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Lei and the Fire Goddess

Author Malia Maunakea On Tour
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"Lei and the Fire Goddess blends preteen angst and beloved Hawaiian moʻolelo in a way that hasn't been done before." —Auliʻi Cravalho, actress and voice of Disney's Princess Moana

Curses aren't real.

At least, that's what twelve-year-old, part-Hawaiian Anna Leilani Kamaʻehu thinks when she listens to her grandmother's folktales about sacred flowers and family guardians. Anna's friends back home in Colorado don't believe in legends, either. They're more interested in science and sports—real, tangible things that stand in total contrast to Anna’s family’s embarrassing stories.

So when Anna goes back to Hawaiʻi to visit her Tūtū, she has no interest in becoming the heir to her family’s history; she’s set on having a touristy, fun vacation. But when Anna accidentally insults Pele the fire goddess by destroying her lehua blossom, a giant hawk swoops in and kidnaps her best friend, and she quickly learns just how real these moʻolelo are. In order to save her friends and family, Anna must now battle mythical creatures, team up with demigods and talking bats, and evade the traps Pele hurls her way.

For if Anna hopes to undo the curse, she will have to dig deep into her Hawaiian roots and learn to embrace all of who she is.
© Kahiki Photography
Malia Maunakea is a part-Hawaiian writer who grew up in the rainforest on the Big Island before moving to a valley on O'ahu in seventh grade. She relocated to the continent for college, and when she isn’t writing can be found roaming the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband, their two children, and a rescue mutt named Peggy. Malia's debut middle-grade novel Lei and the Fire Goddess (2023) is an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and a Common Sense Media Selection. You can find Malia online at maliamaunakea.com and @MaliaMaunakea on Twitter. View titles by Malia Maunakea

Curses aren’t real.

Anna repeated the mantra to herself as she spotted Tūtū on the far side of the Hilo airport terminal.

“Leilani!” her grandma called as she made her way down the escalator. The big, smiley wrinkles around her tūtū’s eyes and mouth had multiplied since last summer.

Anna mustered up a weak grin, trying to hide her crankiness. She had asked her grandma not to call her by her middle name the last time she was here. But her grandma had just said, “Pah, you don’t even know what Anna means, why would you want to be called that?” Then her best-friend-in‑Hawaiʻi, Kaipo, had whispered, “I told you it wouldn’t work.” Anna groaned because she had to buy him a pack of dried cuttlefish for losing their bet.

She waved at her grandma but stood firmly planted atop the escalator, instead of rushing down like she normally did. She needed time to go over her plan—​a plan she’d tried to come up with when she wasn’t staring at a tiny movie screen on the two planes it took to get to Hawaiʻi from Colorado.

It was all part of the deal Tūtū struck with her parents when Anna was too young to have any say. Mom had a job offer that let her use her physics degree at a climate-​research company in Boulder, and though they were reluctant to leave their home in the islands, they’d be able to afford a better quality of life in Colorado with the income Mom’s new job promised. Tūtū was crushed that her only grandchild was being taken so far away, so she made her son and daughter-in-law swear to send Anna back to visit her for just shy of a month every year so she “wouldn’t forget her history.” Tūtū claimed to have tried to teach it to her son, Anna’s dad, but for all his writing out of the family tree, he said he just couldn’t remember their roots. So it was up to Anna to memorize the stories. To become the keeper of the moʻolelo.

She was twelve now and knew—​KNEW!—Tūtū was gonna make a big deal about what that meant in their family. It was annoying, having these random extra responsibilities attached to an even randomer birthday. Thirteen? Sure. Finally becoming a teen was pretty massive. Or better yet, sixteen and having extra responsibilities that go along with being allowed to drive. But twelve? Random.

Even more annoying was how her parents had forced her to review the moʻolelo and history factoids since her birthday. Dad even had quizzed her in the car on the ride to the airport, saying hopefully the solid foundation would make it easier for her to absorb the new stories Tūtū had in store this summer. Whenever she brought up doing something else with Tūtū, he liked to remind her that she had it easy by repeating things like, “When I turned twelve, I was supposed to recite our family tree from the beginning. I only managed to remember back to the early eighteen hundreds, so she gave up on me. You’re lucky you just need to learn the stories.” He wasn’t going to help her out of it. She needed to convince Tūtū on her own.

