5 Great Local Books to Give This Christmas

Give local tidings and joy while supporting Hawai‘i writers, publishers and bookstores—and your friends’ and family’s reading habit.
Christmas Books


Christmas in Hawaii

by Chris Cook


Did you know that Christmas was once banned in Hawai‘i—by Christians? The holiday started off strong in 1786, with Kaua‘i ali‘i Ka‘iana presenting a canoe filled with hogs, taro and sweet potatoes to British sea captains Nathaniel Portlock and George Dixon. (History is mute on what the Hawaiians received in return—we hope not coal, but perhaps an iron tool or two, like those that TV dads request from Home Depot.) But the 1820 arrival of the Calvinist missionaries soon led to an outright ban on festivities to go with similar edicts against hula, surfing, the Hawaiian religion and chants, and even Catholicism, whose leaders and followers were subjected to brutal treatment at Hiram Bingham’s instigation.


Yule fun didn’t publicly surface until 1853, when a kingdom declaration freed Hawai‘i from the Calvinist mission monopoly.


This is just one of many little-known (or never relayed in a Christmas context) details in Chris Cook’s colorful, celebratory, photo-filled Christmas in Hawai‘i. Cook strikes just the right balance between choice historical facts and a lavish visual feast that includes Honolulu City Lights, local-style homespun décor and front yard displays (including a section on Surfing Santas), boat parades, military celebrations, fun runs and, of course, plenty about our Island aloha in charitable action. Cook is the author of the praised The Providential Life & Heritage of Henry Obookiah and former editor of The Garden Isle Newspaper. (Several of the photographers are HONOLULU contributors.)


This one’s for the whole family—and a great gift to other ‘ohana.  


$19.95, Mutual Publishing, mutualpublishing.com. Bookstore is open for the holidays from weekdays, 9 a.m.-4:30 pm. and Christmas Eve until noon at 1215 Center St., Ste. 210, in Kaimukī. Also available at Costco locations.


SEE ALSO: 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime


Hawai‘i’s White Tern: Manu-o-Kū, an Urban Seabird

by Susan Scott


Although we can’t realistically dream of a white Christmas unless high atop Mauna Kea, on O‘ahu we do have a pretty good snowflake substitute, as Susan Scott points out in Hawai‘i’s White Tern: Manu-o-Kū, an Urban Seabird. If these curious beauties have caught your eye, it’s because they actually have been breeding here since a pair laid a single egg near Hanauma Bay in 1961. Otherwise they frequent desert atolls and islands without predators such as rats, cats, dogs and mongooses. Scott, whose Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has been an institution since 1987, is an old hand at making a science and ecology story irresistible. You’ll love the photos taken by tern lovers, some who’ve had the privilege of watching a tern couple hatch a single egg sitting on a window ledge without the benefit of a nest.


Though written for adults, this is a good buy for the keiki; chances are it’s who you’ll be reading it to Christmas morn. $16.99, A Latitude 20 Book, University of Hawaii Press, uhpress.hawaii.edu


Bamboo Ridge No. 113


Hot on the heels of having seven books named to HONOLULU’s 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books list, here comes Bamboo Ridge’s 40th anniversary issue. This is NO. 113 and a triumph of selection for the editors this time around, Gail N. Harada and Lisa Linn Kanae. There’s also a welcome portfolio by contributing artist Noe Tanigawa that will have to do until she gets a proper retrospective—seeing so many of her pieces in one place was revelatory. The Q&A with Harada gives us a peek into one of our most creative and productive Island minds.


A highlight is the opening trio of poems by Derek Otsuji, who’s has been on local literati radar since his publications began appearing in prestigious national journals such as Threepenny Review, Poet Lore, The Missouri Review, Salamander, Sycamore Review and others. (Myself, I was tipped to his work when buying purslane from his father, Ed, beloved KCC Farmers Market owner of Otsuji Farms.)


Readers familiar with past BR issues ought to be more than satisfied to see such a strong collection coming from a press dedicated to local writing. But just as heartening, in addition to work from familiar local contributors, is Harada and Kanae’s inclusion of new voices (to me) such as Nicholas Becher, a 2013 HPU grad who’s currently a Writing Fellow at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His refracted, time-jumbled “Rainbow Eucalyptus or The Woman Giving Birth Standing Up,” is set in Florida—and is a work so wildly adventurous, and yet dead-on disciplined in structure, tone and language, that it cleaned our clock, so to speak. Everything read better after that. 


$20, Bamboo Ridge, bambooridge.com. Online orders placed by Saturday and shipped in-state by Priority Mail may make it in time for Christmas.


Tadaima! I Am Home

by Tom Coffman


It’s always a gift to get a new book from Island political writer, author and documentarian Tom Coffman, and Tadaima! I Am Home is both highly readable and timely. The story traces five generations of a family whose immigration from Hiroshima to Honolulu never quite took, the result resembling a game of immigrant hopscotch—except, of course, that it’s no game when the family in question, the Miwas, had to navigate political unrest, crop failure, financial disaster, the Asian Exclusion Act, World War II, internment and then repatriation to wartime Japan in a prisoner exchange, which put some of them right in the path of the dropping of the first atomic bomb.


Coffman’s telling is well-researched and the historical details are handled accurately and deftly, as might be expected from the author of Catch a Wave: A Case Study of Hawaiʻis New Politics, How Hawai‘i Changed America, Nation Within: The Story of Americas Annexation of the Nation of Hawai‘i and others. But his personal involvement in Tadaima! I Am Home really sets this one apart, giving the story a double pulse: He dropped everything and booked himself to Japan as soon as Honolulu descendent Stephen Miwa broached the idea. Tracing the family stories to their factual roots, he unearths the complex combination of history and chance that led to the terse comment that troubled Stephen Miwa and started his search: “The Miwas are unlucky.”


Tadaima! I Am Home is subtitled A Transnational Family History, placing it in a new genre that deals with intersectional issues—and members of society whose lives are buffeted by mainstream culture’s ignorance or rejection of them. We know many of the stories of those who stayed in Hawai‘i, California and the Mainland. Coffman’s book joins those making room for families like the Miwas, split up and separated, brought up in the “wrong” country at the wrong time, always at the mercy of governments, prejudice, refugee crises and world war. 


$45 hardcover, 17.99 paper, University of Hawaii Press, uhpress.hawaii.edu


Island Memoirs: The Days of Our Youth


One of the joys of a greatest hits album—in this season full of them, as gifts and as playlists—is the sense of effortlessly riding from one pillowy high to another, just like a sleigh being pulled by reindeer (or that 120 horsepower pony under your hood). And that’s the pleasure of Island Memoirs: The Days of Our Youth, a compilation of previously published excerpts by Island personalities. Beginning with the classic, “Eh, You Tink You Haole?” by the inestimable Frances Kakugawa, the talk story session tumbles merrily along with contributions ranging from Sam King to Dick Tomey to Don Ho to Tom Moffatt to Henry Nalaielua to Yasushi Kurisu and more.


This one is guaranteed to spark your own family memories—and help explain to the younger generation what’s going on with the helpless laughter of the kūpuna on the living room sofa.


As a labor of love and one that celebrates younger and better days, it’s fitting that the publisher and authors all donated their profits and royalties to the aio foundation, a nonprofit that develops empowerment programs for Hawai‘i’s youth, such as the Kahauiki Village affordable housing community for homeless families. 

$24.95, Watermark Publishing, bookshawaii.net. Also available at Na Mea Hawai‘i, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd. and Barnes & Noble at Ala Moana Center.