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Featuring Characters of Asian Descent

The month of May commemorates the culture, history, and accomplishments of those of Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage.  I am reminded of Grace Lin, a daughter born from Taiwanese immigrants, and her contribution to children’s literature with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which received the Newbery Medal and Wheel Award.  Recently, the Wheelock Family Theatre had put on a stage adaptation of the book.   mountainmoonIt was a great accomplishment not only for Grace Lin, but for authors of Asian descent.  Not many children’s books by authors or featuring characters of Asian/Pacific Islander descent get that much attention.  Actually, there aren’t that many being published in the first place.

So, in honor of  Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I’m highlighting some books from the Wheelock College Library featuring characters of Asian and/or Pacific Islander decent.

Bobby vs. Girls (accidentally), by Lisa See; illustrated by Dan Santat
Bobby Ellis-Chan accidentally gets into a fight with his best friend, Holly, and suddenly, it becomes an all-out boys versus girls war.   While many books featuring characters of Asian descent are about the Asian American experience, this book is focused more on boy-girl dynamics during the pubescent years.  Bobby just happened to be of Asian descent.

Bringing Asha Home, by Uma Krishnaswami; illustrated by Jamel Akib
Arun finds out that his parents (Caucasian mom, Indian dad) are adopting a baby girl from India.  He is super-excited about getting a baby sister, but struggles with the long wait for her to arrive.  The perspective of the long, agonizing process of international adoption from the child’s point of view is something that we don’t often hear about.

Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom,  by Dia Cha
This book features the story cloth that Dia Cha’s aunt and uncle made.  The Hmong people make them to capture their culture, history, and memories to pass down through the generations.  Dia’s story cloth tells the history of the Hmong people and the story of how Dia’s family was caught in the violence and chaos of the Laotian Civil War and how they eventually emigrated to the United States.

Duck for Turkey Day, by Jacqueline Jules; illustrated by Kathyrn Mitter.
Tuyet gets upset when she finds out that her Vietnamese family is having duck (delicious!) rather than turkey for Thanksgiving.  However, she learns that her classmates did not have turkey either and that the only thing their celebrations have in common is family.

Dumpling soup, by Jama Kim Rattigan; illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders
Marisa helps her grandmother make New Year’s dumplings for the first time.   The story takes place in Hawaii and like many families in Hawaii, Marisa’s family is multicultural.  Her family members come from Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, and Anglo cultures.

The Gold-threaded Dress, by Carolyn Marsden
Oy, who had originally come from Thailand, starts attending a new school.  She renamed by her teachers and bullied by classmates, who ignorantly refer to her as “Chinese”.   Then, one of the popular girls offered her a chance to join her group.  All Oy has to do was to let them all try on the beautiful, ceremonial dress that has been in her family for years.  Oy struggles between her desire to fit in and her desire to respect her family.


Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say
This is a story about the author’s grandfather and how he loved both the United States and Japan.  The story tells of his life from his first travels to the United States and then his return to Japan.  His plans to go back to the United States had been put to a stop after World War II broke out.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, by Bette Bao Lord; illustrations by Marc Simont
This was one of the first books about Asian Americans that I read.  Shirley Temple Wong arrives from China to make a new home in the US in 1947 and in the midst of trying to learn about American culture, she discovers a love for baseball and an admiration for Jackie Robinson, the first African-American Major League Baseball player.

Journey to Gold Mountain: The Chinese in 19th Century America, by Ronald T. Takaki
This is a book covers the Chinese experience in 19th century America – from the various occupations they served in America to the racism and prejudices they faced to putting down roots.

The Elephant’s Friend and other Tales from Ancient India, by Marcia Williams
This is a collection of 8 animal folktales depicted in a vibrant and humorous comic-strip format.  I know this book has no major human characters, but it is just too awesome not to recommend.  And I love elephants.


The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi
Unhei has just arrived from South Korea.  After some kids on the bus had trouble pronouncing her name, she decided to let her new classmates name her.  After trying on different names, she realizes that she liked her name best and helps her classmates pronounce it.

Nene & the Horrible Math Monster, by Marie Villanueva; illustrated by Ria Unson.
Nene is a Filipino-American girl who hates math.  She struggles at it and only does well because she works so hard.  She feels conflicted when her teacher chooses her for the math portion of an academic competition.   This story goes against the stereotype that Asians are good at and love math.  As a Chinese-American who dislikes math, I can relate to Nene.

What exactly IS Turkish Delight?

TheLionWitchWardrobe1stEdOne of my first food-in-books memories center on Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The boy is so taken by enchanted Turkish delight that I myself became obsessed with it. Edmund’s undying devotion to this sweet treat had me convinced it was clearly the best candy in the world. But I had no idea what it was. I projected my own favorite sweet flavors onto this unknown substance and imagined it as a chocolaty/caramel substance, kind of like fudge. Well, I was wrong.

Turkish delight turns out to be a gel-based candy, often containing a variety of dried fruit and nuts, and it comes in citrus or floral flavors. It’s an incredibly varied kind of candy, with a seemingly endless potential for combinations. You can even make some at home, and try out your own flavor combos!


Try them all!

Oddly enough–I have never gotten around to trying it. Mostly because I don’t like nuts, or dried fruits very much for that matter. So when I learned what Turkish delight actually was, my visions of the candy perfection came to an end. But for someone who loves those flavors, Turkish delight could still be part of a childhood dream of finding the perfect candy. So, get out there and try all of those combos! But remember–watch out for any witches offering it to you!

Get to know our library assistants!

Did you know that you can get drop-in research help from the library 7 days a week, from noon until closing?  If you haven’t already done so, you should get to know our evening/weekend library assistants!  We’re happy to feature our eight fantastic Public Services Assistants (PSAs) in this week’s post.  All of them are either studying to become librarians, or have already attained their Master’s degree in library science.  They can help you with your research assignments… and they tell you where to get the best biscuits in the neighborhood!  It’s a win-win.  Drop by (or call, or email, or chat) and say hello!

Photo of June

June Thammasnong
My favorite thing about being a librarian is talking to you and making connections. Our world and our lives are comprised of connections to information, to places, and perhaps most importantly, to other people. Librarians have the honor of assisting patrons to do all of that, and more!  * The furthest I have ever traveled from Boston is New Zealand!  * I grew up in California, with lots of love.

Picture of Brian


Brian Hogue
Before I became I librarian, I worked as the Fine Arts book buyer for Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR. * When I’m not at work, you can find me  riding my bike somewhere. * My favorite place to eat in the neighborhood is  Rod Dee. * My favorite place in Boston is Davis Square (technically not Boston, but still my favorite). * The furthest I have ever traveled from Boston is Germany. * I grew up in Boise, ID.

Photo of Lauren


Lauren Forsyth
My favorite thing about being a librarian is being surrounded by books! * My favorite place to eat in the neighborhood is Sweet Cheeks BBQ– their biscuits are to die for. * I grew up in Danvers, MA.


Marva Tomer
One of my favorite things about being a librarian is learning about new things while helping library users find information. *  I love Boston because of its diversity, history, and cultural life. Boston is definitely “wicked awesome!” *  I always enjoy a conversation about travel and animals.

Photo of TaylorTaylor Kalloch
When I’m not at work, you can find me in the company of a stack of books, as I work to finish my master’s thesis in History. Following the completion of my thesis, you will find me working on any number of art, craft, photography, and furniture restoration/re-purposing projects I have been dreaming up as a form of procrastination during my thesis writing. * The furthest I have ever traveled from Boston is Bratislava, Slovakia. * I grew up in Gray, Maine which is about 30 minutes north of Portland.

Photo of Hillary


Hillary Saxton

Before I became a librarian, I majored in English at Eastern Connecticut State University. * My favorite thing about being a librarian is meeting new people and adding more friendly faces to my day-to-day. * When I’m not at work, you can find me serving up ice cream (and coffee!) at JP Licks!

Katelyn Duncankatelyn duncan headshot

I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. *  The furthest I have ever traveled from Boston is Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I spent six months studying literature and creative writing in Spanish during college.  *  My favorite place in Boston is the Kelleher Rose Garden in the Back Bay Fens. It’s closed for renovation right now, but in the spring and summer it’s a great place to curl up with nature and a good book.

