The Best Books of Hawaii: What to Read for an Excellent Trip to the Islands
Are you traveling to the Aloha State and looking for the best books of Hawaii? Discover what to read to ensure an excellent trip to the islands. You will find the top travel guides to plan an amazing vacation. Curl up with some of the best fiction– either at home or relaxing on the beach while you are there. Discover more about Hawaii’s rich history so that you can appreciate its complexity while you are there. Then enjoy some classics with your keiki, we have choices for preschoolers through teens.
Our family lived in Hawaii and I have some favorite books I always recommend to friends and family when they visit. I have also asked other travel writers to share their top picks. Whatever your interests, if you take the time to learn more about the islands before you arrive, you are guaranteed to have a better trip!
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Travel Books on Hawaii
Maui Revealed, The Big Island Revealed, Oahu Revealed & The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook by Andrew Doughty
The books in this series are my top picks for books about Hawaii travel. When we lived there, we eventually wore ours out with almost weekly use, planning our adventures and learning more about the islands. In fact, we often give friends a copy for the island they plan to visit because we know it will improve their trip considerably. These highly informative books are by Hawaiian local, Andrew Doughty, who writes in a very personal style with an entertaining, easy going humor.
Because there is a book for each of the four most visited islands, you have comprehensive information about any of the sites you want to visit. You will find highly detailed maps, inspiring photos, countless tips, multiple insets with factual information about Hawaii, and lots of honest reviews that have all been done anonymously.
The books have grown in popularity, which means many of the hidden gems are no longer hidden and have become popular sites. There is also an app available (free with in-app purchases) that offers up-to-date weather, surf and snorkel conditions, and much more. These books make a great choice for first time visitors and kamaaina alike.
Lonely Planet's Best of Hawaii by Adam Karlin, Kevin Raub & Luci Yamamoto
Lonely Planet Best Of Hawaii is a guidebook that gives a great overview of the whole state and would make an ideal first book to read in the early stages of your travel planning. It will continue to be helpful through the trip itself, with included tips that save you both time and money.
You will find out the best time of the year to visit Hawaii, the weather, packing list ideas, the top places to visit, accommodation choices, transportation, and a lot more– all in one book. You also have the times of operation and contact information, all updated since the Covid crisis began.
Another reason why this book can make your travel experience exceptional is by educating you about your destination. You can read it beforehand to learn more about Hawaii’s rich history and traditions. It is a great tool to help you navigate the state like a local and avoid getting into difficult situations based on misunderstanding cultural cues by being knowledgeable about them.
Contributed by Ossama Alnuwaiser at Awesome Traveler Blog
Fiction Books About Hawaii
Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport
Written by a Native Hawaiian author, Shark Dialogues is an epic and sweeping story that spans multiple generations and touches on many aspects of Hawaii’s complex history, from the exploitative sugar industry to whaling, leper colonies, and the annexation by the United States. The book is largely set on the Big Island, but also offers vignettes from Maui, Oahu, and Molokai.
At the heart of the novel is Pono, a Native Hawaiian matriarch and prophet with magical powers (she can turn into a sea creature!) and her four estranged granddaughters, who married non-Hawaiians and are seeking to come to terms with their heritage and with Pono herself.
The story is interwoven with flashbacks, ancient myths, and the Hawaiian language, providing educational touchpoints along with the immersive and luscious narrative. Additionally, the book highlights tourism’s negative impact on the islands and its incredible culture- while it may be a tough pill to swallow, understanding this perspective will hopefully make you a more respectful and responsible visitor.
Contributed by Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler
Honolulu by Alan Brennert
Honolulu is a historical fiction novel that follows Jin, a young “picture bride” who is brought to Hawaii from Korea to be a wife to a pineapple plantation worker. Set in 1914, Honolulu is in many ways a classic coming to America story told by a lesser-heard voice.
Born a girl named “Regret” in Korea, the novel accompanies Jin as she navigates her new life and new relationships in early 1900s Honolulu with unrelenting determination.
Honolulu weaves together reality and fiction as you follow Jin through many of the formative events of the 20th century, including both World Wars and the Spanish Flu outbreak.
Anyone traveling to the Aloha State should read Honolulu to get a unique perspective from the immigrants that built modern Hawaii. Another book by by the same author that readers will likely enjoy is Moloka’i.
Contributed by Katie from KatieCafTravel.com
Books About Hawaii History
Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson
Polynesia is one of the most intriguing destinations in the world. The vast triangle that stretches from Hawaii to Easter Island to New Zealand is home to epic voyagers. Until European explorers arrived in the 1500s these explorers were the only people to have ever lived there. That leaves the question – where did these people come from? How did they get there? And why? All of these questions are explored in depth in this book.
While the book is non-fiction, it doesn’t read like a traditional historical book. The author reveals bit by bit what has been discovered about Polynesia in chronological order. Over time, as scientific knowledge progresses and our sociological studies improve, we learn more and more about the people of Polynesia. It’s a captivating journey through time.
