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What writers write when they 1) aren't writing, 2) are avoiding writing or 3) need a word count to convince their spouses they are writing.

Origami n' Stuff 4 Kids

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Behind the Scenes: Illustrating "A True Princess of Hawaii"

A True Princess of Hawai'i

Written by Beth Greenway, illustrated by Tammy Yee
Arbordale Publishing, 2017

Years ago, I lived in Kaumana, six miles above Hilo town on the island of Hawai'i. Many of the homes were built on the remnants of the 1881 Mauna Loa eruption featured in the book, "A True Princess of Hawai'i." Evidence of the eruption was everywhere. Lava rock walls bordered tiny gardens, and black pahoehoe lava peaked through the grass, ferns and 'ōhiʻa trees. Nearby was Kaumana Cave, part of a miles-long lava tube that was formed during the eruption. It was the perfect place to raise two young sons!

Since then, I have been fascinated with the story of Princess Ruth's intervention to save Hilo from Pele's destruction. So I was thrilled to work with Arbordale Publishing on A True Princess of Hawai'i. Their team is devoted to creating books that encourage kids to explore, and their website features lesson plans and activities to supplement learning.

Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani
I poured through the Bishop Museum and Hawai'i State Archives for photos of Hilo in the 1880s. What did people wear? Where did they live? What kind of ships the bay? And most importantly, what did the lava flow look like?

Hilo Bay from Waiakea with Mauna Loa erupting in the distance. You can see the lava heading toward Hilo on the right. By Joseph Nawahi, February 1881.
Hilo shoreline.
Hilo wharf, 1880s.
The Lava Flow From Mauna Loa, Sandwich Islands, Harper's Weekly, September 1881.

Rough Sketches

I studied photos of the eruption and maps of Hilo town and began sketching.

Character studies and sketch of Hilo town.
Rough drafts for cover.

Exploring Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park) Trail at Volcanoes National Park

Kaumana Cave and Princess Ruth

Mauna Loa erupted spectacularly in 1880, illuminating the skies above the town of Hilo. Fiery jets of gas and lava launched thousands of feet skyward. Rivers of pahoehoe, or ropy lava, flowed down the mountainside.

For nine months, the eruption continued. The people of Hilo watched as the forests of Waiakea Uka were consumed, then grew desperate as the lava continued its relentless approach to within one-and-a-half miles of Hilo Bay. 

A day of public prayer was observed. A stone wall was erected to protect the sugar mill. And a moat was dug around the prison to divert the flow.

Only Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani could placate Pele's fury. Arriving in Hilo on August 9, 1881, she approached the lava at Halai Hill with offerings of brandy, 30 red silk scarves and a lock of her hair. That night, she slept at the edge of the lava flow. By the next morning the flow had stopped. Hilo had been spared.

Kaumana Cave, located 5 miles above Hilo, was created during the 1880 eruption. It was formed as the surface of the pahoehoe cooled and hardened, insulating the molten lava within. A portion of the thin crust later collapsed, creating a skylight through which streams of lava could be seen pouring through subterranean passages. As the eruption abated, the channel emptied, leaving behind an extensive lava tube.

Deep in the cave, roots from 'ohia trees dangle from the ceiling. These roots support an extremely delicate ecosystem of cave-dwelling arthropods. 

According to Bishop Museum entomologist Gordon Nishida, cave crickets, millipedes, and wolf spiders are among the creatures specially adapted to Hawaiian lava tubes. Many of these animals are pale, with reduced eyes, and live off the plant and animal matter that fall into the cave. The cave system is very fragile, and these unique creatures are endangered. People trampling through caves and littering the surrounding area can have a severe impact on their survival.

Eyewitnesses to the 1880-1881 Eruption: an Artist's View

I was inspired, too, by the work of Joseph Nawahi, and also the Volcano School paintings of late 19th century artists Charles Furneaux, D. Howard Hitchcock and Jules Tavernier.

Hilo Bay. Joseph Nawahi, 1888.

Natives Viewing the Hilo Flow, May 18, 1881. Oil on canvas paintings by Charles Furneaux, 1881.
Eruption, D.H. Hitchcock.
Volcano at Night, Jules Tavernier, 1880.

Final Illustrations: Bringing it to life

Left: view of Waianuenue Street from the Hilo Wharf, 1890s. Right: Keoki and Nani race to the town pier to greet Princess Luka.
Left: Hilo Wharf, 1880s. Right: the arrival of Princess Luka.

To learn more about True Princess of Hawai'i and to view more of the finished art, visit

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed illustrating it!

Printable coloring page:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tribute to Mom

My mother taught us love, faith, and humility. She taught us that wealth is measured not by the car you drive or the house you live in, but in the faith you keep, the friends you meet, and the family you love.

By those standards, she was wealthy beyond measure. And she was equally generous, sometimes to a fault. What little she had, she shared. Even if it meant that she had to do without.

Growing up, we didn’t have the latest toys, but Mom made sure we never skimped on books. She splurged on a set of World Book Encyclopedias for us. I spent hours leafing through the gilt-edged pages. Beginning with A for ancient Anatolia, I trekked through the gardens of Babylonia, immersed myself in Cleopatra’s man troubles, and explored the ziggurats of Mesopotamia—all in a single afternoon.

Mom was an avid reader, burning through Harlequin romances at all hours of the day. When she came to live with me, she lamented that she couldn’t find any good Indian romances. I thought she was referring to books like "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri. But she was referring to "Comanche Moon" and "Sweet Prairie Passion."

I said to her, “Mom, they don’t publish Indian romances anymore because they’re culturally insensitive.”

But she persisted, so I introduced her to Goodreads and, my Amazon account is still cluttered with embarrassing suggestions like, “If you enjoyed reading 'Cheyenne Captive,' you’ll love 'Savage Ecstasy.' ” It’s a sweet reminder of Mom.

She didn’t pass on to me her love for romance novels, but she did pass on a love for reading. She bought me a subscription to Parent Magazine’s Book-of-the-Month Club, and took me on frequent excursions to the Kapahulu library. After the library, we’d catch the bus to Ala Moana for Woolworth’s fried chicken and roast beef sandwiches, and browse through tin toys and Japanese teacups at Hotei-Ya.

Mom was also quite a trooper. In the summer, Dad would take my brothers frog hunting. They’d bring home a five-gallon bucket filled with croaking bullfrogs and empty it into the bathtub. All night long, I was kept awake by the wet slapping of frogs jumping against the sides of the tub, trying to escape.

The next morning, Dad would skin and clean the frogs. He stretched the skins over empty peach cans and dried them in the sun so that we each had our own little frog drum. And then Mom would bread and fry the frogs for dinner. As I said, she was quite the trooper.
She was also quite the foodie. She loved going holoholo with Auntie Ida, Auntie Ruth, and later, with her best friend Jean. She never gave up on trying to get me to eat chicken feet and hundred-year-old eggs.

As a know-it-all teenager, I rolled my eyes at her chicken feet cravings. I also rolled my eyes at her simple needs, and foolishly mistook them for a lack of ambition. I didn’t see how she put OUR dreams above her own. She put aside her business degree to take care of us at home, and later, to work as a school custodian.

It was only after I had children of my own that I saw the sacrifices she made. Because of her, I refused to allow anyone except family care for my children. When we lived in Boston, I made my husband Ric give away our front row tickets to Miss Saigon because I wouldn’t let his classmate babysit.

Cosmo, Popo always reminisced about how she would take your tiny hand and walk you from her Date Street apartment to Stadium Park. She would mimic your squeaky voice asking her, “Popo, can we go to McDonalds?”

Bob, Popo always talked about what a smart, kind, and well-spoken young man you are—and a snappy dresser, too! She was always trying to bring food home for the two of you, no matter how full our refrigerator was.

And Mom adored our bulldog, Roxy. Even though I reprimanded her, she was constantly sneaking lup cheong to the dog. It’s no wonder that Roxy watched over her and sometimes slept with her.

Mommy, your coming to live with me was the best thing. We had our challenges, but, boy, did we have fun.

And we had plans. I was supposed to ask you about growing up with Popo and Eng, and all your brothers and sisters—and I was supposed to write it down. I wanted more time. I wanted to go holoholo with you. Eat dim sum. Go to Red Lobster. And bring you home one last time.

But you had family waiting for you above. So you did what you do best. You brought together your family, here on earth, and guided us through love and faith.

It’s because of you that we are strong. It’s because of you that we are so united.

Mommy, do you remember our last day together? I came into your hospital room, ready to spend the night. I kissed your cheek and said, “Mommy, today is my birthday! You brought me into this world 55 years ago and you’re the best mom ever! We’re going to miss you, but we’ll all be okay.”

And two hours later, you slipped away. You were fearless, you were beautiful, and you were free. It was a blessed gift, that on the day that I was born, you were born into another realm. You couldn’t have written a better ending to a story.

Best of all, I got to kiss you many times over those last few days. I marveled at how soft and smooth your cheeks were and wondered, “Why did it take me 55 years to kiss you?” But at least I got to kiss you.

And I still talk to you. At stop lights. At home. In the middle of the night. In times of doubt, I will learn to summon your voice. Your love. Your acceptance. You were always so supportive. You were my biggest fan. Because of you, I gave away all my books to the nurses and doctors.

And when I’m hardest on myself, you will remind me.

That wealth is measured in the faith you keep, the friends you meet, and the family you love.

And I will find comfort remembering the softness of your cheek.

Thank you for teaching me how to live and how to die.
Thank you for being our mother.

I love you.

Friday, May 19, 2017

May 19: Happy Endangered Species Day! Featuring the Endangered Ark Exhibit.

Participating Artists
Nanci Amaka
Kirsten Carlson
Kayleigh Chalkowski
Deanna Gabiga
Ryan Schulz
Michelle Schwengel-Regala
Danya Weber
Tammy Yee
The Endangered Ark is a group exhibition to celebrate and support the endangered species of Hawai’i through art and community action. Taking place at alternative gallery space, Ark of the Unicorns, it will feature the work of eight Hawai’i based artists. Inspired by the recent political climate that has shown to be subversive to conservation goals, and specifically, the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The show will feature original work depicting the endangered and extinct species of Hawai’i and concepts surrounding endangerment.

The Endangered Ark sets itself apart from other exhibits about endangered species with an interactive component that invites visitors to write on postcards about why they value endangered species protections. Postcards will be hung on a wall in the gallery and, after the closing party, they will be mailed off to relevant legislators and allies. 30% of proceeds from work sold will benefit Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project to support on-the-ground efforts for endangered bird conservation.

For more information, please contact Kayleigh Chalkowski ( or Nanci Amaka ( See further updates about the show on Instagram @theendangeredark or on Facebook at 

Illustrating 'Alae 'Ula or Hawaiian Moorhen for the Endangered Ark show

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Illustration Challenge: Asp Turtle or Aspidochelone

Just playing...Procreate illustration of an Asp Turtle or Aspidochelone, from medieval bestiaries. #illustration #illustrationchallenge #kidlit #medieval #bestiary #art #procreate

Water was finished in Photoshop.

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