The best authentically Hawaiian books for tweens and teens

Who am I?

Growing up in a kanaka maoli—Native Hawaiian—family in Hawai’i, I hungered for stories centered around island kids and their authentic lived experiences. I scoured classrooms, libraries, and bookstores looking for stories that reflected my reality, but all I ever found were dusty collections of ancient legends, not books that appealed to my sense of wonder or adventure. It’s the reason I wrote the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and why I’m so excited to share this collection with you. These books are everything I always wanted to read as a child growing up in Hawai‘i—and more!

I wrote...

One Boy, No Water (The Niuhi Shark Saga)

By Lehua Parker,

Book cover of One Boy, No Water (The Niuhi Shark Saga)

What is my book about?

When you’re allergic to water, Hawai‘i isn’t always paradise.

I’m Zader Kaonakai Westin. One drop of water on my skin burns like lava. Uncle Kahana knows more than he says about my water allergy and why I crave raw meat. But I don’t care about secrets. I just want to be a surfing star like my brother Jay instead of the Blalah’s favorite punching bag at Lauele Intermediate. After a shark scare, Jay quits surfing, but surfing’s like breathing to Jay. I have to help my brother get back in the ocean or he’ll go crazy. Staying out of the water seems safer, but Niuhi aren’t like regular sharks. When Niuhi are around, safety is an illusion, and everyone knows it’s bump first, then bite.

The books I picked & why

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KINO and the KING

By Jen Angeli,

Book cover of KINO and the KING

Why this book?

With a sacred stone in hand, twelve-year-old Kino hides from bullies in an ancient grass hut on display at Bishop Museum. In a blinding flash, she travels back in time to 1825 and meets a young boy who is destined to become King Kamehameha III. Together they go on an epic adventure facing sharks, Night Marchers, wild boars, and more as they collect the four items Kino needs to return home. I love this fantasy story with Hawaiian kids as heroes because it treats Hawaiian history and culture as both magical and ordinary rather than sensationally exotic.

Night of the Howling Dogs

By Graham Salisbury,

Book cover of Night of the Howling Dogs

Why this book?

What starts out as a camping trip in remote Halape for a boy scout troop from Hilo turns desperate when an earthquake hits and their camp is devastated by a tsunami. The boys are scattered, and it’s up to Dylan and his nemesis Louie to reunite the troop and get them to safety. Inspired by real events that I remember, this book is a survival story about friendship, leadership, and teamwork that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

The Islands at the End of the World

By Austin Aslan,

Book cover of The Islands at the End of the World

Why this book?

When sixteen-year-old Leilani and her father traveled to O’ahu from Hilo to try a promising but experimental treatment for her epilepsy, they never expected to be stranded in the middle of a worldwide geomagnetic storm. With tsunamis striking randomly, all modern technology broken, and facing food shortages under martial law, Leilani and her father have to fight their way home. Along the way, Leilani discovers that the one thing that makes her different may be the one thing that saves us all. It’s an apocalyptic page-turner centered on Hawaii’s ecology and traditional cultural solutions.

Written in the Sky

By Matthew Kaopio,

Book cover of Written in the Sky

Why this book?

Raw and real, ‘Ikauikalani, is a middle grader who is adrift after the death of his grandmother. Through ‘Ikaui’s daily experiences, we see firsthand the effects of mental illness, drug abuse, bullying, and dispossession faced by the homeless living in Ala Moana Park. ‘Ikaui struggles to eat, keep clean, and fill his days. If he’s swept up by social services, ‘Ikaui fears a physical and spiritual death. But in the middle of his struggle, there are also remarkable moments of grace that allow ‘Ikaui to thrive. ‘Ikaui begins to discover who he is, connects his amazing gifts with his ancestral past, and heals generational wounds. It’s a thought-provoking story about the difference between being homeless and houseless.

'Ewa Which Way

By Tyler Miranda,

Book cover of 'Ewa Which Way

Why this book?

This coming-of-age story is powerful, immediate, and like a bloody scraped knee, painfully evocative of the transition between childhood and adulthood. I loved this book for its ability to show all the complicated rules, expectations, and entanglements of being a kid trying to make sense out of adult behavior. Set in ‘Ewa Beach, Hawai‘i, in 1982, Landon and Luke face prejudices of class and race, their parents’ alcohol abuse and valium popping coping mechanisms, and sheer dysfunction. Landon shares his reality with heartbreaking twelve-year-old clarity.   

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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