“This is ohana, the loved ones we hold,
who give thanks for the sun, all bright and bold,
that warms the wind on which stories are told,
that lifts the rain to the valley fold…”
—Excerpt from Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis
We talk to Maui mom, writer and author Ilima Loomis about her new children’s book Ohana Means Family. In the cumulative style of The House That Jack Built and paired with distinctive illustrations from Kenard Park, Loomis celebrates an island favorite: Poi.
Your book ties food, culture, and a sense of place so beautifully. Of all the traditional Hawaiian foods, why did you choose poi for your story?
IL: Poi is an iconic Hawaiian food that’s not well understood outside the islands and is even seen as a curiosity. I wanted to show it for the beloved food that it is. Also, I love poi! I grew up eating it, so it holds a special place in my heart.
For those who have never tried it, how would you describe the taste and texture of poi?
IL: I usually tell people it’s a thick, starchy paste. It’s cool, smooth, and a little gluey. You can say the taste is bland, but actually there are a lot of subtle flavors. It can be tangy or sweet, depending on how old it is, and it has a subtle earthiness. I grew up eating it with laulau or kalua pig, or just plain with a little Hawaiian salt. Now there are a couple of places where you can get it in an acai bowl and I love it like that!
What do you hope readers will take away from the story?
IL: I hope that readers in Hawaii feel the book does a good job of representing poi and the important role it plays in the islands. More broadly, I hope that readers reflect on how food connects us with the environment, the land, and each other.