Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kaua'i: Seeing the Sights & Helping the Hawaiian Monk Seal and

Our behind-the-scenes look at the American Girl "Girl of the Year" books continues. We were just on television, however now (thanks to my Time Machine), we're back in Hawaii for the last days of our research.

After surfing and such in Oahu, we headed to Kaua'i where Peepy and I started our visit off in high style. Literally.

Yes! We took a helicopter tour of the island, and WOW. Magnificent! No wonder so many famous films were shot here, like Raiders of the Lost Arc, King Kong, Jurassic Park, Hook, Avatar and more.

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BTW, those photos were taken with my iPhone. Imagine how beautiful they'd look with a real camera!

I spent a lot of time just driving around, soaking up the atmosphere and talking with locals . . .

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Talk Story was a wonderful indie book store and I was surprised to discover that the owners were from Los Angeles, originally. We had a great time chatting, but since I was undercover, I couldn't tell them I was working on the American Girl Kanani books!


When I was told that the 2011 Girl of the Year would be from Hawaii, I instantly began to research. Quickly, I decided to include the plight of the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. There are only about 1,200 left in the world, and many of those are in Kaua'i, and that's how I decided which island Kanani's stories would be set on.

So American Girl put me in touch with this man . . .


Tim Robinson is the Kaua'i Monk Seal Watch Program (a.k.a. KMSWP) project coordinator. Prior to my trip, we met in Los Angles and instantly hit it off. Good thing, because soon I would be bombarding Tim with questions about the monk seals, and Kaua'i, and why I always get the shopping cart with the funny wheel. (Okay, maybe two of those three things.)

Tim made arrangements for me to meet Millie Johnston and Donna Lee, who are also KMSWP volunteers. Spending the day with these two was one of the highlights of my week-long research . . .


I really, really, really wanted to see a monk seal . . .

(I took this photo of a photo from my hotel room, since I was certain I wouldn't see a real monk seal.)

A Hawaiian monk seal sighting is not the sort of thing you can schedule. However, Millie and Donna showed me around the island and the beaches where there are frequent sightings . . .

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By that time, I had written the outlines for the books, and knew that Kanani would have a dog, a goat and a rooster. So I made sure to take lots of photos for the art department and illustrator Sarah Davis . . .

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I also spent time with Sue Kanoho, the Executive Director, Kaua'i Visitors Bureau. She told me all about the island and shared stories and insights into the Kaua'i culture, plus she loaded me up with books and music and other things from Kaua'i. In return . . . I named a chicken after her!!! (You can read about Sue the chicken in GOOD JOB, KANANI.)

Here's Sue getting a glass chicken from the Kaua'i Monk Seal Watch Program . . .
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On my last day in Hawaii, I still hadn't seen a monk seal. But that was fine, because I got to know the island and made new friends. Then, as I was driving to the Lihue Airport, I got a phone call from Millie. A young monk seal was hauled out on the beach!

I wasn't sure what to do. I mean, I didn't want to miss my flight. Still, I had come all this way, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a monk seal. So, I turned the car around.

From a distance, there were two gray objects on the sand, and I couldn't tell if it was really a seal or driftwood. (In ALOHA, KANANI, she would mistake a piece of driftwood for a seal.)


It was both! I got closer, but not too close, you never want to get too close to a monk seal -- that's for your safety and theirs.


Because the KMSWP volunteers are on duty 24/7, they had already roped off the area and put up signs informing people about the monk seals, and asking them to stay back.

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It was such a thrill to see the seal, that it made me cry. These animals are the most endangered U.S. marine mammal, and being able to actually see one made, and feel the emotions that I did, made it easier to write about.

In Kanani's books, she raises money to help the Hawaiian monk seal. American Girl is also raising awareness and money. As part of their Shine on Now program, for every plush monk seal purchased, they will donate $1, up to $100,00 to the National Wildlife Federation, with a portion of that going to help the Hawaiian monk seals.

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When the Girl of the Year was announced it was big news on Kaua'i . . .

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The first person to receive the Kanani doll and books was the mayor!
Denise Jones, KMSWP Secretary --- Millie Johnston, former KMSWP President----Donna Lee, KMSWP Treasurer-----Kaua'i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. --Tim Robinson, KMSWP Projects Coordinator-------and Sue Kanoho, Executive Director, Kaua'i Visitors Bureau

What a wonderful time I had researching and writing ALOHA, KANANI and GOOD JOB, KANANI!!! (My kids kept saying, "You HAVE to go to Hawaii? That's not fair!!!"

Next month I'll be traveling around the country on a book tour. Please come by if you're in the area!


Disclaimer: No proofreaders were harmed (or even used) in the creation of this blog.



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