Tag Archives: Marshall Islands

‘NEW FLAGS FLYING: PACIFIC LEADERSHIP’ BY IAN JOHNSTONE, MICHAEL POWLES

‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’ is a book edited by Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles. It documents the political history of fourteen Pacific Island nations.

NEW FLAGS FLYING

Summary

After ruling the Pacific Islands for a hundred years, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA decide to grant independence to most of the states.

The change from being colonial subjects to self-governance turns out to be harder than anyone could have predicted. Local politicians try their best to lead their countries into this new chapter in history. 

Review 

Politics is not an easy subject to broach. It is often mundane and not very ‘accessible’ to an ordinary person not particularly interested in affairs of state and diplomacy. But this book deals with it in the most engaging way possible. Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles created a gripping read you, quite honestly, are not able to put down.

First and foremost, I have to praise the language, which is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to understand. The authors could have used fancy (and rather mystifying) political jargon and inundated us with professional terms and expressions, but then the book wouldn’t be intelligible to all people. It would be a title addressed exclusively to experts. I am glad that Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles chose a different path and decided to aim the volume at general audience who simply would like to familiarize themselves with the political history of the region.

‘New Flags Flying’ provides considerable insights into a time when Pacific Island states were undergoing colossal changes. Recounted by leaders who were a main force in shaping the events, the book is a scrupulously honest depiction of the countries’ journeys to independence or self-government. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Tofilau Eti Alesana, John Webb, Sir Tom Davis, Dr Ludwig Keke, HM King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Hon. Young Vivian, Sir Michael Somare, Hon. Solomon Mamalon, Sir Peter Kenilorea, Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu, Sir Ieremia Tabai, Fr Walter Lini, Kessai Note, John Haglelgam, Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Dame Carol Kidu share their personal experiences of taking their people into a very uncertain, at least at that time, future. The stories they tell – very emotional and thought-provoking – disclose not only the hopes and ambitions they had but also the struggles they had to face. Because no other part of our globe is more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties than Oceania; just as no other part of our globe demonstrates more resilience and ability to cope than those little islands do.

The interviews are accompanied by comprehensive commentary, background information, chronological summaries of significant events, and old photographs, which make the book even more interesting to delve into.

Now, although the title will be a fascinating read for every person who loves the Pacific Islands, for the Islanders themselves it should be of extra special value, as it contains lessons they can and ought to draw from. Why not use the past to improve the present and shape the future? Pacific policymakers should have this book sitting on their desks.

‘New Flags Flying’ is a great piece of literature. I can only congratulate the editors on the job well done and tell you that their work is definitely worthy of your time and attention. I could not recommend it more!

‘MICRONESIAN BLUES’ BY BRYAN VILA, CYNTHIA MORRIS

‘Micronesian Blues’ is a travelogue-cum-memoir co-authored by Bryan Vila and Cynthia Morris. It chronicles Vila’s sojourn in Micronesia, where he worked as a police chief and trainer from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s.

MICRONESIAN BLUES

Summary

Having been a street cop for nine years, Bryan feels he needs a little change. So when he hears about a job opening for a law enforcement specialist in Saipan, he just cannot say ‘No’. Training police officers in a tropical paradise… How hard can it be? Well, quite hard, it turns out.

With six different governments, twelve different cultures, and nine different languages Micronesia proves to be a great challenge. But Bryan takes his assignment seriously. Travelling from Yap to the Marshalls, from Kosrae to Palau, he keeps busy teaching the Islanders and absorbing their fascinating way of life. And even the occasional riots or prison escapes can’t ruin his contentment. Because in Micronesia one always finds a reason to smile.

Review

I will start by stating that this is one of the best travel books you’ll ever read. Which is somewhat surprising, because on the surface it looks like just another memoir that describes someone’s experiences in a distant land. In other words, nothing special. But, as the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover (by the way, the cover of ‘Micronesian Blues’ is absolutely gorgeous!). In this case, that is so true.

The travelogue is co-authored by Bryan Vila and Cynthia Morris. Well, as a matter of fact, it’s Bryan Vila’s story written by Cynthia Morris. Oh, what a perfect match they are! A match undoubtedly made in heaven. Let me explain why.

