Talk Story with Kathy Kiaha

Every now and then, Kathy Kiaha opens up “Rainbow Cookies” and reads. She reads stories of geckos and shave ice and stars and swimming. They make her smile and she remembers the magic of how that book came together a decade ago.

Kiaha didn’t know then that children’s book written by her Hanalei School kindergartners would become an island favorite. It shares their tales of what they found best about living Kauai. It is full of sweet and innocent times, seen through the eyes of keiki with love and hope in their hearts. It brings one back to their own childhood and helps them remember just why they, too, love life on Kauai as they read the words and see the pictures of “Rainbow Cookies.”

How did “Rainbow Cookies” come together?

Children and teacher produce a product each year, a fundraiser, Every year at Hanalei School, every teacher was responsible to have their class make a creative project, a student-made project. So the children and teacher in charge had to come up with a creative idea. Some kind of art work that could go up for live auction at the Starry Nights fundraiser.

We came up every year with different projects. Little children’s table and chair sets made out of sea glass and sea shells and starfish, one year a little sea creature quilt, these things were all made with supervision, but made by the children. And they would go up for live auction and make $350, maybe $375 per class for the school.

And I was running out of ideas. A parent in my class, Nikki Horgan, is real energetic and a go-getter. She said, “Kathy, what do you think about a children’s book?” We went back and forth with it and came up with each student writing a story on what they love about living on Kauai.

We sat and talked story and they each got to pick their own story idea, gecko to shave idea, something that was meaningful to them. That how it got started.

I thought, “That’s great, but how much could that really earn for the school?” I held my breath that night when the book went up for live auction.

I was sitting next to my brother-in-law when the thing went up for live auction. He said, “Pierce (Brosnan) just bought it for $1,200.” I’m going “What, you’re kidding me.” That evening I learned he collected first editions.

He encourage Nikki and I to go for full publication. He helped that by doing the introduction and tagline in the back, making it more interesting.

So students didn’t pick the same ideas for their stories?

They couldn’t double. If you chose geckos, nobody else could. So I had 25 little keiki and I needed 25 different ideas. All sitting on the floor with me and telling me what they wanted to do.

They wrote in a journal every day. They are telling the story And we are writing every word they’re sharing, verbatim.

The original book Pierce bought is a little different, with a different cover from the story about jumping off Hanalei Pier, and the typeset is different.

How many copies of the book were printed?

Fifty cases, 32 in a case.

How many are left?

About 30 cases. That’s it. They won’t be republished.

How much is the book?

$16.99. For each one sold, $12 goes to the school. It’s an ongoing fundraiser. It’s not like a bake sale or car wash. Until the last book is sold, it will raise money for the school.

Where is the book available?

Magic Dragon in Princeville; Kokonut Kids in Hanalei; Ohana Shop in Hanalei; Back Door in Hanalei and Mini-Golf.

How did they do the illustrations?

Curtis Cabral, a local Hanalei artist, came to our classroom to give the students some ideas to enrich their own artwork.

It was their artwork. Only kindergarteners can illustrate like that. They just do it. One time, and it comes out as beautiful as what you see. They have special confidence and they just do it.

How did you come up with the title, “Rainbow Cookies”?

That was from the story of one of the students, Eden Hoagland. She wrote how she loves rainbows. She wrote about little bits of rainbows, like rainbow cookies. We were debating on what to call it and when she said that, the light went on. “Rainbow Cookies.” How cute is that.

What was the community response to the book?

Borders, once it went to full publication, they did a full week of the book and all the children’s artwork in their front window for a whole week. That Saturday, the children were all invited to a book signing. They all got to come in and they had games and everything set up for the children. They had tables set up. A couple of the parents and adults read from the stories. The children, the little authors, got to sign the books for the adults who bought the books that day. They were lined up at tables. They were so proud. The confidence. “I did this, me, I’m 4 years old, that’s my story.” It was amazing.

Princeville Library had a book signing in January 2009 and a parent made these delightful edible cookies.

This community kind came of came together and really helped out.

What do you hope the kids took away from writing the book?

For them to learn even as a small child, all things are possible. With encouragement and perseverance, they can do it.

Is there anything you want to see happen next with “Rainbow Cookies”?

I would just like to see it get out there while the books are in pristine condition. I would like to see them get into the hands of the happy reader who can enjoy them and share them with their grandchildren, or whoever would appreciate them,

You taught for 37 years, the last 20 at Hanalei School, and retired in 2008. Where does this book stand in terms of your career?

Pretty high. Pretty high accomplishment. It certainly had to make the children feel really good about themselves, but it certainly did a lot for me, as well. It really gave me a sense of connection with the community.

Did you write books?

I myself didn’t write any books, but I did have the children write lots of books. There were some years where they wrote maybe 13 different books themselves. I was so proud of them. We have a little author’s day at the end of other years.

They would get to sit in my rocking chair and they get to pick two or three selections from whatever their choice was, because their parents were all there that day. So they sat their with their microphone, “Now I’m going to read from my journal. This is how I wrote in the beginning of the year and this how I write now.” And they show the comparison so it really blew them away. It was amazing, to themselves and to their parents, but mostly to these kids. I’m so proud of them.

It was making those little authors who are now teenagers so absolutely proud of their outstanding accomplishments.

Do you keep in touch with your students?

I do. People ask me if I miss teaching. I miss the kids so much. I appreciate it when they come running up to you and give you a hug. “Mrs. Kiaha!” It’s the best. It’s the best ever.

I get invited to their weddings. We just went to their high school graduations.

Did you have a favorite story in “Rainbow Cookies”?

The gecko. I was reading it out loud the other day while we were driving and I swear he had to pull over to the side of the road, we were both laughing so hard.

Shave Ice, I think, is pretty cute.

When I read them and reread them, I know the children and I remember them so well.


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