Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Our dear friends who hosted us during our stay on Kaui have quite a family history with Hawaii:  they are descendants (have you seen the movie with George Clooney?) of some of the first missionaries that ventured forth from the East Coast of the United States to the"Sandwich Islands" back in the 1840's!

Dr. James W. Smith (a great-great? grandfather of our friends) was the first Western-trained physician on the island, who arrived as a missionary with his wife, Melicent.  They raised a family while struggling to save a remnant of the Native Hawaiian population from the ravages of Western epidemics, which the Native Hawaiians had no immunity to.

I've been engrossed with their story from the book, 100 Years of Healing: The Legacy of a Kauai Missionary Doctor, researched and written by Evelyn E. Cook.

Missionaries first began arriving in the "Sandwich Islands" in the 1820's, bringing Christianity and some other influences to the Hawaiian culture, including melodic music and...quilts!

Before the missionaries arrived, Hawaiian women had always made bed coverings from kapa, a cloth made from the inner bark of native trees. Strips of this bark were beaten and felted together to make it into a cloth that was smooth and soft to the skin. The top layer of kapa was dyed and stamped with an overall design.  Women of higher status had the leisure time to decorate more extensively.

As cotton fabric became more available with the westernization of Hawaii, it was possible for the missionaries to help the native women create durable and beautiful bed coverings with applique on solid fabric: quilts.  These appliqued quilts had a single design radiating symmetrically from the center covering the whole quilt.  The pattern was made much like we might make a cut paper snowflake, but with fabric.  These traditional Hawaiian quilts were made with only two solid colors, one for the background and one for the appliqued design pattern.

I found a beautiful shop where these two-colored "Hawaiian Quilts" are sold.  And I found a picture book by Georgia Guback about a young Hawaiian girl named Luka, whose "Tutu" (grandmother) wants to make her a special traditional Hawaiian quilt.
Luka's Quilt by Georgia Guback

From the book jacket:  Luka and her grandmother Tutu are best friends. They spend lots of time together and enjoy each other's company. But everything changes when the quilt comes along. The traditional Hawaiian quilt Tutu makes as a gift for Luka isn't at all what her granddaughter expects. Luka is disappointed, Tutu is hurt, and they don't feel like they can be friends anymore. When Lei Day arrives, Tutu suggests putting aside their differences so they can enjoy the festivities. The celebration makes them feel better--and also sparks the compromise that will make Luka and Tutu best friends again. 

I was a little disappointed in the ending, given that the grandmother puts forth such a great effort to make amends, but Luka never apologizes to her about not being grateful for the quilt gift and all the hard work her Tutu had to do in making it.

But the author reveals a lot about the cultural detail of traditional Hawaiian quilts through the beautiful paper cut illustrations.  Luka anticipated a colorful "garden" quilt, and is disappointed that her grandmother has pieced it with only two colors.  I think the book could have greatly benefited from a little more explanation and a historical note about the history of traditional Hawaiian bed covers, "Kapa Moe".
Inspiration for many of the designs on these quilts comes from the natural beauty of flowers and leaf patterns of the Hawaiian Islands.  Here are some of the beautiful flowers that we saw on Kauai and Maui...

I also came across a beautiful vintage flower journal in a little museum we went to.  I would absolutely love to have an old book like this, so that I could frame the color plate pages!

Indigenous Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands
by Isabella McHutcheson Sinclair.

Here's a link to the whole collection here, on Flickr, if you are interested. Isabella Sinclair moved to Hawaii after marriage to her husband in 1863 and engaged herself in collecting botanical specimens, painting watercolor sketches of the plants and preparing a collection that eventually became a book. She documented the authenticity of her 44 colored plates, sending specimens of each plant to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England.  The director encouraged her to publish her work and assisted her in this when she and her husband came to London in 1885.  Reviewers commented that although Mrs. Sinclair did not profess to be a botanist, she was a keen observer and gifted artist as evidenced not only by her drawings but by the written descriptions that accompany them. -Digitized by Michael B. Thomas. 2008. University of Hawaii, Joseph F. Rock Herbarium.

1 comment: