Joan Houghton -- "BirdWords: a primer on the birds of Hawaii"

Beautifully illustrated, creatively told, “BirdWords” is a wonderful book that reflects the unique personality and background of many birds in Hawaii. It's an educational feel good read which should be part of the curriculum in local schools. Endearing poetic format makes this unique guide and storybook a page turner. Kids and parents alike will look fondly at their feathered friends. - Gary Weiss, Ka’anapali, Maui, Hawaii

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If ever there was a reason to publish a fully illustrated children’s book about Hawaii’s birds, Joan Houghton has one and it seems to have stemmed from a pair of noisy, nosy Mynah birds that once nested in a tree outside her bedroom window.

“They baaaa like a sheep, bark like a dog, and meow like a cat. Did you know that?” she asks. “They’re excellent mimics! So when they decided to teach their babies all the sounds, I’d listen. They’d look at me and become very animated - sort of cocky. Then when I wrote about the Mynah, it came out sounding a little like pidgin: ‘My Mynah, he kind’a nosy, stickin’ his beak in my space. He strut like a cock awake six o’clock, or whenever the sun show his face…’”

Houghton didn’t expect to use a local dialect when she wrote that first poem, but somehow that’s how the Mynah’s presented themselves to her through their actions and sounds. It seemed as if they were using their, well, “BirdWords” for whatever they wished to convey. From there, she researched and wrote about other species relying on personal experience and Hawaiian folklore, collecting 22 stories in all.

Houghton then teamed with illustrator, Petey Winkleman, to produce “BirdWords - a primer on the birds of Hawaii” along with an accompanying “factivity” coloring book that further details the different types of birds. The two books are geared toward educating today’s young children not only about the common birds they see all around, but those that they don’t see or even possibly won’t see much longer, because, as Houghton says, “Some birds won’t be around forever unless we sustain the environment.”

With that in mind, she also wishes to carry forward a bit of Hawaiian bird legend held within these Hawaiian Islands. For instance in one titled, “Moorhen Myth”, Houghton shares how the demi-god named Maui was able to extract from the Moorhen its secret to making fire. While in another, a song titled “’Elepaio of the Canoe Builder”, she lyrically reveals how the ‘elepaio showed man which Koa tree was sanctified and ready for use in building a canoe. In all, she delivers little surprises to help identify each bird and their significance, their way of life and what their situation is within the environment.

“BirdWords” is intended for children ages 1-7 and makes for an excellent gift or addition to any classroom or home for educators and parents interested in teaching their young about Hawaii’s birds. Plans are to have them available soon at Barnes & Noble, the Haleakala Gift Shop and in area schools and libraries.

Houghton says, “I hope this book will be part of every keiki’s library and will live on beyond me, because some birds won’t be around forever and maybe one day they’ll say, ‘do you believe that’s what it looked like?’”

She also hopes that her work will “awaken the love of nature in small ones and sustain an appreciation for the beauty of nature in all of us.”

“BirdWords” and its accompanying “factivity” coloring book can be found online at (Sold separately.) Look for them, too, on Facebook under “BirdWords”. Joan Houghton can be reached by E-Mail at

Written by: Elaine Gallant, May. 2014
West Maui Book Club