Lahaina keiki publish their own art book, find comfort in a creative outlet after the fires

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Students from the Honokōwai Hub Find Comfort in a Creative Outlet After the Fires.

A group of students affected by the August 2023 Lahaina wildfire have written and illustrated their own book, which has been published with help from Lahaina Arts Guild.  

Honokōwai Learning Hub was formed shortly after the fires. This group was dedicated to supporting keiki and providing a creative outlet for their emotions and a safe, comfortable space to express themselves through art and writing.  

Teacher and volunteer DeAna Duncan inspired the students to help them write and illustrate their collaborative creation — called “Makai Loves Books!” — then she arranged to get the book published.  

Makai Loves Books!

Duncan spent years as a high school teacher in Tennessee, guiding students in Visual Art, Dance and Audio/Visual Production. An artist herself, Duncan came out of early retirement after moving to West Maui and connecting with Lahaina Arts Guild (LAG)/Lahaina Arts Society (LAS), where she began volunteering to teach art at King Kamehameha III Elementary School with renowned artist Kirk Boes. Duncan said she fell in love with the keiki, educators and the school itself, happily welcoming this new chapter in her life to connect kids with art. 


“The day before the fire, I had planned with Kirk to go to the courthouse and take inventory of our art supplies as the new school year was upon us. We were excited to get back into classes with our keiki. That inventory never happened,” Duncan recalls. “Within days of the fire, director Bill Smith let us know he had no plans of ending LAS and LAG. We regrouped amid the chaos and shock and made plans to find our keiki in the community hubs to offer art and healing – for them and for us.” 

Thanks to donations of art supplies, about two weeks after the fire, the group was able to begin offering art at some of the hotel sites, and volunteering time in the hubs. 

Robert Livermore, a teacher from King Kamehameha III, immediately began teaching keiki after the fire. He set up at Airport Beach, then the Nāpili Park Hub. He worked tirelessly with other educators and volunteers to be sure the keiki had a place to learn and be with friends. For weeks they attended “school” at the park. 

Volunteer Rita McClintock helped organize further and found a location that offered an indoor setting with regular hours for families. Koinonia Pentecostal Church in Honokōwai graciously opened their doors to the group in early September. With news of schools reopening in mid-October, Duncan said they were relieved to be a bridge to keep these keiki together until they could return to a school. Many volunteers and parents helped along the way, including Rita McClintock, Riley Bond and Duncan’s teaching partner Zoe Mason. 


“We had between 14 and 20 keiki ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade. Our days were busy, but always started with sharing a book and writing in our journals,” she explains. “This group became a close-knit family. Each day the keiki would write in their journals and most days they wrote of being thankful for their friends and their teachers. I called it our ‘one-room schoolhouse.’ The older keiki assisted us with the younger and we read, talked story, learned, and created art together.” 

The children’s favorite stories were by Peter H. Reynolds. Duncan says were enthralled by the fact that he was an author and an illustrator of his books. She reached out to Reynolds and he sent a message of support to the keiki. 

“You would have thought they had talked to a Rock Star,” Duncan laughed. “They wanted to show him their appreciation, but didn’t think they could do what he does so well. I asked them ‘why not?’ And that began our process for writing and illustrating their own book!” 

Three youngsters took particular interest in creating their own books: Makai, Ulises, and Alena. Duncan set aside time each day for them to brainstorm their ideas, and they came up with their story all on their own. They began with an outline and then all three wrote parts of the story. After they had the story complete, she gave them a list of the pages and how many illustrations were needed to complete the book. Ulises and Makai created the characters with Alena’s help. They worked for three weeks on the book. 


On the last day of the learning hub before these keiki returned to school, there were many tearful goodbyes. Duncan pledged to her young artists and authors that she would put their book together for them. True to her word, she digitally recreated their writing and illustrations, Lahaina Arts Guild covered the cost of production and their creation, “Makai Loves Books,” made its way to an online self-publisher. 

The hub families, teachers and volunteers will gather for a book signing with the young authors at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26 at Maui Kū’ia Chocolate, 78 Ulupono Street in Lahaina, to present the students with their special books.  

“I want to be sure I make good on the promise I made to Alena, Ulises and Makai,” Duncan said. “The resilience these keiki have shown us has been an integral part of the healing that is taking place here in Lahaina. They have shown us to be grateful for each other, love learning, and have confidence that we can make something beautiful together even in the darkest of times.” 


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