May 2023
Issue #8


This Month

Hello folks! And thank you for checking out The Magic Word. Here's what you'll find in this month's issue.




Some thoughts on PLAY

In conversation with ...
April Hail

Resource smörgåsbord

I vividly remember my first co-design workshop earlier in my career. 

I showed up bright-eyed at our event space that morning, highly caffeinated and toting bags full of scratch paper, markers, sticky notes, and a ton of snacks. I was excited.

As I laid out materials in advance of our co-designers' arrival, I watched my co-planner and co-facilitator, a seasoned designer, unpack his bags. He took out his computer, some notes, and—to my surprise—a bunch of kids’ toys.

“I like the cactus,” I said, as he set up the balancing toy. He added one activity per table.

“I find that having stuff folks can tinker with can get the creative juices flowing,” he said. 

While there’s no way to really measure what impact those toys had during the co-design session, I can say that a lot of people did end up playing with them throughout the day as they brainstormed and sketched out ideas. They weren’t a distraction or even a point of conversation. They were simply there to engage with however folks felt moved to use them.

I had always worked in environments where folks keep their hands busy during meetings—I know a lot of knitters and crocheters, in particular, and of course there are the doodlers—to help stay focused. But I hadn’t previously thought about what it meant to invite play into a work session. At least not for adults.

With kids, we know that playing is vital to a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. And that it encourages creativity. For most of us adults, we get less playtime in during the day then our kiddos. But it doesn’t mean it’s any less important. And when it comes to getting creative? Play really matters for us grown-ups, too.

These days, I’m a huge proponent of having tinker toys around. As some of my colleagues know, I’ve always got one of my kid’s activities within reach during work sessions. They’re fun and get me in a good head space when brainstorming ideas.

And when it comes to toys, nothing has made me more excited in recent years than those created by this month’s featured interviewee, April Hail. With her company, Keiki Kaukau, April has launched a beautiful line of puzzles, books, and other toys that celebrate the diversity of cuisines and cultures found in Hawai‘i. (You’ve got to check out their website for the full collection, but it includes a Hawaiian Plate, Japanese Bento set, a Vietnamese Pho set, a Dim Sum Set, and a Filipino Food set (!), a Shave Ice Play Set, and a Pineapple Stacking Toy!) 

Read on to learn more about Keiki Kaukau and what April hopes to inspire in kids when they can play with toys that represent their cultural foods. Thank you, as always, for joining!


Some thoughts on

- Lucy


[Image description: A bird's eye view of the "Kain Na!" Filipino Delights wooden chunky puzzle for kids. Puzzle pieces include savory adobo, crispy lumpia, and sweet halo halo, all spread out on a banana leaf place mat.]

Welcome to The Magic Word, April! I am beyond excited that you’re joining us for an interview. To kick things off, can you share a bit about who you are, what you do, and what brought you to your work?


In conversation with...

Thank you so much for having me, Lucy! I’m a mom of two (soon to be 3!) young kids, a former high school teacher, and the founder of Keiki Kaukau, a boutique toy company based in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. 

April Hail

I’d love to learn more about Keiki Kaukau, the company you founded in 2019. Your line of beautiful food-inspired toys and books for kiddos includes a variety of chunky puzzles (including a Hawaiian Plate, Japanese Bento set, a Vietnamese Pho set, a Dim Sum Set, and my favorite, a Filipino Food set), a Shave Ice Play Set, and a Pineapple Stacking Toy. What inspired you to create Keiki Kaukau and the products you offer?

Here in Hawai‘i, Keiki Kaukau (pronounced kay-kee cow-cow) means “kid food.” When my firstborn was a toddler, he absolutely loved pretend-playing with food toys, but the ones we used represented things like pizza and ice cream, rather than the foods that were special and unique to our home like shave ice, spam musubi, poi (taro) and papaya. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the cuisine of Hawai‘i was a reflection of our melting-pot culture, which has elements of Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, and other influences integrated with Native Hawaiian heritage. I wanted my own kids and keiki across Hawai‘i to have access to toys that reflected this wonderful diversity as well as the natural beauty of the islands. Once I launched the first play food set, the feedback was encouraging, so I just kept churning out new items that reflected elements of life in Hawai‘i and the multiethnic influences found here. We now offer over 30 original toys, books and games that reflect the local experience in a way that I hope feels accessible and joyful for families. 

Obviously, play is a huge part of your job! What role do you think play can have for other designers and creators, even those who don’t work in education or toy-making?

I guess I kind of see toys and playtime as the “spoonful of sugar” that helps kids digest or at least be introduced to these larger ideas about history, inclusivity, and representation, but ultimately kids are going to incorporate toys as props in their own, independently-generated stories and games. I’ve seen kids take the little wooden slab of “SPAM” from our food set and pretend it’s a cell phone, because they’re compelled to act out what they see the adults around them doing! So, as much as I might want to exert control over the visual and material elements of a product, eventually there’s a moment to step aside and let the end user do what they’re going to do. Play can be guided, but not controlled – or else that defeats the purpose, right? One thing I appreciate about our wooden and felt products is that they lend themselves nicely to upcycling projects - for example, the wooden puzzle pieces can be made into magnets or holiday ornaments - so their life is extended beyond its initial use. I’m not a huge fan of single-purpose “toys,” which are both unsustainable and not conducive to creative use. For example, my kids will sometimes be gifted play sets where they’re supposed to follow an instruction booklet to the T to build something, which then sits on the shelf because they’re afraid of breaking it or losing small pieces. We get so much more use and enjoyment from Magnatiles or play dough, things that can take a certain shape and then be put away for another creative moment.

Thinking back to when I was creating lesson plans for students, I most enjoyed assigning projects with enough of a framework to provide guidance and assess skills, but open-ended enough so that each student or group’s perspective and imagination could really go off. It’s hard to generalize when talking about something so broad as “design and creation,” but I guess I’d encourage anyone in those fields to relinquish themselves to that moment of letting go and letting your audience, customer, or user experience your product on their own terms. 

Where can folks go if they want to learn more about you and your work?

Come check out our collection at, or reach out to

What do you hope your toys and books inspire in kids?

I know this term feels overused these days, but I really do believe that representation matters - both as a way to validate and celebrate our personal cultural backgrounds, and to invite others in. My mom immigrated to the States from Hong Kong in the 70s, and with that generation of parents the emphasis seems to have been on assimilating into mainstream American society and not drawing attention to oneself. It makes me really sad to realize that she never spoke to my brother and me in Cantonese; now that I have kids of my own, I can’t imagine not being able to communicate with them in my native tongue. I’ve always craved more of a connection to her home culture, but we only learned about her past in bits and pieces and it felt almost taboo. I’m not sure if she restricted that part of herself because she wanted us to feel (and be seen as) 100% American, or if it had more to do with scars from personal trauma, which so many immigrants have because obviously they wouldn’t have come here in the first place if everything was going great in their home countries. The pendulum seems to have swung in the other direction with parents of my generation though, as many of us seek to strengthen those ancestral connections and celebrate our languages, food, and traditions that stand outside the mainstream. 

I don’t want to overstate the importance of toys, but playtime is a child’s entry point into understanding the world and provides an arena in which to rehearse for real-life situations. Children are very savvy and pick up quickly on who and what is being counted, which voices matter. There’s a devastating documentary short by Kiri Davis from 2005 called “A Girl Like Me” about mainstream beauty standards and the internalized racism that’s apparent even in very young children. When it comes to a person’s identity, food may seem less significant than, say, skin color, yet many children - and adults! - have gone through the experience of having their culture’s food criticized as strange or gross. Representing diverse API cuisines in our toys is a subtle way of normalizing the existence and enjoyment of foods like poi, kimchi, or turnip cake, and in turn affirming that these cultures and people are a valued part of our country’s fabric.  

[Image description: April is smiling at the camera while holding several of her company's food-inspired toys: chunky puzzles, a play food set, a pineapple stacking toy, and a book called "It's Kaukau Time!" She's in front of a light-filled window wearing a short-sleeve pink shirt and orange necklace.]

[Image description: A bird's eye view of the Keiki Kaukau play set. Wooden pieces include a loco moco, poke bowl, musubi, papaya, malasada, guava juice, and shave ice.]

[Image description: A bird's eye view of the Hawaiian Plate Chunky Puzzle, designed in collaboration with Jordann Ares from DesignJord. Wooden pieces include uala, poi, laulau, lomi salmon, kalua pork, chicken long rice, haupia pineapple, guava cake, and lilikoi juice.]

[Image description: A bird's eye view of the Lucky Tummy Chinatown Treats wood play set. Pieces include mooncake, dan taat, gau, tangerine, and red lai see/hong bao (lucky envelope).]


Resource smörgåsbord

Every month we'll share a variety of books, articles, podcasts, and other resources on the month's concept and other topics at the intersection of food x equity x design.

In our everyday work and life, confronting deadlines and limited resources, we forget the value of play. Play and work are seen in opposition to one another. But when the two overlap, creativity flourishes, and we can experience engaging and exuberant design. How can play elevate our work? And our work invite play? NYC-based graphic designer and illustrator Erin Jang shares her exploration of purposeful play in projects both personal and professional, and how a playful approach to seeing, making, and collaborating with others has inspired her work.

This guide will give you a thorough introduction to inclusive design and 5 interrelated concepts (diversity & inclusion, accessibility, equity & justice, care & healing). This guide is the result of 200+ volunteer hours of hard work and passion. To access the guide, we ask for a voluntary donation to support and sustain our equity-centered efforts.

Design Justice Network Care Pod: Rooting in Our Care Lineages and Dreams (event)
May 20, 2023 from 9 am–12 pm PT / 10 am–1 pm MT / 11 am–2 pm CT / 12–3 pm ET

Registration will open on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 with additional details about the gathering’s flow, our featured guest healing practitioner, and access supports. These experiences are virtual, free and open to people practicing (or curious about) Design Justice and Design Justice Principles. Each gathering offered is grounded in our network's commitment to dreaming and designing liberatory cultures of care.

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