Anna scratched the webbing of her backpack strap as she waited her turn to step off the escalator. The long flight gave her brain plenty of time to replay on a loop what had happened with Ridley. The last month without her friend had been the absolute worst ever. It was like showing‑up‑with-​her-​shirt-​tucked-​into-​her-​underwear-level awful on a daily basis. The final nail in their friendship coffin had been the horrible volcano incident.

They were finishing their geology unit right before spring break, and her science teacher, Ms. Finwell, asked, “Can anyone tell me why the Hawaiian Islands are formed in a line?”

They barely ever talked about Hawaiʻi in her Boulder school, so Anna was pumped to share what she knew. Her hand flew up, words spilling out of her mouth before she was even called on.

“The fire goddess, Pele, used her ʻōʻō to dig down deep and find a new volcanic crater to call home,” Anna proudly explained. “She’s on Hawaiʻi Island now, and people make sure not to make her mad.”

Snickers immediately erupted around her, and Hennley Schinecky coughed “freak” behind a perfectly manicured hand. Heat blossomed in Anna’s cheeks, and she sank lower into her seat, regretting her outburst.

“Class.” Ms. Finwell had clapped her hands together to get them to settle. “Okay, that could be a theory. Thank you, Anna.” She nodded at Anna and offered a tight smile before looking around the room. “That doesn’t really tell us why they’re in a line, though.”

Anna squeezed her eyes shut and wished she could disappear.

“Yes, Ridley?”

Ridley lowered her raised hand and sat up straighter. “The tectonic plate that the islands are on is moving slowly in a northwest direction over a hotspot. Magma comes out of that hotspot and forms the islands. That’s why they are in a line, with the oldest being in the northwest and the youngest in the southeast.”

“Precisely! Very good.”

Anna peeked at Ridley in time to see her -best-​friend‑on‑-the-​continent’s proud smile at Hennley’s approving nod and hair toss. That was that. The deal was sealed.

Before lunch, Hennley’s flock, with their perfectly matching sneakers and perfectly parted hair, swarmed Ridley. Anna’d been held up changing after PE and had no idea that she really should have skipped the paper-​towel wipe down in favor of speed that day.

By the time Anna got to the cafeteria, Ridley was at Hennley’s table, the one closest to the doors where everyone would see them. Anna stood there like the ultimate fool, blinking and holding her sack lunch, before ducking her head and hurrying past the loud laughter to the empty table near the stinky trash cans.

Their plan going into sixth grade had been “New School, New Cool.” They were in middle school, and Ridley was determined to find the right group of girls for her and Anna to hang out with. Now the year was over, and it seemed like Ridley had succeeded. Anna had not.

Anna blinked hard, the sound of rain on the airport’s metal roof bringing her back to the present, and she shivered, grateful to be in a hoodie and jeans. The painful memory of her mistake was slowly healing, but like a newly formed scab she couldn’t stop herself from picking at. Why hadn’t she just kept her big mouth shut? It was science class, not mythology. She should have focused on the facts. And the facts stated that curses, legends, and all of Tūtū’s gods and goddesses weren’t real. Maybe then she’d still have Ridley.

Ugh. This summer’s trip had to be different.
*Featured on the TODAY Show!*
2024 International Literacy Association Children’s and Young Adult Book Award Honor
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature Best Book of the Year
A YALSA Best Audiobook of the Year
The Week Jr. Read Across America Title

A Common Sense Media Selection


"This exciting, fast-paced adventure is full of humor and action. Hawaiian cultural elements are seamlessly woven into the story, giving just enough context for those unfamiliar with them without taking away from the narrative. An exhilarating, adventure-filled celebration of Hawaiian culture." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Maunakea displays mastery in weaving Hawaiian words, mythological references, and legendary Hawaiian figures into her story in a manner that draws readers’ attention to the richness of the traditions and beauty of Hawai’i. . .this story belongs in the hands of middle grade readers who love adventure fiction and mythological elements, as well as those who wish to find an example of rediscovering pride in one’s culture and identity." —School Library Journal

"Anna feels too Hawaiian to fit in at school, but too haole, or white, to feel at home in Hawaii—a struggle that aptly center themes of identity and connection in Maunakea’s energetic, adventuresome debut." —Publishers Weekly

"The author sensitively portrays the way her half-white protagonist wrestles with her identity . . . an exciting adventure in an uncommon, perceptively drawn setting." —Booklist

About

"Lei and the Fire Goddess blends preteen angst and beloved Hawaiian moʻolelo in a way that hasn't been done before." —Auliʻi Cravalho, actress and voice of Disney's Princess Moana

Curses aren't real.

