Kamehameha: The warrior king of Hawaii
By Susan Morrison
Illustrated by Karen Kiefer
University of Hawaii Press
Ages 10 and up
Review by Doug Ing


A highway, a shopping center and a private school are named for Kamehameha. He united all of the Hawaiian Islands under one rule. There is a statue of him across the street from Iolani Palace, the same one on the Big Island of Hawaii and another one in the statuary hall in the nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C. When he died, he was buried in a secret place. That was the extent of my knowledge of the warrior king and I grew up in Hawaii, where one studies Hawaiian history in the fourth grade.

“Kamehameha” recounts the story of his life from birth to death. It is written for middle school children but is of interest to all readers. The book is only 65 pages and with the bibliography and historical notes, it rounds out to 85 pages. You can read about the life of a great man in well under an hour. The chapters are two to four pages of text with one black-and white-woodblock print illustration that is reminiscent of the carved petroglyphs carved in the volcanic rocks. These images are bold and help bring to life the story where the text may be lacking.

Kamehameha’s life story is an engaging read. It would be almost impossible for any author not to write an exciting tale. Some aspects of his life are similar to those of other great leaders. His being spirited away as a child and being raised by someone other than his parents is just like Moses being rescued from the river by the Pharoah’s daughter. The lifting of the Naha stone recalls King Arthur pulling the sword, Excalibur, out of the stone. These tales make one wonder how much of Kamehameha’s life story is factual. The book’s information is very much grounded in historical fact. The Hawaiians made contact with Western civilization near the end of Kamehameha’s life, and his life story was recorded while it was still in recent memory.

The brevity of the book means that the text is devoted to telling a story and nothing more. There is nothing extra to help paint a portrait of what it might have been like to live in the days of Kamehameha. Having been to some of the locations named in the book, my mind could readily envision the story being told. For someone else, these place names would be meaningless. However, that shouldn’t detract from the many fine points of the book such as the historical notes and bibliography that more than make up for the lack of a detailed, descriptive text. If one keeps in mind that they are not reading a historical novel, then they will not be disappointed..

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