Think tropical … island nations, high and low islands. Feel the sun’s warmth, the stir of a gentle breeze clattering palm fronds high overhead. Escape winter, cold, snow, white, ice. How?
In a book. Open one of the many books published by Bess Press, one of the first independent publishers located in Honolulu. Their books cover history and culture, war and peace in the Pacific, the many cultures of Polynesia, Micronesia (meaning small islands, there are over 10,000 islands in Micronesia) and Melanesia (the dark islands).
For this article about Bess Press I asked Buddy Bess, who founded this Pacific book publisher in 1979, several questions about Bess Press and the books they publish.
What are your visions and hopes for the future of children’s literature?
Buddy: It’s exploding … the diversity, the increased selection of good literature is stunning. The demand for Pacific based literature and literacy-based nonfiction is huge and the opportunity to partner with different cultures, languages, and economics is challenging.
During this pandemic, what have been some of the challenges?
Being flexible! All of us who are part of creating, making, and distributing books for children — authors, illustrators, publishers, distributors, and bookstore owners, we must adapt to the reality of the marketplace.
What is the passion that gives you the courage to continue publishing books?
Tell us about a few of your recent publications and why they are unique.
Our 40 book series “Island Readers” is a place based (Hawaii/Pacific) leveled- reading series developed specifically for beginning readers. “Island Readers” initially was only published in English but now it is being translated and printed into bi-lingual and mono-lingual languages for Pacific Island nations. These readers are being made available in small books, big books, and digital books for the Marshall Islands (Marshallese), Chuuk (Chuukese) and Hawaiian. Future bi-lingual books currently in process include Palauan, Chamorro (for Saipan and Guam), Kosaraen, and Pohnepeis. These individual island nations of Micronesia are each unique in their language, culture, and history. Few Americans realize the breath and extent of the Pacific Ocean and across it, the diversity of cultures that people these thousands of islands.
What books of yours would you especially recommend to young readers, teachers and librarians?
Depending on what a reader wants to learn about the Pacific — its history, its people, its unique tropical diversity of plants and animals — I suggest starting with an overview offered in Pacific Neighbors or Pacific Nations and Territories. For history and World War II buffs, start with USS Arizona, Warship, Tomb, Monument or Pacific Island Battle Grounds, Then and Now.
To read the ancient stories, myths and legends or descriptions of unique cultural practices and beliefs, try “in our own voices” Marianas Island Legends, Myth and Magic (disclosure, compiled by Nancy Bo Flood) or Pacific Island Legends, Tales from Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.
Bess Press offers biographies of many of the Hawaiian monarchs — kings and queens — history interwoven with the arrival of whaling ships, missionaries, and authors such as Mark Twain, Jack London, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Contemporary children’s books for all ages — informational, concept, language, etc. — are available bilingual as well as in Hawaiian only or English only.
One lovely picture book to try is Hawaiian Ocean Lullaby.
Close your eyes. Listen to the surf swoosh and tumble, the trade winds clattering through the coconut palms. Listen to the history, legends and stories told in the diversity of books published by Bess Press. So many ancient worlds exist out there in the vast Pacific — enjoy exploring them through the books published by Bess Press.
The Bess Press online catalog is easy to navigate.