Mining for Heart: “Strong, Sure and Steady: The Beat of Ho’onani’s Heart” by Heather Gale + giveaway!

One of my long-time critique buddies is here with some thoughts on finding the heart in her debut picture book,  HO’ONANI: HULA WARRIOR. Illustrated by Mika Song, the book will release from Tundra Books on Oct. 1, 2019. It’s so exciting to see a manuscript you’ve watched grow and change into a story become a book!

AND if you leave a comment below and/or share on social media, you’ll be entered in Heather’s GIVEAWAY for a chance to win your very own copy!  (North America only, please)


In our fast changing world, with so many distractions it is refreshing to find people who remind us of the opportunities to rediscover our traditions, our values, where we came from and what that means to us. So when I watched the PBS documentary A Place in the Middle, I was struck by these universal themes and how authentic each character felt as they sought to navigate their resistance to change.

Ho’onani: Hula Warrior is based on a true story set in Hawai’i about an eleven-year old girl who believes in herself with all her might.

Ho’onani already knows and feels who she is; Mahu, neither female or male in spirit, but both, and her classmates agree. They wouldn’t have her any other way.

However, Ho’onani must prove to others, the older kids, her community, and especially her older sister, that gender is not the definer. Instead, she believes that what matters most is how you feel in your heart and mind.

When Kumu Hina announces at the school assembly they are bringing back an ancient tradition for the high school boys’ end-of-year performance, Ho’onani wants to audition. That evening, when Ho’onani tells her family, everyone except her sister is supportive.

And for the reader, Ho’onani’s journey begins.

The heart behind this story is how strong Ho’onani remains to stay true to herself no matter the outcome. How sure she is of herself, and how steady she is as a leader. Those words, “strong, sure and steady” are also symbolic of a heartbeat.

And the heart behind the heart of this story is one word. Aloha – love, honour and respect for all.Ho_onani-cover

So, you can see this story had many hearts to choose from and my manuscript needed a lot of help from my critique buddies.

They helped me drill down to that one vital idea of what my story was about. And each time they asked questions, I searched for answers in the documentary, A Place in the Middle.

Sure enough, I’d re-discover missed opportunities that were essential to the story.
For example, when Kumu Hina announced that the high school boys would perform an ancient Hawaiian custom, the traditional hula chant, I had to really consider what that would have meant for Ho’onani.

She is eleven years old and female, excluded for two valid reasons and my story needed an authentic internal response. What would you do?

First, I put myself in  Ho’onani’s shoes, that of being comfortable in a male role.

I was fortunate that my former career as an orthotist included a lot of male-oriented tasks. We were all comfortable working with industrial bandsaws, grinders and hand tools, drilling, riveting, bending metal, even welding and brazing! So, relating to that part came easily, but what would I have thought and felt at that moment as an 11-year old?  And what would my heart have told me to do?

My shy heart would have blushed and suggested I take a pass, and I would have agreed. But this wasn’t my story and that was not one of Ho’onani’s character traits.

This is where all those hours of research pay off because even documentaries don’t hand out thoughts or impressions. I took everything I knew about Ho’onani and used the characteristics of a natural leader to find her expected response.

And here is what I came up with:
She would envision being on stage as an equal, side by side with the older boys, and then seize the first window of opportunity to make that dream happen. That opening came when she heard the word “Auditions.”

One of the hardest parts to writing picture books is in not showing everything, yet showing it all in less than 1000 words, so I’d like to leave you with one piece of advice.
If you have a story you are in love with, find the heart of your manuscript, find a way to stay true to your character, and hang on to that.

This story had close to 150 revisions, so don’t quit!
You’ll be thrilled you didn’t.


9 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Strong, Sure and Steady: The Beat of Ho’onani’s Heart” by Heather Gale + giveaway!

  1. What a wonderful story of finding the heart of your character’s story. Thank you. And thanks for the reminder about the necessitiy for revision after revision. But “fewer than 1000 words”????? When did 500 become 1000 in PB. Happy news for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a wonderful story of finding the heart of your character’s story. Thank you. And thanks for the reminder that our stories need revision after revision after revision. But “fewer than 1000 words” ???
    When did 500 become 1000?? Good news for me.


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