StacyStacy Collins

Before I became a librarian, I was sure I wanted to go into publishing, but it turns out I’m much more interested in connecting people with books than I am in connecting books with profit. Besides, I’d never be able to say no to a good manuscript just because it might not sell.  *  My favorite thing about being a librarian is the trivia! While helping students and faculty with research topics and resources, I learn a little bit about pretty much everything in this job, which means my small talk at parties is amazing.  *      When I’m not at work, you can find me in class or doing homework (boring, but true). And on the weekend, I’m most likely cooking or baking while my cats watch Star Trek in the next room.

Don’t they seem like good people to get to know?  Drop by the front desk of the library some time, and say hello.  And bring along your research questions– they’re here to help!

The Book and the Cookbook

A Feast of Ice and Fire

A Feast of Ice and Fire

When I recently left my position at the Earl Center for Learning and Innovation, my lovely library co-workers gave me an amazing going away present: A Feast of Ice and Fire. This cookbook is the “official companion cookbook” to the Game of Thrones book series. How awesome is that?!

I’m a huge fan of the HBO series, and had just started in on the books, which offer even richer details of the world of Westeros to devour. The cookbook has recipes for the foods described in the books. The authors derived half of the recipes from medieval traditions and paired them with modern updates on the rustic versions.

While I do plan to post my attempts at a recipe from A Feast of Ice and Fire here soon, I haven’t had a chance to cook from this book yet. The gift, however, started me thinking about what other books have great companion cookbooks. A quick internet search turned up some exciting results.

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook 

While this book seems to lack a Butterbeer recipe, it offers recipes from the various people and places in Harry Potter’s world–foods we muggles could only dream about before! It would be a great addition to the library of any family reading the books–dinner could complement the chapter you just read!

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories

The Little House on the Prairie books offer many descriptions of the foods eaten by the homesteading family. This cookbook attempts to replicate the food described in the stories, and even considers how they would have been cooked by 19th century pioneers.


Yup, this exists.

Cooking with Days of Our Lives

Ok, this one isn’t based on a book, but it was too funny not to include. This cookbook is based on the soap opera, Days of Our Lives. So, if you have always wanted to recreate Luke and Laura’s wedding cake, here is your chance!

Do you know of any great cookbooks based on your favorite books? Please share!

A Comfort and a Curse: Rice Balls in When The Emperor Was Divine

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Rice balls

Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor was Divine, Wheelock’s summer reading book, tells the story of the Japanese American Internment during WWII through the eyes of an unnamed Japanese family. While food plays a small role in this story, the impact of the description of rice balls is poignant. The mother in the story considers rice balls with pickled plums, known as umeboshi,  to be a comfort food and eats them with pleasure in the beginning of the novel. Later on, however, we learn that one of the things Japanese families did in an attempt to “blend in” as the anti-Japanese sentiment grew in the US was to stop eating their traditional foods. Rice balls no longer went to school with the children in their lunch boxes. Rice balls in the story bring a sense of comfort while simultaneously acting as a symbol of unwelcomed otherness. Rice balls are a truly delicious and surprisingly simple dish to make, and I found myself thinking of the family in this story, and their complicated relationship to this wonderful dish, as I made my version.

My mold and my fillings

My mold and my fillings

The first thing you need to do to make rice balls is make sushi rice. This is NOT the same as “sticky rice” so don’t get confused! I followed Alton Brown’s recipe here. Once you have made your rice, you need to fill and mold your rice balls. Taking my cues from this recipe for rice balls, I used a small dish I had in my kitchen for the mold. I went the easy route on the filling and picked up some “Asian salad” and grilled teriyaki salmon at Whole Foods to use as my filling. My first attempt at molding a rice ball didn’t go very well because, in my haste to get one of these in my belly, I used tin foil to line the mold instead of plastic wrap. Not ok! Tin foil and sushi rice…stick together. A lot. SO, after I ditched the tin foil, I pressed rice into a plastic wrap lined bowl, added about a teaspoon of filling, then topped with more rice.  I folded the plastic wrap over the top and pressed down to mold the rice balls, then turned them out onto my plate.

A peek at the filling

Finished rice balls with a peek at the filling

They came out great! These snacks were fun, easy, and a great way to connect with one of important food-related cultural moments in When the Emperor Was Divine.  

This post is the third in a series that will explore the topics found in this year’s Wheelock summer reading selection, When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka.