Thursday, May 2, 2013

Five Fun Picture Books for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

It's May and that means it's Asian-Pacific Heritage Month! Of course, we celebrate everyone all year long, but we like to make a special effort to highlight specific people groups when it is their special month. We'll have lots of recommendations for you over the course of the month so be sure to stop by often.

written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham
The title says it all in this hilarious book about the trials of being a little sister, narrated by Little Sister. Little Sister definitely thinks she gets the short end of the stick, getting hand-me-downs and never getting to do things first, but she still has fun being a little sister. In the end, Little Sister comes to the conclusion that though Big Sister is bossy she is a good big sister, and while she'll always be older, Little Sister will always be better at being a little sister. A laughter-filled book about sisterhood with appeal to a broad age. 

written by Kathy Tucker, illustrated by Grace Lin
In this girl-centered retelling of the Chinese folktale Ten Brothers, six sisters, each different and each with their own special skill, save their youngest sister from a dragon.
Though the book never explicitly states where the sisters live, readers may assume they live in China given their traditional Chinese dress, the style of the houses, and the presence of a Chinese-style dragon. This presents two dilemmas: first, in traditional Chinese culture dragons are not feared, as they are in European cultures. Instead, dragons are beings both powerful and wise that often serve as symbols of strength and good luck. So, to portray a Chinese-style dragon snatching Seventh Sister for his meal seems odd. Second, if the girls do live in China (and I'm not saying they do), Second Sister would most likely be practicing the art of kung fu and not karate, kung fu being an ancient Chinese art while karate originated in Japan. While I acknowledge that this is a work of fiction and doesn't necessarily need to conform to reality, these sort of misrepresentations can be are dangerous. Perpetuating misinformation about a culture is problematic in many ways that I don't have time to go into right now, but I'm sure you can think of some. We will revisit this issue in a future post.

Another issue I have with this story comes at the end. After the sisters save the baby, the dragon falls down in tears crying "hungry, hungry." The sisters agree to return in the morning to feed him and leave the weeping dragon gazing after them morosely. Their reasoning for needing to go home immediately is sound, but I would have liked to see the sisters demonstrate more compassion by comforting the dragon and returning to feed him that day (especially since they go home and start eating themselves). Though it may seem silly to comment on, I believe instilling compassion in children is of the utmost importance and one way to do this is through reading books in which characters show kindness and compassion to others. That said, I chose to recommend this book despite my issues with it because it features such strong, independent girls who work together to solve their problems. I don't think my concerns are a reason not to read the story, and definitely recommend this retelling over The Five Chinese Brothers (a book now considered a classic by some, but whose illustrations I find offensive).

written by Soyung Pak, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
This is the heartwarming story of a boy who writes letters to his grandmother in Korea. Juno loves his grandmother who lives far away and is able to read her letter to him (despite it being in Korean which he can't read) by the items she includes. Juno decides to write his own letter--one without words--and chooses things to include, just like his grandma did for him. When Juno receives an entire package in response that including a toy plane, he understands the meaning of his grandmother's latest letter. A sweet, quiet tale that can be used to help children understand symbolism. Warm light and colors give this story a cozy feeling and Hartung's use of perspective is interesting and effective.

You're a Bear
written by Mavis Jukes, illustrated by Steven Johnson & Lou Fancher
A bedtime story about a little girl who pretends to be a bear. Throughout the evening, readers see a little girl with a bear-like blanket on her head doing bear-like things: lumbering about, eating berries, fishing, and finally settling down to sleep. An illustration of a real bear appears underneath the text on the page opposite the illustrations of the girl. A great choice for bedtime.

written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
A story about a little girl who loves to ice skate. When she was three, Sophie started ice skating on the pond in her backyard. As she gets older, she watches professional ice skaters on television and at shows, dreaming of one day joining them knowing it will takes years of hard work. But Sophie is committed and works hard, taking many classes and practicing. Eventually, Sophie is ready to compete and readers see all the work and decisions that lead up to a competition. Isadora's illustrations are beautiful and show readers details of the ice skating world, from what skaters wear to practice to the parts of an ice skate to basic skills. This book definitely veers toward non-fiction in the manner it is told, despite being a fictional account, and is more concerned with Sophie's preparation than the competition itself (the story ends before Sophie competes). A great introduction to ice skating.


  1. Thank you for the recommendations. It really helps!

    1. You're very welcome--we're glad they're helpful :) We'll have at least two more specifically Asian-Pacific American themed lists of recs over the course of this month, so be sure and check back for more titles!

  2. First of all, I must admit that I did not know it was Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month; granted, I am Canadian! I'm so glad you will be adding more lists throughout the month. Great, great resource and happy to tweet about it. Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

    Be sure to check out our Kid Lit Question of the Day. This week we are talking about the category of books, YA.

    1. Thanks so much Renee! Will check out the Kid Lit Question of the Day.