At least, that's what twelve-year-old, part-Hawaiian Anna Leilani Kamaʻehu thinks when she listens to her grandmother's folktales about sacred flowers and family guardians. Anna's friends back home in Colorado don't believe in legends, either. They're more interested in science and sports—real, tangible things that stand in total contrast to Anna’s family’s embarrassing stories.

So when Anna goes back to Hawaiʻi to visit her Tūtū, she has no interest in becoming the heir to her family’s history; she’s set on having a touristy, fun vacation. But when Anna accidentally insults Pele the fire goddess by destroying her lehua blossom, a giant hawk swoops in and kidnaps her best friend, and she quickly learns just how real these moʻolelo are. In order to save her friends and family, Anna must now battle mythical creatures, team up with demigods and talking bats, and evade the traps Pele hurls her way.

For if Anna hopes to undo the curse, she will have to dig deep into her Hawaiian roots and learn to embrace all of who she is.

Author

© Kahiki Photography
Malia Maunakea is a part-Hawaiian writer who grew up in the rainforest on the Big Island before moving to a valley on O'ahu in seventh grade. She relocated to the continent for college, and when she isn’t writing can be found roaming the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband, their two children, and a rescue mutt named Peggy. Malia's debut middle-grade novel Lei and the Fire Goddess (2023) is an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and a Common Sense Media Selection. You can find Malia online at maliamaunakea.com and @MaliaMaunakea on Twitter. View titles by Malia Maunakea

Excerpt


Curses aren’t real.

Anna repeated the mantra to herself as she spotted Tūtū on the far side of the Hilo airport terminal.

“Leilani!” her grandma called as she made her way down the escalator. The big, smiley wrinkles around her tūtū’s eyes and mouth had multiplied since last summer.

Anna mustered up a weak grin, trying to hide her crankiness. She had asked her grandma not to call her by her middle name the last time she was here. But her grandma had just said, “Pah, you don’t even know what Anna means, why would you want to be called that?” Then her best-friend-in‑Hawaiʻi, Kaipo, had whispered, “I told you it wouldn’t work.” Anna groaned because she had to buy him a pack of dried cuttlefish for losing their bet.

She waved at her grandma but stood firmly planted atop the escalator, instead of rushing down like she normally did. She needed time to go over her plan—​a plan she’d tried to come up with when she wasn’t staring at a tiny movie screen on the two planes it took to get to Hawaiʻi from Colorado.

It was all part of the deal Tūtū struck with her parents when Anna was too young to have any say. Mom had a job offer that let her use her physics degree at a climate-​research company in Boulder, and though they were reluctant to leave their home in the islands, they’d be able to afford a better quality of life in Colorado with the income Mom’s new job promised. Tūtū was crushed that her only grandchild was being taken so far away, so she made her son and daughter-in-law swear to send Anna back to visit her for just shy of a month every year so she “wouldn’t forget her history.” Tūtū claimed to have tried to teach it to her son, Anna’s dad, but for all his writing out of the family tree, he said he just couldn’t remember their roots. So it was up to Anna to memorize the stories. To become the keeper of the moʻolelo.

She was twelve now and knew—​KNEW!—Tūtū was gonna make a big deal about what that meant in their family. It was annoying, having these random extra responsibilities attached to an even randomer birthday. Thirteen? Sure. Finally becoming a teen was pretty massive. Or better yet, sixteen and having extra responsibilities that go along with being allowed to drive. But twelve? Random.

Even more annoying was how her parents had forced her to review the moʻolelo and history factoids since her birthday. Dad even had quizzed her in the car on the ride to the airport, saying hopefully the solid foundation would make it easier for her to absorb the new stories Tūtū had in store this summer. Whenever she brought up doing something else with Tūtū, he liked to remind her that she had it easy by repeating things like, “When I turned twelve, I was supposed to recite our family tree from the beginning. I only managed to remember back to the early eighteen hundreds, so she gave up on me. You’re lucky you just need to learn the stories.” He wasn’t going to help her out of it. She needed to convince Tūtū on her own.

