In this charming and uplifting picture book, a Hawaiian child wishes to lead a performance of a hula chant for her community. Inspired by a real person, Ho'onani does not see herself as kane (boy) or wahine (girl), but simply Ho'onani; someone who is a little of both yet essentially her own person. In the book's introduction, author Heather Gale explains the concept of mahu, a Hawaiian word for people who are both feminine and masculine, and describes their important role in their culture. When Ho'onani learns about an opportunity to audition for the traditional hula chant, she is thrilled to try out despite knowing that these types of performances are usually done by boys. She is fully supported by her parents and mentor, Kumu Hina (based on a prominent activist, politician, and trans community leader in Hawaii), and with practice combined with a desire to fully embody and honor her homeland, she is able to show everyone the resilient and brave person that she is. Illustrator Mika Song blends watercolor and charcoal to create a version of Ho'onani whose strength pours off the page, particularly in the determined set of her eyes. Educators will find a two-fold purpose to Ho'onani: as a helpful jumping-off point to discuss Hawaiian history and culture and as a way to approach conversations about gender identity with a range of ages. The latter discussion can be paired with the documentary on which this title is based, A Place in the Middle (Qwaves 2014). While the story does not shy from mentioning Ho'onani's detractors—her sister, Kana, being one of them—it is essential for readers to see that she does not ever compromise herself or back down. Gender-nonconforming and nonbinary children will be excited to see someone like themselves reflected in the book's pages, and everyone will want to stand up and cheer Ho'onani along.
An empowering celebration of identity, acceptance and Hawaiian culture based on the true story of a young girl in Hawai?i who dreams of leading the boys-only hula troupe at her school.
Ho'onani feels in-between. She doesn't see herself as wahine (girl) OR kane (boy). She's happy to be in the middle. But not everyone sees it that way.
When Ho'onani finds out that there will be a school performance of a traditional kane hula chant, she wants to be part of it. But can a girl really lead the all-male troupe? Ho'onani has to try . . .
Based on a true story, Ho'onani: Hula Warrior is a celebration of Hawaiian culture and an empowering story of a girl who learns to lead and learns to accept who she really is--and in doing so, gains the respect of all those around her.
Ho'onani's story first appeared in the documentary A Place in the Middle by filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson.