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Pandemic inspires Big Island educator and student to create book on making good choices

Author Joyce Iwashita (center) and illustrator Kelson Gallano (right) and teacher ʻĀina Akamu
Kaʻū High and Pahala Elementary
Author Joyce Iwashita (center) and illustrator Kelson Gallano (right) and teacher ʻĀina Akamu at the book launch of "What the World Needs Now: A Guide for Helping Kids Make Good Choices" in May 2022.

"Choose to take care of yourself." "Choose to stay positive." "Choose to find solutions to a problem."

These are some of the pithy sayings in the book, “What the World Needs Now: A Guide for Helping Kids Make Good Choices,” from Legacy Isle Publishing. It's written by Hilo resident Joyce Iwashita, a longtime educator and retired principal, and illustrated by recent Kaʻu High School graduate Kelson Gallano.

At the onset of the pandemic, Iwashita coached administrators at schools in Hilo, Puna and Kaʻū on the Big Island.

"I really felt for the administrators because it was that time when it was the shutdown, distance learning," Iwashita said. "And so as I did one-on-one zoom with the administrators, I could hear the challenges and the frustrations that I heard from the administrators — how difficult it was to do distance learning. And so I thought, what would I do if I were the principal now? And so that's when I started to write all those 19 things.”

The illustrations are based on real events and places in the area.

“The book and my drawings will resonate with others, especially kids and locals of Kaʻū because locations and school scenes will look familiar and easy to relate to,” Gallano said.

Opposite the words “choose to be honest,” there’s a scene of police confronting children with their heads held low. They were caught spray painting manga and Minecraft on the wall.

“Because this is just so authentic, and what Kelson does — he watches anime, you know, and plays video games and stuff — he was able to really make the artwork authentic to his audience in a way that perhaps an older artist may not be able to do as easily as Kelson. So I was proud of him because of that, too,” said ʻĀina Akamu, a teacher at Kaʻu High and Pāhala Elementary.

"What the World Needs Now" book launch.
Ka'ū High & Pahala Elementary
Pāhala Elementary School students with new book "What the World Needs Now."

Iwashita, Gallano and Akamu worked on the project for two years. They never met in person until the book launched this past May. The books were given out to students in the area — and they couldn’t contain their excitement.

“It was hard to do the book reading because our kids kept interrupting, saying, that's my school," Akamu said. "That's my lunch table. That's my mom's kitchen. That's my Punaluʻu beach. That's my south point, I jump off that cliff, look at the man drooling on the plane, and they were just so engrossed in the book.”

Akamu says that was the most transformative part of the experience.

“Because seeing young people who live in a rural community and see their experiences reflected in something that's a published work is really transformative to the students," Akamu said. "They were talking about it when they went home, their parents are talking about it, it created a buzz around literacy and reading in our community.” 

Jason Ubay is a news editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at
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