Review by Verena Rodriguez
Tundra, Penguin Random House, 1 October 2019
40 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CAD, 978-0-73526-449-6
Ages 4-8, Grades Pre K-3
Picture Book, Non-Fiction, LGBTQ+
Ho’onani wants to sing the traditional Hawaiian hula chant at her school festival, but there is one little problem: She is not a kane (boy). However, she doesn’t feel quite like a wahine (girl) either, so when her teacher opens auditions for everyone, Ho’onani is ready to participate enthusiastically. She is a skilled ukulele player and has to go through three trials against the other boys to find if she can lead the all-male troop, but Ho’onani reminds herself that she is strong, sure and steady. However, her hardest trial will be getting her sister Kana’s respect. Mika Song’s watercolor illustrations use expressive, bold ink strokes to outline the figures and successfully transmit their emotions while the succinct text by Gale advances the plot and shows their chanted lyrics. Ho’onani Hula Warrior is based on a true story in the documentary A Place in the Middle by filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. This picture book would be a great teaching tool to start discussions in the about non-gendered people and children who want to be different than their classmates. This simple yet effective story tells a complex message about self-acceptance and finding your own space, not always as a kane or a wahine, but somewhere in the middle.
Verena recently graduated from the MA in Children’s Literature at UBC. Before that she did a BA in Visual Communication at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). She specialized in illustration and has been working as a graphic designer since 2014. She also works as a freelance illustrator for children’s books and textbooks and occasionally does animation projects.