As you may imagine, it is never easy to recount another person’s adventures. Achieving someone else’s voice, sharing their point of view, and conveying their message is an incredibly difficult task. And yet Cynthia succeeded. She managed to show Bryan’s personality so well that you quickly forget he’s not the one who actually narrates the story. Everything – from the lively writing style she adopted to fantastic humour to vivid but not overwhelming descriptions – lets you believe you read a book penned by a man who’s been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale. Something like this is impossible to achieve, unless you are a very talented writer. Cynthia Morris definitely is. If it wasn’t for her, ‘Micronesian Blues’ could be just a title in a pile of other titles.

Of course, the book would have never come into existence if Bryan hadn’t decided to take a job somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His adventures and experiences are obviously what make the memoir so immensely interesting. Right from the beginning, he amuses readers with personal anecdotes and little snippets of his daily life in paradise. And he does so with a hefty dose of self-deprecation. You can’t help but appreciate his honesty when he relates his cultural mishaps and misunderstandings that not only make you laugh (hysterically) but most importantly let you understand the complexity of Micronesian cultures.

Speaking of which, I’m not quite sure who’s responsible for cultural context in the book, but the abundance of information regarding local customs, habits, traditions, and beliefs is just phenomenal. You get to know the region as a whole, and then you get to know individual islands. The authors wonderfully delineate the differences between the countries (FSM, the Marshall Islands, Guam, Palau, CNMI) and states (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae), unravelling the peculiarities of each culture. You will be surprised how diverse this lovely part of our globe is. But you can be sure that with a little help from Bryan and Cynthia you will understand it so much better.

Do I recommend ‘Micronesian Blues’? Wholeheartedly! It is a brilliant piece of travel literature that entertains, enlightens, and educates. You will learn a lot. You will laugh. You will enjoy every single second spent with this book in your hands. And then, after reaching the last sentence, you will want to read it again.

A CHAT WITH… PETER RUDIAK-GOULD

Peter Rudiak-Gould is a writer, an anthropologist, and a climate change consultant. His book, ‘Surviving Paradise: One Year On A Disappearing Island’, is a fantastic memoir of his first visit to the Marshall Islands. Here’s what he had to say about the country and the Blue Continent.

PETER RUDIAK-GOULD

Pasifika Tales: Quick question. Ujae – Heaven on Earth or Hell?

Peter Rudiak-Gould: For the people who live there, it’s more like heaven, I’d say. Not that life is always easy there, not that people always get along, but I think that most ri-Ujae (people of Ujae) love the place and are able to live full and meaningful lives there. They live a minute’s walk from their friends, they have land and a house with no mortgage to pay off, they can let their kids go and play without worrying about getting lost or kidnapped, and although life gets tougher when the money runs out, they can do pretty well with local resources, at least for a little while. Some of the best modern technologies – basic Western medicine, medical evacuation if needed, communication radio, bicycles, solar panels, etc. – are there, with few of the bad ones. There is still no television reception on Ujae.

For me – it’s a little bit of both! But as I explore in my book, there were fundamental differences between me and Ujae, sort of like a rocky romantic relationship with deep attraction by equally deep incompatibility. Heaven and Hell aren’t places, they’re relationships.

PT: What are your memories of the Marshall Islands?

P. R.-G.: Too many to recount! But what they all have in common – nearly all of them anyway – is the feel of warm, humid air. If I close my eyes and imagine that feeling, it brings me back to being there much more than thinking of what the country looks like. The air, atmosphere, or weather is the basic medium of every experience we have. That’s why climate change will alter our realities so much.

PT: And what did you learn during your stay?

P. R.-G.: How to fish with a spear. How to speak Marshallese (not all that useful outside of the Marshall Islands!). How to play the guitar. How to take a shower with just one small bucket full of water. I learned how incredibly dark night can be, and how incredibly bright day can be.

PT: Why did you decide to write a book about your adventures in the Pacific region?

P. R.-G.: I always wanted to write a travel book. It’s a genre that really attracts me. The best travel books combine the best of memoir writing and essay writing – a compelling narrative that also provides a lot of fascinating information about a culture and a place, and interesting perspectives on life. Travel books also captivate me because they are about the gap between expectations and reality, what we thought we’d get and what we actually got. So they are about confronting difference and reality in all of its unexpectedness, which is not just fun and stimulating but can also be humiliating and painful.

PT: How has Ujae changed since your first visit?