Anna scratched the webbing of her backpack strap as she waited her turn to step off the escalator. The long flight gave her brain plenty of time to replay on a loop what had happened with Ridley. The last month without her friend had been the absolute worst ever. It was like showing‑up‑with-​her-​shirt-​tucked-​into-​her-​underwear-level awful on a daily basis. The final nail in their friendship coffin had been the horrible volcano incident.

They were finishing their geology unit right before spring break, and her science teacher, Ms. Finwell, asked, “Can anyone tell me why the Hawaiian Islands are formed in a line?”

They barely ever talked about Hawaiʻi in her Boulder school, so Anna was pumped to share what she knew. Her hand flew up, words spilling out of her mouth before she was even called on.

“The fire goddess, Pele, used her ʻōʻō to dig down deep and find a new volcanic crater to call home,” Anna proudly explained. “She’s on Hawaiʻi Island now, and people make sure not to make her mad.”

Snickers immediately erupted around her, and Hennley Schinecky coughed “freak” behind a perfectly manicured hand. Heat blossomed in Anna’s cheeks, and she sank lower into her seat, regretting her outburst.

“Class.” Ms. Finwell had clapped her hands together to get them to settle. “Okay, that could be a theory. Thank you, Anna.” She nodded at Anna and offered a tight smile before looking around the room. “That doesn’t really tell us why they’re in a line, though.”

Anna squeezed her eyes shut and wished she could disappear.

“Yes, Ridley?”

Ridley lowered her raised hand and sat up straighter. “The tectonic plate that the islands are on is moving slowly in a northwest direction over a hotspot. Magma comes out of that hotspot and forms the islands. That’s why they are in a line, with the oldest being in the northwest and the youngest in the southeast.”

“Precisely! Very good.”

Anna peeked at Ridley in time to see her -best-​friend‑on‑-the-​continent’s proud smile at Hennley’s approving nod and hair toss. That was that. The deal was sealed.

Before lunch, Hennley’s flock, with their perfectly matching sneakers and perfectly parted hair, swarmed Ridley. Anna’d been held up changing after PE and had no idea that she really should have skipped the paper-​towel wipe down in favor of speed that day.

By the time Anna got to the cafeteria, Ridley was at Hennley’s table, the one closest to the doors where everyone would see them. Anna stood there like the ultimate fool, blinking and holding her sack lunch, before ducking her head and hurrying past the loud laughter to the empty table near the stinky trash cans.

Their plan going into sixth grade had been “New School, New Cool.” They were in middle school, and Ridley was determined to find the right group of girls for her and Anna to hang out with. Now the year was over, and it seemed like Ridley had succeeded. Anna had not.

Anna blinked hard, the sound of rain on the airport’s metal roof bringing her back to the present, and she shivered, grateful to be in a hoodie and jeans. The painful memory of her mistake was slowly healing, but like a newly formed scab she couldn’t stop herself from picking at. Why hadn’t she just kept her big mouth shut? It was science class, not mythology. She should have focused on the facts. And the facts stated that curses, legends, and all of Tūtū’s gods and goddesses weren’t real. Maybe then she’d still have Ridley.

Ugh. This summer’s trip had to be different.

Praise

*Featured on the TODAY Show!*
2024 International Literacy Association Children’s and Young Adult Book Award Honor
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature Best Book of the Year
A YALSA Best Audiobook of the Year
The Week Jr. Read Across America Title

A Common Sense Media Selection


"This exciting, fast-paced adventure is full of humor and action. Hawaiian cultural elements are seamlessly woven into the story, giving just enough context for those unfamiliar with them without taking away from the narrative. An exhilarating, adventure-filled celebration of Hawaiian culture." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Maunakea displays mastery in weaving Hawaiian words, mythological references, and legendary Hawaiian figures into her story in a manner that draws readers’ attention to the richness of the traditions and beauty of Hawai’i. . .this story belongs in the hands of middle grade readers who love adventure fiction and mythological elements, as well as those who wish to find an example of rediscovering pride in one’s culture and identity." —School Library Journal

"Anna feels too Hawaiian to fit in at school, but too haole, or white, to feel at home in Hawaii—a struggle that aptly center themes of identity and connection in Maunakea’s energetic, adventuresome debut." —Publishers Weekly

"The author sensitively portrays the way her half-white protagonist wrestles with her identity . . . an exciting adventure in an uncommon, perceptively drawn setting." —Booklist

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