Not only do we learn the history of Polynesia, but about the traditions and cultures of the “sea people.” It was interesting to learn about the different types of canoes used on different islands for different purposes. If you’re unaware of the history of Hawaii, and Polynesia overall, then this book is perfect to read before your trip to Hawaii!
Contributed by Pamela at The Directionally ChallengedTraveler
Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, Queen Liliuokalani
One of the best books about Hawaiian history was written by Queen Liliuokalani. It’s a first-hand account of what happened during Hawaii’s illegal overthrow and annexation from Hawaii’s last reigning monarch.
Most people on the mainland never learned about this in school, but it’s an enormously important part of Hawaii’s history. Visitors to Hawaii benefit from reading books about this complicated time in American history. You may see protests and signage around the islands talking about this issue. You’ll also get a deeper understanding of some of the conversations about tourism in Hawaii.
After reading this book, you will be inspired to visit Iolani Palace in Honolulu. This is the only royal palace in the United States, and you can take a tour to see exactly where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned.
Contributed by Marcie Cheung of Hawaii Travel with Kids
Kids Books About Hawaii
Kaiulani: The People's Princess, Hawaii, 1889 by Ellen Emerson White
Written diary-style, Kaiulani: The People’s Princess, is an installation of the very popular Royal Diaries children’s literature series.
Following the life of young Princess Kaiulani, the last heir to the Hawaiian Kingdom, 13-year-old Kaiulani navigates the recent annexation of Hawaii by the United States of America.
A fantastic historical-fiction read, this book is perfect for anyone with children or young teens planning to visit Hawaii because it shows an important part of Hawaii’s history from a first-person perspective, which is easier and more enjoyable for young readers than learning from a history book.
Kaiulani’s Diary also covers what it was like to be a Hawaiin royal during that time. Even though it is a Children’s book, Kaiulani’s Diary is an enriching read for anyone who wants to learn more about the annexation of Hawaii and the Hawaiian royal family.
Contributed by Katie from KatieCafTravel.com
Ho’onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale
Ho’onani is a children’s book that has been widely regarded as a celebration of identity and gender equality. It follows the story of a young girl, Ho’onani, who dreams of leading the boys-only hula troupe in a performance at her school. Ho’onani doesn’t define herself by gender, she sees herself as mahu, neither kane (boy) nor wahine (girl).
What makes Ho’onani special is that it’s based on a true story of one young person’s journey of self-discovery and empowerment, who earns the respect of the people around them.
Hawaiians are very proud of their culture and heritage and it is important to read stories that speak of their culture before visiting. The author has done a great job of highlighting some key elements of Hawaii’s culture in the story in a way that is approachable for children. It also includes some words in Hawaiian, so kids can learn a few words while still at home.
Contributed by Louisa Smith of Epic Book Society
Too Many Mangos by Tammy Paikai
Too Many Mangos is a sweet story of two Hawaiian children who help their grandfather harvest the mangoes off his very full mango tree. The result is way too many mangos for the small family to use on their own, so the children set off on an adventure to share the mangoes with their neighbors. Each neighbor shares something in return leaving them with a wonderful variety of treats to enjoy when they return home.
This hardcover book is perfect for young children and its colorful illustrations are engaging and thoughtful. Teaching lessons in sharing, thankfulness and generosity, this picture book also gives children a peek into Hawaiian culture as the author shares real-life experiences from his childhood.
Reading this book before a trip to Hawaii will leave children inspired to soak up the beautiful Hawaiian culture as they vacation. It will also leave them with a curiosity for tasting tropical fruits and other foods on the island such as banana macadamia nut muffins, papayas, and mangoes sprinkled with li hing powder. Too Many Mangoes is sure to be a favorite on your child’s bookshelf long after you return from your Hawaiian adventure.
Contributed by Sierra Schmidt at Free to Travel Mama
Geckos Make a Rainbow by Jane Gillespie
Geckos Make a Rainbow is an adorable board book perfect for the youngest travelers to Hawaii. With simple rhyming lyrics and colorful illustrations, this book tells the story of geckos stuck in the house while the rain pours down. They decide to make a rainbow to hang in the sky to help the sun come out. They build each color with items such as blue surf shirts and red lehua flowers. The final color of the rainbow is green for the geckos themselves.
The sweet book for toddlers and young children will teach colors, introduce Hawaiian words and nature, as well as entertain all ages. The silly illustrations and geckos’ facial expressions are illustrated by Hawaiian cartoonist, Jon J. Murakami and are quite comical. Part of a series, fans of this book can continue their collection with Geckos Surf and Geckos Up Geckos Down.
Reading this book before a trip to Hawaii, will leave children prepared for the fruits to try at the Farmers Market, the flowers to discover in the beautiful gardens, the geckos sure to be spotted on the walls of buildings, and the beautiful rainbows that frequently fill the Hawaiian sky after a refreshing rain.
Contributed by Sierra Schmidt at Free to Travel Mama
Best Books of Hawaii
I hope you have found a few books here that you can enjoy, both before and during your trip to Hawaii. Let me know what you favorite it in the comments or tell me what book you recomend to others before they visit. I’d love to hear!
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