gods. In brief, succinct writing, author Kimo Armitage explains the origins of each god, their multiple body forms, and tells simple stories of their powers and the sacred places where the gods accomplished their feats.

Fittingly, Armitage begins with a translation of "Kumulipo" by Queen Lili'uokalani, to explore Po, the nether regions. Armitage concludes the queen's poem with his own summary. "Po is the night. Po is the darkness. She is the first to come forth. Everything begins with her." A fiery mountain in watercolor reds and oranges illustrates the poem in a large double-page spread.

The 9-by-12-inch book relies heavily on Enos' dramatic art. (Enos, the son of Ka'ala Farm founder Eric Enos, has a gallery within the 'awa bar Hale Noa on Kapahulu Street.) Its oversized coffee-table style works well with the larger-than-life, dreamlike images of Hawai'i landscapes and the gods in human form.

"HAWAIIAN LEGENDS OF DREAMS" retold and illustrated by Caren Loebel-Fried; University of Hawai'i Press, $19.95, all ages

Caren Loebel-Fried's "Hawaiian Legends of Dreams" is more intimate in size. Her 60 illustrations, in striking blockprinting, often with color washes, complement but never overpower the stories. This handsome volume, printed on glossy heavyweight paper, explores the significance of dreams in Hawaiian culture.

Loebel-Fried sparely retells a series of legends in which dreams play a crucial role. Nine poignant tales are woven together with interesting bits of history. The book is broken into four parts: dreams sent by the gods, dream romances, dream prophecies and dream guidance sent by the spirits.

A great deal of effort has gone to ensuring the work is accurate. Footnotes point to discrepancies among sources when these occur. Historical notes occasionally follow a story, effectively tying the past to the present.

In Part 1, "The Hidden Spring of Punahou," Kealoha dreams of finding water in the midst of an O'ahu drought. Her husband doesn't believe Kealoha's dream until he has one of his own. Loebel-Fried relates this retelling to details about present-day Punahou School and the school's seal.

Loebel-Fried's previous book, "Hawaiian Legends of the Guardian Spirits," won the 2003 Ka Palapala Po'okela Awards for excellence in illustration and in children's Hawaiian culture.

"Akua Hawai'i" is a starting point that should create in readers a desire to learn more. "Hawaiian Legends of Dreams" evokes a feeling of reverence for the legends, the culture and history, and the attention to detail.

Both "Akua Hawai'i" and "Hawaiian Legends of Dreams" aim for a wide audience. Each book touches on themes (infidelity, death) that may not be suitable for young children. Adults will want to read each story first before sharing them.

Jolie Jean Cotton is a mom and a children's book author. Her reviews of children's books are published on the first Sunday of each month.