Friday, May 23, 2014

Children's Literature in Hawaiian

Today, I spotted the bookl HÅ«lili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being (Kamehameha Publishing) on our Kahu's desk and quickly snapped it up for my weekend reading. Oh, to one day publish in a such a journal! Among other interesting articles, "Extending Hawaiian Children's Literature" by Dominic Cheetham specifically caught my eye.

My child's early reading skills are always a hot topic and they predictably came up yesterday at our end-of-the-year banquet as his teacher reminisced about the past 9 months they spent together. Her initial anxieties about meeting his needs are only amplified in myself and unfortunately, never seem to subside as hers did. I've tried to root out as much Hawaiian language materials as I can - the library has been a great resource, as are online sources such as Ulukau - but I always feel like I'm coming up short and resorting back to English to give him the variety he craves.

Here's an excerpt from Mr. Cheetham's article that spoke to something I've considered for awhile but have yet been able to accurately express:

"Traditional Hawaiian themes promote understanding of the land and of traditional values and culture, and in that respect are an entirely positive thing...However, the predominance of such themes, and lack of other themes, makes the available children's literature unbalanced in content and ideologically linked to a specific role for the Hawaiian language of preserving traditional culture and values...Not all children who speak or want to speak Hawaiian want to read this type of text, and for those children there is almost no choice of reading material. Even for children who accept and enjoy the common themes of the text, if they want to read in different areas they have no choice but to read in a different language. There is also the danger that the limited focus can give the impression that the Hawaiian language is unrelated to modern or global matters."

Thankfully, there are lots of picture book choices written entirely in Hawaiian. But chapter books? High interest series? Books about most anything besides the beach, mo'olelo or the monarchy? Nope. What are we going to do when he truly moves past picture books and there is nothing waiting for him on the other side except academic texts and newspaper articles from the last century?

He's always been a reader - how do I teach him to value both languages equally?

My sons like robots, predatory animals, dinosaurs, anything by Rohl Dahl and Shel Silverstien. I wish we could find these things in Hawaiian. Translation, the author mentions, offers a certain ownership over a text. Japanese folk tales are accessible to us through English and teach us about a foreign culture. Harry Potter could be uniquely "ours" if we could only read it in Hawaiian. I'm all for perpetuating unique cultural values, but the danger, as mentioned above, is that Hawaiian becomes the language we use only to talk about "Hawaii stuff".

How badly do I yearn for a translated copy of the Magic Tree House series and/or a second-coming of Beverly Cleary to write engaging, universal coming of age stories that happen to be in Hawaiian language. Gotta tell you, half way through this article I began to question if my real calling in life is to write and translate these types of materials.