P. R.-G.: I definitely noticed a difference between the first time I was there (2003-4) and the second time (2007). There were more electric lights, powered by solar panels. There were a few more gadgets than before. It seemed to me that there was more coastal erosion than before, but it’s possible I was just looking harder for it the second time because I had gotten much more interested in climate change. Locals said that they had observed erosion. I remember a particular coconut tree that had stuck out into the lagoon in a conspicuous way. It was very distinctive. It was alive and standing in 2004, collapsed and dead in 2007. Of course that doesn’t prove anything, but it did make the threat of climate change feel much more real for me.

PT: Do you think the atoll, and the rest of the country, is in danger of being swallowed up by the ocean one day? What are your views on climate change?

P. R.-G.: Chances are that it’ll be a while yet until the Marshall Islands are totally submerged by the ocean. But there’s a real possibility that the country will be uninhabitable (even though not totally submerged) within the lifetimes of children living in the Marshall Islands today. It’s impossible to know for sure because there are so many unknowns. Will climate legislation succeed? Will green energy take over the market? How fast will the oceans rise? How will the island ecosystem respond? How will the people respond? This creates uncertainty, and in uncertainty there is hope. I believe that it is much too early for Marshallese people to give up on the idea of inhabiting their country far into the future. But the possibility of eventual exile must be taken seriously, even so.

PT: Is there anything we can do to stop climate change?

P. R.-G.: It’s impossible to completely stop climate change, unfortunately. It’s already occurring, and more of more of the weird weather events we’re having now being scientifically attributed to climate change. Also, there is certain latency period in the climate system, meaning that greenhouse gases we’re already emitted will cause further climate change even if we stopped emitting any greenhouse gases immediately. There’s change locked into the system.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s still to be determined whether climate change is moderate, severe, or catastrophic. It’s definitely good to bike or walk rather than drive when possible, eat less meat, only boil as much water as you really need for that cup of tea, take the train instead of a plane, etc. But I think that greater change comes about not from these individual choices, but from banding together to push for larger change. I’m not talking about something grandiose like all people becoming hunter-gatherers. I’m talking about medium-sized change like making bike lanes more available in a particular city, starting a petition to pressure your representative into supporting a clean energy bill, etc. Medium-sized change, not huge change which is unrealistic or tiny change which isn’t significant. I firmly believe in making it easier for people to do the right thing. In Copenhagen, for instance, all kinds of people bike to work, not because they care so much about the environment, but it’s been set up in a way that makes biking very safe, easy, and economical. Make it easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing.

PT: What can we, Westerners, learn from the Pacific Island countries and people?

P. R.-G.: I recently read a book called ‘Bowling Alone’ that shows a huge amount of evidence that in the US (and, I would guess, other Western countries) people’s interconnectedness to each other, trust in each other, generosity, etc. has plummeted in the last 30 or 40 years. That probably won’t surprise anyone, but the sheer amount of evidence really impressed me and made me realize what a huge problem this is, not just for having a functioning democracy but also for individual health and happiness. I think that Pacific Islanders, or at least the ones I knew in the Marshall Islands, are keenly aware of how important this ‘social capital’ is to all aspects of life. They talk about it all the time, and about how worried they are that it will erode in the future. I think that many Pacific Island communities have held onto their social capital more than most Western communities. This requires some sacrifices – for instance, in the Marshall Islands people have kept their traditional land ownership system in which land cannot be bought or sold or owned individually, and this is definitely an obstacle to economic development in the country. But, I think it is probably worth it for the social capital that it helps to safeguard.

PT: What did the visit to Marshall Islands change in your life?

P. R.-G.: It taught me that no simple story about indigenous people, ‘traditional’ people, and so forth is ever correct. For instance, colonialists have often told the story of native peoples as being savages that needed to be civilized, missionaries have told the story of native peoples as heathens who must be saved, romantics have told the story of native peoples as infinitely wise and noble, etc. None of these stories is right because indigenous people are people, full of all of the complexities of humans everywhere. Once my preconceptions were challenged by actually living with the people, it’s hard to take seriously any simple stereotype, whether positive or negative, about a culture.

PT: Do you think Pasifika is a special place in the world?

P. R.-G.: I do. It’s the most extensive group of islands in the world. Paul Theroux called it a constellation, which I think is a great description. The people who settled it were the greatest sailors in history. They found almost every tiny bit of land in an area that is larger than all of the continents put together. They almost certainly made it to South America and back. They found Hawaii, the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, and probably sailed back and forth from there to the rest of Polynesia for several centuries.

