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. It 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.