A wise songwriter dubbed him the “Hawaiian Superman” and immortalized one of his tales into a hit song—one cultural icon singing about another. The songwriter was Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and the “Hawaiian Superman” is the mythological hero, Maui.

Living in Hawaii you’d be hard pressed to avoid the tale of how Maui snared the sun, and variations of his many exploits can be found in legends across the Pacific, most prevalent in Maori and Hawaiian legends. How Maui Slowed the Sun (UH Press) by Suelyn Ching Tune is an adaptation of that tale. This keiki picture book illustrated by Robin Yoko Burningham, is told from the point of view of a young Maui, still in his boyhood who doesn’t have enough daylight hours to fly his kite. It’s a small twist on the original tale, but it makes a big difference in making the story accessible to young kids who can relate to wanting more time outside to play. As the young Maui walks home from his short day he notices how the different people of his village are affected by the sun moving so quickly across the sky. The fisherman have no time to fish, the farmers have no crops, and his mother cannot dry her tapa. So, he sets out to catch the sun by lassoing its legs and forcing it to slow down.

The book is quite close to the original tale, as recorded by Mary Kawena Pukui in Tales of the Menehune (Kamehameha Press), which was also illustrated by Burningham. It amused me that the children’s book version of the story is longer than the actual tale, but still had less details in its narrative. I read this keiki book aloud to a toddler (2-3 yrs.) and he lost interest right when Maui was going home after playing with his kite. Although the pictures are lovely, especially the pictures of Maui and the sun, they’re not substantial enough to hold the attention of a young one who depends on the illustrations to show the progression of the story and stay involved. However, the book is perfect for an early reader who will enjoy reading the story as much as looking at the pictures.

Ms. Mitchell, the YA Librarian from Liliha, had kindly recommended this book for our Library Tour Challenge.  As mentioned in the write-up of our Liliha Library visit (which you can view here if you missed it), we agree with Ms. Mitchell in encouraging Hawai’i kids to pursue an interest in local literature at an early age. This is definitely one of the better produced keiki books on Hawaiian legends and illustrates how important fishing and farming were to the Hawaiian people.

If you’re interested in reading more of Maui’s adventures, Martha Beckwith and William Westervelt are two early folklorists who were successful in recording some of the old legends of Hawaii and the Pacific. You can find electronic versions of their work on Google.

Folktales about capturing the sun are not restricted to Maui and Pacific cultures. People have crafted stories to explain the nature of the sun and weather for centuries. There are a few American Indian and African tales that have a similar theme and I went in search of some to share. Luckily, someone already did all the hard work for me and I found an excellent site run by Stanford University with lots of links to folktales about the sun. Check it out here!