‘SURVIVING PARADISE – ONE YEAR ON A DISAPPEARING ISLAND’ BY PETER RUDIAK-GOULD

‘Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island’ is a memoir written by Peter Rudiak-Gould, who spent twelve months working as a teacher on Ujae – a coral atoll in the Marshall Islands and one of the most remote places in the world.

SURVIVING PARADISE

Summary

Peter, a fresh graduate, decides to become a volunteer. He applies to the WorldTeach program and soon after that moves to the Republic of Marshall Islands. From Majuro, the capital of the country, he sets out to Ujae in order to teach English in a local elementary school.

Peter’s dream of an idyllic island life is quickly shattered into pieces. The place is not exactly as he imagined it would be – the nearest telephone, car, hotel, store, or even road are miles away, and the only thing he can see is blue water. He doesn’t speak the natives’ language and the natives don’t speak his. What is worse, his new job turns out to be real hell on earth.

Although his sojourn on Ujae is filled with ups and downs, Peter gradually starts noticing its positive sides. He makes friends with local inhabitants and begins to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. But most importantly, he discovers who he really is.

Review

If you have ever dreamt of escaping to a tropical island, this book will get you there. Literally. The way Peter Rudiak-Gould depicts the surroundings is just phenomenal. With his vivid language, he paints a very real picture of a remote archipelago, its people, and their fascinating culture. And he does it in a light-hearted, humorous manner that is both enjoyable and extremely pleasant to read.

Now, although ‘Surviving Paradise’ is a personal memoir, the author doesn’t write much about himself. Instead, he uses his adventures as an ‘excuse’ to acquaint readers with the country. Everything he describes – his spearfishing escapades, his teaching efforts, or even the locals’ attire – serves a higher purpose. He doesn’t only share his experiences and observations, he educates us. He explains the Marshallese way of life: customs, traditions, and beliefs; expounds on the tragic history of the islands; and delineates the most important political issues. Quite a few pages are dedicated to global warming – a growing problem we should all be aware of, even though some people still refuse to acknowledge its existence.

Apart from being a wonderful piece of travel literature, the book is also a detailed and compelling linguistic study. The author’s narrative contains an unusually large number of Marshallese words. They form a kind of mini dictionary that may come in handy for those of you who plan to follow in Peter Rudiak-Gould’s footsteps and one day visit that Micronesian paradise. And if you’d like to broaden your linguistic knowledge even further, you can download Peter’s textbook: ‘Practical Marshallese’.

The engaging story, of course, is unquestionably the highlight of this memoir. But Peter’s writing style is also quite outstanding. His prose is clear and elegant, without being prosaic or dull. There are no flowery depictions, and yet you can imagine the scenery pretty well. Every single sentence captures attention, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself chained to this book from its very first page.

‘Surviving Paradise’ is a charming and deeply entertaining travelogue. Written with a gentle sense of humour, it casts a light on human nature and the power of culture. It is a real eye-opener; something everyone should read.

‘SAILING TO JESSICA’ BY KELLY WATTS

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a modern-day adventure book as well as a memoir written by Kelly Watts. It tells the story of an amazing voyage Kelly and her husband set out on in December 2001.

SAILING TO JESSICA

Summary

At 35 years old, Kelly and Paul feel they need a change in their lives. A breeze of fresh air, something new and exciting. Something that would help them forget about their ongoing fertility struggles. Inspired by Tania Aebi’s book, they decide to sail across the Pacific Ocean. So they sell their house in Philadelphia, quit their jobs, and buy Cherokee Rose – a boat destined to become their new home. But, as they soon discover, sailing with no experience is not always an easy task. Nevertheless, Kelly and Paul are determined to succeed. And even the forty-knot gale they get caught in just two days after purchasing their sloop is not a discouragement.

Along the way, they visit quite a few interesting places. They encounter sea lions in Galapagos, buy black pearls in French Polynesia, and meet the sole inhabitant of the remote Suwarrow atoll in the Cook Islands. They drink kava in Fiji and enjoy the raw beat of drums in Tuvalu. Sailing up north, they stop in Kiribati. A short visit to this equatorial country turns into a lifelong adventure when Kelly and Paul meet their daughter Jessica. The miracle of adoption brings new meaning not only to their voyage but most of all to their lives.

Review

This book is exceptional for many reasons. To begin with, it is the most beautiful tale of love, family, and hope – it shows that everyone should chase their dreams and fight for their happiness despite any obstacles that may arise. Because ‘impossible’ does not exist. If you really want something, you will – sooner or later – find a way to achieve it. You just have to believe and dare to take the risk. I don’t think anyone would expect such wonderful words of inspiration from an adventure book. But I guess once in a while we all can be pleasantly surprised.

In addition to being a powerful ‘motivator’, it is also a fantastic read for all those people who dream of or are interested in sailing. Packed with technical terms as well as detailed and accurate descriptions of a nautical life, the story can be a great source of information for cruisers in all stages. There are some useful tips, there are some guidelines, there are some tricks that can make somebody else’s journey a worry-free (at least to some degree) and pleasant adventure.

Of course, the Blue Continent is also a prominent subject. Paul and Kelly’s route took them to places like Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, French Polynesia, Kiribati, and the Cook Islands, and I must say that all these beautiful locations are vividly described. Some of the countries are portrayed more cursorily than the others, nevertheless all of them do appear in the book. And there is one, absolutely fantastic piece on the sole inhabitant of the Suwarrow atoll that simply tugs at your heartstrings.

The memoir is, without a doubt, worth reading. It’s hard to find an attention-grabbing, action-packed adventure story that inspires and makes people think about their own lives. But this is exactly what Kelly Watts did. She wrote a lovely tale about sailing. And that’s not an easy thing to do because ‘lovely’ and ‘sailing’ simply don’t go together. Yet, she managed. She shared her experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The result? A well-written, funny, absorbing, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable book. Read it, and you will feel like a member of the crew.

A CHAT WITH… MADELAIN WESTERMANN

Are you looking for a unique book for your child? If so, ‘Island of the Invisible Being’ should be your choice. Its author is Madelain Westermann, a teacher from Oregon who fell in love with the island cultures after working in the Marshall Islands. I highly recommend reading the interview with this talented and utterly lovely lady!

MADELAIN WESTERMANN

Pasifika Tales: What inspired you to write a book for children?

Madelain Westermann: I have been teaching in one form or another since 1976. The only reason I continue to teach at my age is the children. They are amazing, miraculous, and inspiring. When I come across former students and see what they have done with their lives, I know that I can teach one more year! Our 8th Grade teacher at my current school was one of my former students. She has a beautiful family, and will probably be my boss next year! That’s plenty of reason enough for me to keep suiting up and showing up! So, I chose a children’s book format as they are the future and the book contains a message of ‘being an over-comer’. This is a message that children at this time in history need to internalize the most!

PT: And what inspired you to write this particular story?

MW: I was inspired by a third grade student who was in my class on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. He lived on Ebeye and took the boat over daily to attend school. He wrote this as an assignment for class. He told me that his grandmother had told it to him. He graduated from elementary school and was attending middle school when I was told that he had taken his life. I was so upset but powerless to do anything as I had not been in contact with him for several years. When I left the Marshall Islands, I found his story in with my teaching materials. I had no idea how it got there, but decided to rewrite his story because I wanted some part of him to be passed on. After the book was published, Benjua contacted me and asked for a copy of the book! Turns out that his life’s adventure did not end as I was told! He is now a professional salvage diver!

PT: Children’s books with a protagonist who is not white are not necessarily popular. I would say it was a risky endeavour on your part. Do you agree?

MW: This was a story set in a culture that has such a rich and vibrant history that is basically unknown to most of the world. As global warming increases, this entire culture is at risk of being lost or assimilated. I truly believe that the loss of one culture is a grievous offence to all of humanity. The Marshallese culture has a rich history that needs to be shared both in story and in our curriculum in schools. There were no other picture books for children of this culture that I could find. So, Emon needed to be fully Marshallese to bring this culture into children’s minds, hearts, and imagination. The money was never a consideration in publishing this book. The memory was.

PT: Did you create this book for Pacific Island children or did you want to introduce the Marshall Islands culture to wider audiences?

MW: Both really. I have shipped books to students who are teaching on Ebeye and had book presentations here in America. I use it as part of a UBD Unit (Understanding by Design) that I use in my 4th Grade classroom to this day. My kids LOVE learning about the Marshall Islands! I was contacted by an individual who is trying to translate the text into Marshallese. I have tried to do this in the past, but haven’t succeeded yet in creating a bilingual copy. So the book was intended for anyone who would listen and wanted to learn a little bit about a courageous culture of people way out in the Pacific!

