What to Read This May: 5 Hawai‘i Book Picks Recommended by Local Experts

It’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! We reached out to our friends at Da Shop: Books + Curiosities to ask their community of writers and readers for their picks of what to read this month. Here are their selections, honoring AAPI voices.


Coconut Ratz & Kung Fu Cowboys: Tales of a Pacific Islander’s Childhood

by Joakim Peter and James Skouge

Coconut Ratz & Kung Fu Cowboys is not simply a book—it is an experience. Readers are transported to Jojo Peter’s home of Ettal in the Federated States of Micronesia’s Mortlock Islands. Seen from above, the islands resemble “a flower lei draped atop a royal blue cape” and are a vibrant setting for the beginning and ending of this book.


Co-author James Skouge notes that this is a story of “resilience, self-determination, optimism and appreciation.” In each chapter, the reader is drawn into beautiful island landscapes, rich seascapes, pulsating star-filled skies and defining moments of Jojo’s childhood. Those moments include a deep bond with his grandparents who raised him, his grandfather’s loss of sight when Jojo was in fifth grade, the devastation of Typhoon Pamela, his spinal-cord injury, quadriplegia, and lengthy rehabilitation in a foreign land.


Jojo reminds us that life did not begin or end when he first departed Ettal, and that just as there was life before the onset of disability, there is life during and after as well. He made extraordinary situations appear ordinary and had a rich life that inspired this guiding principle: “I lived with an unshakable belief that I should try to be helpful to strangers, given that I myself had been the beneficiary of countless acts of generosity and kindness.” Jojo does not consider himself extraordinary. Instead, he views himself as “a typical ‘islander’ who loves and misses his homeland; gathers strength from our culture, language and history; and aspires to prepare our children and youth to adapt and thrive in this new world—as Chuukese; as Micronesians; as Pacific Islanders; and Citizens of the World.” Let this book be your canoe, carrying you into Jojo’s world, teaching life-affirming lessons from Micronesia that will make you feel like a citizen of the wider world. —Mary Therese Perez Hattori, acting director, Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center



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Calabash Stories

by Jeffrey Higa

This book is a treasure. If you grew up in Hawai‘i, the stories will sound like ones you could have heard from your own elders, but here they are crafted impeccably for maximum effect. They start out quietly simmering and kind of mythical, but by the end—with loads of excellent characters, heartbreaking moments and slapstick humor—you might find yourself laughing and crying at the same time, and wishing so hard for the older Hawai‘i depicted in the book. I didn’t know of Jeffrey Higa before, but Calabash Stories made me a big fan, and I can’t wait for whatever he writes next! —Mariko Merritt, illustrator of Alphabet Hukilau in Hawai‘i


SEE ALSO: What to Read This April: 5 Hawai‘i Poetry Book Picks Recommended by Local Experts


Balikbayan Bess Press

Photo: Bess Press



Balikbayan: A Filipino Homecoming

by Michelle Cruz Skinner

Michelle Cruz Skinner first wrote the stories in Balikbayan: A Filipino Homecoming as her undergraduate honors thesis at UH Mānoa. As a member of her honors committee, I was so impressed with the quality of her writing that Bess Press offered to publish Balikbayan as a new book some 30-plus years ago. Born and raised in the Philippines, Skinner has lived and taught in Hawai‘i for many years. She was 22 when Balikbayan was published with praise from Bienvenido Santos, Ian MacMillan and other well-known writers. Her opening story, “Faith Healer,” was selected for nationwide syndication in the Seventh Annual PEN Syndicated Fiction Project in 1988. Balikbayan offers readers complex and contradictory views of modern life in the Philippines through the poignant experience of “homecoming.” —Ann Rayson, co-owner of Bess Press and retired English professor, UH Mānoa


Midnight In Broad Daylight Harpercollins

Photo: HarperCollins



Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds

by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

Midnight in Broad Daylight is rare nonfiction that reads like a novel. Though it reveals the account of two brothers, one in Japan and one in the United States on opposite sides of the Second World War, it is more than the tale of two men and their family: It is the story of a community whose humility, sacrifice and suffering made it possible for the likes of me to write our own books with the confidence and snark of the Americans we are. Pamela Rotner Sakamoto has done such a masterful job with her exacting research and riveting narrative. I hope she writes more, about any subject at all. —Scott Kikkawa, Elliot Cades Award-winning author of Kona Winds


SEE ALSO: You Should Read These Books by Hawai‘i Authors Right Now

Ordinary Ohana Bess Press

Photo: Bess Press



Ordinary ‘Ohana

by Lee Cataluna, illustrated by Cheyne Gallarde

Ordinary ‘Ohana is told through the perspective of young Kainoa as he introduces all the members of his big, beautiful, diverse family. From his multigenerational home to his potluck-style family dinners, Kainoa’s family life feels so relatable to my own sometimes confusing, sometimes crazy, but always supportive extended ‘ohana. Reading Lee Cataluna’s narrative of a loving, local family in Ordinary ‘Ohana and seeing Cheyne Gallarde’s playful snapshots of Kainoa’s aunties, uncles, cousins, and half-siblings is like seeing my own family finally represented and celebrated. —Kristen Namba Reed, bookseller at Da Shop: Books + Curiosities



Da Shop: Books + Curiosities, our 2020 Best of HONOLULU winner for Best Place to Find Your Next Great Read, is open for browsing Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 3565 Harding Ave., (808) 421-9460, dashophnl.com@dashophnl