UH alumni still reach young readers despite competition from videogames, computers and TV
In a world where kindergarteners can pop their favorite game CD into the computer, will kids do something as low-tech as read a book? University of Hawaiʻi English Professor Steven Curry feels that books are still well-liked.
"A good story is still popular. Children haven’t closed themselves off," he says. Books also provide children with a comfort zone. "When children read ʻonce upon a time’ they move into a safe place which they know will end with ʻhappily ever after.’"
Curry sees an emerging trend in literature; children’s books are now a major industry. A lot of money is being pumped into the market with emphasis on sales—everyone is looking for Harry Potter success. The resulting landslide of books produces a larger selection to choose from but also puts more "junk" books on the shelves.
Curry insists there is still good storytelling going on, however. In his UH Mānoa children’s literature class, The Whale Rider has replaced a long-standing favorite on his reading list, Island of the Blue Dolphin.
It’s not easy
What is the key to capturing and holding a young reader’s attention? David del Rocco (MLIS ’90 Mānoa), a librarian at the Hawaiʻi State Library, explains that a good book has to have that right combination of good text and good illustrations.
This is not as easy as it sounds, he says. "I’ve read good stories where the illustrations are bad and the other away around." Books also have to be at a level kids understand. "You can’t talk down to them," del Rocco adds.
Take something and make it new so that you are seeing it for the first time. That’s Curry’s tip to coming up with compelling stories. He also feels that the writing should have a freshness of language.
Several UH alums are applying their own secrets in trying to get kids to read.
Words are important
Author Kevin Sullivan (BBA ʻ88 Mānoa) is blown away at the level at which children are reading. His 7-year-old daughter Reika has just finished the Magic Tree House’s High Tide in Hawaiʻi by Mary Pope Osborne. "I don’t think I was reading at that level when I was that age. Kids are growing up so much faster," he says.
Sullivan and Deb Aoki (BFA ʻ89 Mānoa) collaborated on The Best Hawaiian Style Mother Goose Ever! and Auntie Lulu’s Zoo. Sullivan taps into children’s love of songs and rhymes. A marketing and finance major, he always had a fascination with products, and he combined that with his desire to create a book that was both educational and entertaining. He enjoys seeing the cogs turn in young minds.
Auntie Lulu’s Zoo’s appeal extends beyond Hawaiʻi. Sullivan says children at book readings in California love Hawaiian words and enjoy sounding them out. After all, Auntie Lulu not only has 5 honu but 7 humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.
For Lisa Matsumoto (BA ʻ87, MFA ʻ92 Mānoa) and cousin Michael Furuya, writing books was an elementary school dream. "It was incredibly rewarding when we published our first book together, How the B-52 Cockroach Leaned to Fly," she says. They followed with Beyond ʻŌhiʻa Valley and The Adventures of Gary and Harry.
Characters are key
Good books need memorable characters that readers can identify with, says Matsumoto. "You also have to write a story you are interested in and can be excited about. This lends itself to the most inspired and honest writing."
Matsumoto weaves captivating storytelling with important lessons—protecting the environment and that everyone can make a difference. "The story comes first, and, hopefully, the story will present the messages in a way that is well received by the reader," she says.
Her B-52 cockroach has flown out of the pages and onto the stage—How Da B-52 Cockroach Learned to Fly will be featured at UH Mānoa’s Kennedy Theatre this fall.
Drawings matter too
Artist Roxie Munro (BFA ’69 Mānoa) has published more than 20 books. She favors rich detail in her illustrations. As a child she quickly became bored with simple book drawings.
Look closely at the Chatham Library illustration in Munro’s The Inside–Outside Book of Libraries; some books covers are in Chinese. "The Chantham Library is near New York’s Chinatown and those were actual books that were out on the shelves," she says.
Munro has gotten great feedback about her approach. "At one of my readings a boy came up and asked me about the Flatiron Building in The Inside–Outside Book of New York. I thought he meant the close-up drawing I did but he actually picked it out from a cityscape that was in the book."
Good illustrations, like good stories, come from good research, says Scott Goto (BEd ’92 Mānoa). "You don’t have to visit a place to make it real." While doing research for Heat Wave, a story set in Kansas, Goto went to the library, looked online and even listened to music.
"Research lends credibility to the illustrations and helps you understand the subject," he says. He believes the job of the art in a book goes beyond looking beautiful. It has to support the story. "The pictures and words have to work together," he says.
The island influence has found its way into their books in obvious and subtle ways. Goto’s Wordsworth the Poet is set in Hawaiʻi. In his The Great Pancake Escape, you’ll see Honolulu’s The Bus with a local driver heading to Kalihi. Kapiʻolani Community College’s library made its way into Munro’s The Inside–Outside Book of Libraries.
So with the right combination of story and illustration, UH alums are cultivating readers.
The experts’ favorite books
- Steven Curry, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
- David del Rocco, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
- Scott Goto, Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
- Lisa Matsumoto, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
- Roxie Munro, Andersen's Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Szyk
- Kevin Sullivan, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Brent Castro, 2, My First Truck Book by Constance Robinson
- Kaila Oshiro, 3, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
- Teiya-Ann Crisostomo, 5, Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
- Shawn Kim, 5, Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
- Reid Womack, 5, Falling Up by Shel Silverstein
- Bethany Castro, 6, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Ethan Leong, 8, origami books
- Shannon Kim, 9, Wayside School is Falling Down Louis Sachar
- Christopher Hakoda, 12, Pendragon: The Merchant of Death by D. J. MacHale