PT: Speaking of the Marshall Islands. How much time did you spend there?

MW: In total, I spent 15 years in the Marshall Islands, but at two different times.

PT: What did you – as a person and possibly as a teacher – learn during your stay?

MW: What did I learn?? Honey, it would never fit on these pages!! I wrote an entire unit about the Marshallese Culture that was embedded in the school curriculum there. I am not sure if ‘The Marshallese Culture Experience’ is still a part of the Elementary School program on Kwajalein. But I have to say, now that I am looking back, that the resourcefulness, creativity, and imagination of the Marshallese people is like no other! Put that with their cultural norm of generosity of spirit that could inspire the world, most specifically in today’s mind-set!

PT: I’m sure you know some fascinating Marshallese legends. Have you considered writing more books based on the Marshallese culture?

MW: Oh yes! At one time, I had mapped out a series, but writing and presenting take so much time away from my true passion which is teaching, that I had to put a hold on it until I retire. To teach effectively, I need to be ‘truly present’ with my students for them to really learn during the one short year that they are with me in 4th Grade. I keep trying to retire, but my principal is REALLY GOOD at convincing me that I really need to teach ‘just one more year’. So far, I haven’t found a good enough reason not to! And I do truly love my profession!

PT: Are there any children’s books featuring Pacific Islander characters you would recommend?

MW: Actually, in the picture book format and from the Marshallese culture, I couldn’t find any. There are many based on Hawaiian culture, but I haven’t yet found one that I love for children. I do like ‘Call It Courage’ by Sperry, but it is really old. I haven’t research it lately, though.

‘ISLAND OF THE INVISIBLE BEING: BENJUA’S STORY’ BY MADELAIN WESTERMANN

‘Island of the Invisible Being: Benjua’s Story’ is a legend from the Marshall Islands written by Madelain Westermann and illustrated by Erin Johnson.

ISLAND OF THE INVISIBLE BEING

Summary

Despite being an obedient and hard-working child, Emon can’t please her parents. No matter what she does and how hard she tries, they seem to be never happy with her.

But one day they decide to take her to the Island of the Invisible Being to have a picnic. When Emon goes gather wood for the fire, her mother and father suddenly take off in a canoe, leaving the girl behind in a stranded place. Realizing the betrayal of her parents, Emon knows that no one will help her and that she can count only on herself.

Review

Children’s books need to tick off a lot of boxes in order to be considered worthy of the youngsters’ time. They must capture attention, tell a compelling story, carry a valuable lesson, and be pleasant on the eye. It may appear easy, but it’s a great art. If I tell you that Madelain Westermann’s ‘Island of the Invisible Being’ ticks off all these boxes (and more), I’m certain you will be interested.

It’s quite difficult to find a book Pacific children could relate to. Literature doesn’t like diversity or colour, which is regrettable and sad. A Samoan, Papuan, Chuukese child is more likely to spot a title about a strange creature from another planet than one about his or her fellow Islander. That’s why Emon’s story stands out from the crowd. The island setting, the Marshallese characters, and the local culture make it a fascinating read, I dare say not only for children from the Blue Continent.

As soon as you start reading, you are transported to the beautiful world of the Pacific Islands. Beautiful, enchanting, and a little mysterious. Young Emon introduces you to Marshallese traditions: you discover the art of basket weaving, learn what Islanders’ favourite food is, find out what was used to navigate the great Pacific Ocean. The Marshallese way of living is subtly entwined into the tale, leaving you curious to know more.

That curiosity is further aroused by stunning illustrations, which are a real delight for the eyes. Vibrant colours and an original way of portraying every scene bring the words to life, unfolding before you the magic of the islands. It is impossible not to look at the pages. The azure sky, dark blue waters, lush green vegetation make you literally stare at the pictures in awe.

Now, a good children’s book usually comes with a moral. The moral of this story is a great lesson and reminder for us all, regardless of age. Because how often do we let our fears overpower us? How often do we give up? How often do we take other people for granted? Each of the characters teaches us something different: Emon – that you have to be strong and always endure hardships with fortitude; her family – that selfishness, greed, and unkindness never pay; the Invisible Being – that justice is always served. Those are the truths that every child should know and every adult should remember.

Madelain Westermann and Erin Johnson have created a gem. It’s an utterly beautiful book with a valuable story that deserves its place in every home! Kids will absolutely love it. And so will their parents.