Storybook Characters Visit Students At Mililani Mauka School

Shannon Snavely's third grade class has a great time handing out with Leilani, Keoki and Kai during their Nov. 6 visit to Mililani Mauka Elementary School. Photo by Miguel Gonzalez.

Shannon Snavely’s third grade class has a great time handing out with Leilani, Keoki and Kai during their Nov. 6 visit to Mililani Mauka Elementary School. Photo by Miguel Gonzalez.

Characters from the popular book series Little Kahuna and Da Menehune visited students at Mililani Mauka Elementary School Nov. 6 to promote the values of reading, respect, kindness and Hawaiian culture.

According to everyone involved, the event was a huge success as the children sat riveted to the story, and interacted excitedly with life-size mascots that represented the story’s main characters.

Little Kahuna and Da Menehune follows the adventures of Keoki (the Little Kahuna) and his menehune playmates Leilani, Kai, Moki and Kimo. Through their fun adventures, the playful characters teach lessons about sharing, self-confidence and respect through traditional Hawaiian values.

“The whole idea is to help children learn about Hawaiian culture through fun characters,” said author and creator Tom Aki. “At this age, kids don’t want to listen to a kupuna or someone’s grandma or some other older person who comes read a story. They want to attach themselves to something in the story. I feel the mascots give them the opportunity to feel attached to the story.”

The students from Shannon Snavely’s third-grade class were only the second group to receive a visit from Keoki and his special friends. The first mystical appearance happened at Heeia Elementary School where Aki’s co-author, editor and longtime fiance, Elizabeth Lee, is a teacher.

“We had about 120 kids in the cafeteria. We had a reader, and the kids were just in awe of the characters. They loved them. They hugged them and gave them high-fives,” said Aki.

Even though he’s not a trained educator, Snavely said Aki, a Kaneohe resident, has come up with a unique way to engage young students.

“The books are well-written, they are not too long, the pictures are bright and colorful. He’s definitely found a niche that kids relate to.”

As far as the mascot characters, they were just as important, said Snavely, as the lessons being taught.

“I think the menehune’s being small and the smaller version of the boy (Keoki) helped. Seeing them does help the kids make a better connection to the story.”

Aki said the lessons in the stories were taken from his own childhood experiences, and that his efforts at being a self-publisher of children’s books provided further content to the stories.

“In the stories are messages that I hope will motivate them to question things, to ask questions and search for answers. I’m trying to instill in kids to set goals and be motivated to see their goals come true.”

Aki and Lee have published two books in what is a planned 10-book series. Each book – about 28 illustrated pages in length – acts as a single chapter in the complete story.

The first two books, Little Kahuna and Da Menehune and Little Kahuna and Da Menehune: Lost and Found, already are popular with young readers. A yet-untitled third book is in the illustration phase which Aki hopes to have ready by February when they plan to unveil their statewide initiative to bring their lovable characters to every elementary school in the state.

To date, the pair has donated copies of both books to more than 236 elementary schools across the state. The books are available for check out at the schools’ libraries.

Parents can also purchase the books at local bookstores and online at