HILO — A Ka‘u High School student was honored by Gov. David Ige for writing a children’s book about abusive relationships.
Malie Ibarra, a 17-year-old senior, was one of nine people and organizations recognized by the governor’s office in April for their efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Ibarra wrote and illustrated a children’s book, “Tita the Turtle,” that was published last year and distributed to Big Island schools.
The book, Ibarra said, follows the titular turtle, Tita, who is faced with a problematic relationship with another animal friend and seeks help from other animals.
“It tells kids that it’s OK to talk to adults about their problems,” Ibarra said.
Ibarra said the motivation behind the book is to combat certain attitudes toward violence and teach children “different meanings of aloha.”
“In my community, there’s a lot of normalization about sexual violence and unhealthy relationships,” Ibarra said. “I know plenty of people who have gone through that kind of thing.”
The book was produced thanks to the Ka‘u Rural Health Community Association, which responded to a 2007 Sexual Violence Primary Prevention effort that determined youth and young adults need better education about abusive relationships.
Jessie Marques, executive director of the association, said third-graders in particular were the target audience, as they are old enough to understand the concept of healthy relationships but are at a younger age than the targets of stories tackling similar themes.
Marques said she wanted to work with Ibarra because of her skill in storytelling and art. Ibarra wrote and illustrated the book herself, finishing it in January 2017. After the book was completed, approximately 3,000 copies were printed and distributed among Big Island schools.
The book has been successful among children, Ibarra said.
“One of my aunties in school said one of her keiki wanted to write their own book,” Ibarra said. “Some kids want to be like Tita.”
On April 13, Ibarra met with Ige, who honored her because of the book.
“It was kind of crazy,” Ibarra said. “I was the youngest person in the room.”
Other honorees included Dr. Virginia Pressler of the Department of Health, Jennifer Pagala Barnett of the University of Hawaii, Lisa Charles of the U.S. Air Force, Matthew Houck of the YWCA of Kauai, David Rosen of Shooters Film Production, Ken Kazuma of Waipahu Intermediate School on Oahu, family outreach worker Deonne Carden and Bay Clinic Inc. of East and South Hawaii.
Although Ibarra will graduate high school this year, her work with Tita is not yet over. Marques said schools on other Hawaiian islands and even Samoa have requested copies of the book, while Ibarra is working on writing a script for a DVD version to be shared with schools.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.