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Hawaii feels like the ultimate getaway, the trip we are all always dreaming of. But even if a trip there can’t happen anytime soon for you, these books set in Hawaii will transport you there through their immersive tropical landscapes, traditional legends, and historical stories.
These books, which range from literary fiction to children’s picture books, include sharks, hula, surfing, the fall of the Hawaiian monarchy, and so much more. Hawaii has such a rich history, and these books about Hawaii might just make you feel like you are sitting on the beach or trekking through the jungle — even if you’re just sitting in your favorite reading chair.
Novels and Fiction Set in Hawaii
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
When seven-year-old Nainoa is rescued by sharks in Hawaii, the family believes it is a sign from ancient Hawaiian gods. But as years pass, this supposed favor from the gods might have an opposite effect. As Nainoa grows, her once miraculous rescue might pull her family apart. This book is for fans of literary fiction and magical realism.
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
In this historical novel set on Hawaii’s island of Moloka’i, Rachel Kalama contracts leprosy as a seven-year-old girl and is sent to live in a leprosy settlement. This was a real historical place, and Alan Brennert gives readers a cast of characters determined to find life as they wait for death. For fans of historical fiction.
The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
In this book (which was made into a movie in 2011), a father with two teenage girls (who also happens to be descended from Hawaii’s royalty) has to grapple with the impending death of his wife who is in a coma. But he also discovers that she had been having an affair, and he sets out to find the man she loved. For fans of contemporary literary fiction.
Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport
This epic novel set in Hawaii centers around larger than life Pono, the matriarch of the family, and her four estranged granddaughters. The story spans a vast amount of Hawaiian history, from Pono’s ancestors to the present-day, telling the story of a family inside the story of Hawaii itself. For fans of epic books and historical fiction.
Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman
Just after Pearl Harbor is attacked, Lana Hitchcock arrives home to Hawaii and discovers a secret family property tucked in the jungle. As tensions ramp up during the war, she also starts to protect neighbors who have come under suspicion, and her discovered secret might help them. For fans of historical and WWII fiction.
This is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila
Hawaii may be thought of as a paradise, but this book of short stories set in the islands of Hawaii show that’s not always true. Here, Kahakauwila examines the tensions between locals and tourists, explores what it means to be Hawaiian, and shows readers that life in paradise can have a dark side. For fans of literary fiction.
East Wind, Rain by Caroline Paul
The island of Niihau is isolated from the rest of the world. So when a plane crash lands there in December 1941, the island’s inhabitants have no idea the Japanese pilot just came from Pear Harbor. They rescue the pilot, but his presence might pull the island apart. This novel is based on the true, but little-known, Niihau Incident during WWII. For fans of historical fiction.
Non-Fiction Books About Hawaii
Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen by Liliuokalani
Queen Liliuokalani was the last monarch of Hawaii, and her overthrow in 1893 comes with a complicated political history. This is the story in her own words — from her childhood to her accession to the throne to the end of her reign. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand the history of Hawaii.
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
In Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell brings her unique narrative style to Hawaii, examining the colonization of the islands from the arrival of missionaries to the overthrow of Hawaii’s monarchy. And like her other books, she brings her own experiences in too, discussing her travels to the islands to research the book, always with her dry sense of humor. This book is a great read for anyone looking to get a basic understanding of Hawaii’s history and is for fans of narrative non-fiction and history.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
I think a list of books set in Hawaii somehow has to include surfing, and in Barbarian Days William Finnegan explores his lifelong obsession with the sport. While he travels all over the world looking for waves in this book, a big chunk of it always comes back to Hawaii, where surfing opened up for him. This is one of my favorite books I’ve read in 2021, and I didn’t know I could find surfing so interesting. This is for fans for memoirs and great writing.
Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Venture by Julia Flynn Siler
This book about Hawaii traces the history of Hawaii’s monarchy — from King Kamehameha I, who united the islands, to Queen Lilioukalini, the last monarch. Of course, it also tells the story of the missionaries who arrived on the island and whose presence and involvement eventually led to the monarchy’s downfall. For lovers of history.
Hawaii by James A. Michener
James A. Michener is known for his epic historical non-fiction, and here he tackles Hawaii. His history begins as far back as the formation of the islands, and goes through the discovery of the islands by Polynesians, the dramatic saga of the monarchy, and its overthrow by Americans. This book is for people who love history and don’t mind long books.
For more great reading check out these 28 Books About Puerto Rico!
Children’s Picture Books Set in Hawaii
Shave Ice in Hawaii Illustrated by Mariko Merritt
A simple board book about one of Hawaii’s most iconic snacks — shave ice! Young kids will love these bright illustrations, and their grown-ups will crave all the flavors. Recommended ages: 0-4 years.
Pig Boy: A Trickster Tale from Hawai’i by Gerald McDermott
Based on a traditional Hawaiian tale, Pig-Boy is loved by his human grandmother but finds himself in trouble with his insatiable appetite. Recommended ages: 4-7 years.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, Illustrated by Kenard Pak
Join a family as they prepare for a luau in a story that teaches children not just important Hawaiian traditions, but also the meaning of family. This book is told in a poetic form that builds on itself with repeating lines, plus it has gorgeous illustrations. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
The Good Song: A Story Inspired by “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” by Penelope Dullaghan, Illustrated by Alexandria Giardino
In this book inspired by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Iz’s grandfather points out the music around them in Hawaii — the song of love. The heartwarming story and bright and beautiful illustrations will be loved by both kids and adults. Recommended ages: 5-7 years.
Malia in Hawaii: Celebrating All Parts of Me by Karyn Hopper, Illustrated by Tammy Yee
Hawaii is truly a multicultural place, and Malia reflects that in who she is, what she likes to do, and what she loves to eat. This picture book explores the cultural touchstones of Hawaii, all things that make Malia special. Recommended ages: 5-6 years.
Ho’onani – Hula Warrior by Heather Gale, Illustrated by Mika Song
This picture book is based on a true story. Ho’onani doesn’t quite feel like a boy or a girl, and when her school has a special hula performance she finds power in a role no one expects her to take. Recommended ages: 5-8 years.
A is for Aloha: A Hawai’i Alphabet by U’ilani Goldsberry, Illustrated by Tammy Yee
From Hawaiian culture and traditions to wildlife and landmarks, this alphabet books teachers kids about important parts of Hawaii. We love these books because they work on two levels: simple text for younger kids and extra text in the sidebar for older children (or adults!) who want to learn more. Recommended ages: 6-10 years.
Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Set in Hawaii
The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson
The Shark King is a traditional Hawaiian legend, and here it’s told for young readers in a graphic novel. This is the story of Nanaue, the son of a human woman and a shark, who is torn between these two worlds. Recommended ages: 5-8 years.
High Tide in Hawaii by Mary Pope Osborne, Illustrated by Sal Murdocca
Magic Treehouse fans will love Jack and Annie’s adventures in Hawaii, where they travel to the historic islands and learn to surf. But when they discover a tidal wave is heading their way, they’ll need to figure out how to save their new friends. Recommended ages: 6-9 years.
Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury, Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers
Calvin Coconut lives near the beaches of Oahu, loves to surf, and seems to always find himself in trouble. He tries to be responsible, but has even more trouble when teenage Stella comes to stay with his family. Calvin Coconut is a series of nine books, and might be good choices for reluctant boy readers. Recommended ages: 7-11 years.
Kaiulani – The People’s Princess, Hawaii, 1889 by Ellen Emerson White
Part of The Royal Diaries series, this book gives a fictionalized account of Hawaiian Princess Kaiulani, who must leave her native land for boarding school only to have the monarchy overthrown. From the lush landscapes of the islands and Kaiulani’s lavish palace life, to her time in boarding schools and her pleas with the United States government to restore the monarchy, this story will give young readers a taste of Hawaii’s history. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.
Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows, Hawaii 1941 by Barry Denenberg
For kids who want to learn more about the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, this Dear America installament might fit the bill. This is the fictionalized story of Amber Billows, who witnesses both the lead-up and aftermath of the attack in a personalized diary that will immerse the readers in the terror the day. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.
Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider
When Sloane goes to Hawaii for the summer to live with her mom, she hopes it will heal her heart after a betrayal from her now ex-boyfriend and best friend. But it’s not easy to escape, and when she meets a possible new love interest things get even more complicated. Recommended ages: 14 and up.