"Review by James Rumford The Honolulu Advertiser September 5 2004
Alphabet books - the A is for apple B is for ball kind - are the oldest form of picture books for children. They probably had their day in ancient Iraq as cuneiforms on clay tablets or in Egypt as hieroglyphics on papyrus. Todays alphabet books come in every conceivable form: plain picture books tactile books pop-up books and on every conceivable subject: dinosaurs flowers and pigs.
Alphabet books are highly collectable. Yearly publishers call on the best artists in the nation to come up with exquisitely designed books that are sure to attract as many collectors as possible.
This year some truly wonderful alphabet books have come from Hawaii's own Bess Press distributors of a series of alphabet books written by Dr. Lori Phillips published by Pacific Resources for Education and Learning and funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
These slim colorful volumes - nine in all - make a beautiful rainbow across my bookshelf. Each one treats a different language of the Pacific: English Hawaiian Marshallese Kosraean Samoan Carolinian Chamorro Pohnpeian Chuukese and Palauan.
These ABC books were not illustrated by the most famous artists of our day but by the children of - and get this bureaucratic mouthful - the U.S.-affiliated Pacific. With bright oil-pastels these children have drawn pictures of butterflies and volcanoes coconuts and mangos - all to illustrate the words of their languages and the things that matter in their world. I must confess that my favorite is the angry red-eyed bat with black outstretched wings hovering just above the ground.
It should be pointed out that these books were never published with the collector in mind. These books will be pressed into service as textbooks as a means of promoting literacy throughout the Pacific. They are the first step in what Phillips sees as an integrated reading and writing program one that combines picture-making and storytelling to improve language skills. There is something else about these books I have found fascinating,something left unsaid but hidden in the very words Phillips and her many counterparts throughout the Pacific have chosen to use.
The vocabulary of each book reflects the shared ancestry of the people of these islands. Search through the N words and you will most likely find a word related to niu the Hawaiian word for coconut. Theres niu from Samoa niyok from Guam n?? from the Caroline Islands and ni from the Marshalls.
Evident too are the 500 years of Pacific-island contact with the outside world. There are many Spanish words such as flores -flower in Chamorro- which reflect the nearly 400 years of Spanish presence in the Pacific. There are Japanese words such as denki -light bulb in Carolinian- that attest to the 25 years of Japanese rule from 1919-1944. And there are sound-alike English words: elepani -Hawaiian- ais krihm -Pohnpeian- and zippa -Carolinian. All of these show the influence of American culture in the region which began in 1821 when New England missionaries came to Hawaii.
These American missionaries were the first to make alphabet books for Hawaiians. In 1822 they published a spelling book or piapa. This was followed in later years by more elaborate editions. Eventually these alphabet books became models for books that the American and Hawaiian missionaries created when they expanded their circle of influence in the mid-19th century to include Samoa and many of the islands of Micronesia.
Hawaii always has played an active role in the promotion of literacy in the Pacific whether it be by the good graces of the missionaries or the good offices of the state and federal governments.
And so my hat is off to Pacific Resources for Education and Learning and Lori Phillips as well as Bess Press for continuing this long tradition.
Review by Edie Anderson The Dispatch June 17 2004
Yes summer is here school is out and the question is: What is there to do? Well if you have young keiki - here are two ideas. They come out in the form of brand new books.
The first is entitled Hawaiian Alphabet and it is just that - an alphabet book. It has lots to recommend it - it is small and easy to carry it is a sturdy hardback it is colorful and it is the part of a series that will eventually include 9 different Pacific island language guides. Sponsored in part by the Pacific Resources for Education & Learning PREL program it incorporated drawings by kids who illustrate each letter with their eye catching renditions of everything from elelu -cockroach- to pupu lei kalo honu - you get the idea. As many as 5 art works represent each of 12 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet - translations provided. Watch for other books in the 10-book Pacific Island series: Carolinian Chamorro Chuukese English Kosraen Marshallese Palauan Pohnpeian & Samoan.
Review by James Cox Childrens Bookwatch August 1 2004
Hawaiian Alphabet is a small yet deligtful hardcover childrens picturebook featuring full color illustrations of various Hawaiian words. Each word is accompanied by a picture that leaves no room for doubt as to what the word is such as wawae for foot. Not all letters of the English alphabet are represented Hawaiian Alphabet is as much a Hawaiian vocabulary builder as it is an English alphabet tool. A small simple but delightful little book to share the months and seasons especially with very young children.
Review by Joseph Bean Maui Weekly December 9 2004
Over the past several months Ive been setting aside books that I thought would be good gifts for the holidays. Things to tuck into a Christmas stocking or bring along when visiting during the holidays. I was completely shocked when I pulled them out and discovered that all the books I had set aside were from just one publisher Bess Press.
There are kids gifts things for the cook and things for the thinker. Whats more at least one of the kid books could be for a grown-up. Any of the adult titles could be for a man or a woman or for a young adult or teenager with appropriate interests.
First we have three early-reader/read-to books said to be for keiki aged 3 to 8. All three are by Carmen Geshell and illustrated by Jeff Pagay. The books are sophisticated for their category but not too much if you can get your head around the fact that this is the 21st century. Waltah Melon Local Kine Hero is one of them. Our melon-hero is smitten with Honey Dew. By the end of the book with the help of his pal Bland Sugarcane he discovers its OK to be soft and sweet. The stories of Mele da Mynahs Noisy Ohana and The Surf Rats of Waikiki Beach are equally affecting stories.
These books are local enough to need pidgin/ Hawaiian glossaries and child-specific enough to make an adult reader sure that he or she is providing something undisturbing. The pictures will do the job for kids. Three books all excellent.
Theres also a very nice little Hawaiian Alphabet book by Lori Phillips Ed D. Theres no text. Each letter of the alphabet is illustrated with three to five pictures so simple any child will see them as childs art. Each illustration is labeled with a word in Hawaiian. Fortunately for adults who havent learned the language of Mauis host culture theres a translating glossary at the back. This is as good a book as the ABC or should I say AEH-teacher type allows.
Finally I highly recommend the Myths and Legends of Hawaii Coloring Book by Ben W. Holokai Jr. The left pages throughout are brief retellings of Hawaiian myths. Right pages are drawings illustrating the legends that are so beautiful that only a child could think of coloring them. No thats not true. I think of it too. Look for under $6 I may just buy a few so I can color and still have a fresh copy or two on hand for giving and showing.
Each brief tale has its glossary right at the bottom of the page. Each drawing will support the simplest coloring skill but will also reward the most ambitious parent with a handful of colored pencils...
...There you go. All your thoughtful shopping for smallish gifts that will be long-appreciated is planned. One-stop shopping at www. besspress.com or very likely Borders. Enjoy!"