Bess Press

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? 

My grand­chil­dren!

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique. 

Bess Press Island ReadersOur 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.

USS Arizona Warship Tomb Monument
Marianas Island Legends
Hawaiian Ocean Lullaby

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. 

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