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Monday, May 9, 2011

AAPI Heritage Month Picture Books

Since May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I thought I'd put together another list of children's picture books. And since Asian-American history is sadly neglected within most American school districts, I decided to focus today's list on historical fiction and first person accounts that detail important events and/or the immigrant experience within the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. Later this week I'll focus exclusively on award-winning biographies of famous people within the AAPI community.

The Tongginator's school district falls in line with many communities across the country. The children know little about Asian-American and Pacific Islander history simply because they aren't exposed to it. For example, the Tongginator's school librarian recently taught a unit on immigration. The school library housed over a dozen books about Ellis Island, and not ONE about Angel Island. Only two books in a library of thousands discuss the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. While I know that's not a topic for young elementary school students, older children should learn about it in age-appropriate ways.

The school librarian did not even know that May was AAPI Heritage Month, but as soon as she learned that fact, she graciously allowed me to highlight Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander books throughout the library. There were actually quite a few, although most were folktales and contemporary books featuring Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. The Husband and I, seeing the lack of school library books referencing Asian-American and Pacific Islander history, decided to help change that situation. We researched and added a few of the more well-reviewed and/or popular ones to the school library's collection. The librarian also used a small portion of her limited school budget to add additional books. It's not much, but it's a start. And what is so wonderful is that the children are LOVING it.

Anyways, here are a few award-winners and some personal favorites. The books listed, unless otherwise noted, are best suited for older elementary school students due to the topics discussed.

The American Wei by Marion Hess Pomeranc. 1998 National Parenting Publications Award (NAPPA). Great for younger readers, this picture book about the immigrant experience tells the tale of preschooler Wei Fong, who feels just as excited about his wobbly tooth as his family's naturalization ceremony. His greatest wish is for the Tooth Fairy to visit him on his first night as an American citizen. Unfortunately he loses his tooth just outside the courthouse, and it takes an international cast of willing helpers to find his misplaced tooth, before they all head inside the courthouse to become citizens together. A dinner of "dim sum and hot dogs" completes the story, although I'm sure the Tooth Fairy is not far behind.

Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet Wong. An Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (APAAL) Winner. Another picture book for the younger crowd, Apple Pie Fourth of July shares the experiences of a first-generation Chinese-American girl who worries that her traditional Chinese family isn't "American" enough during her town's Fourth of July festivities. At first she doesn't believe anyone will want to eat Chinese food during this all-American holiday, but when evening arrives along with hungry customers looking "for some Chinese food to go," she is surprised but obviously proud that her parents were right after all: Americans do eat Chinese food on the Fourth of July.

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki. Winner of multiple awards, including a 1993 Parent's Choice Gold Award as well as a 1993 ABA "Pick of the List." The author shares his personal family history while at the same time providing a snapshot into the lives of Japanese-Americans forced to live in internment camps during WWII. Shorty's father (the author's grandfather) decides to create a baseball league within the internment camp in order to pass the time and create purpose in life during such wrongful imprisonment. The lessons Shorty learns both about life and about baseball during his captivity help him when he returns home.

The Bracelet by Yoshido Uchida. Best known for her award-winning juvenile literature books such as A Jar of Dreams and The Best Bad Thing, Uchida pens a haunting tale about a Japanese-American girl during World War II. Seven-year-old Emi feels even more devastated during her first day staying in the stables at a race track with other Japanese-American families (before being transported to an internment camp) when she realizes that she lost the keepsake bracelet her best friend gave to her. It doesn't take her long, however, to realize that the bracelet isn't as important as remembering her friend in her heart.

Bread Song by Frederick Lipp. An Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (APAAL) Honorable Mention. The same author of Running Shoes and The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh brings us Chamnan, a young immigrant boy, who embarks on a journey from his parents' Thai restaurant to the bakery across the street in Portland, Maine. Struggling to find English words to communicate, he feels discouraged by the cultural divide until Alison, the bakery owner, invites him and his grandfather to visit the bakery to hear her bread sing.

Coolies by Yin. An Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (APAAL) Honorable Mention. Brothers Wong and Shek face disappointment when they arrive in San Francisco expecting opportunities, but instead face discrimination and derision, especially when they begin working to build the transcontinental railroad. The white bosses call the Chinese workers "coolies" and don't even allow them to attend the celebration of the meeting of the Eastern and Western rail lines in Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869. Shek replies to this with his ever-present dignity, "Call us what you will, it is our hands that helped build the railroad."

Earthquake by Milly Lee. A NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. This picture book suitable for young elementary school students documents the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that devastated the Chinese-American community. Milly Lee’s family narrowly escapes the quake and the fires that followed by finding sanctuary in Golden Gate Park. The story contains many fascinating details (the mother and grandmother both had bound feet, slowing their escape to safety) and factual information (the initial death count did not include women, children and minorities). Author Lee based this story on her mother's memories as an eight-year-old experiencing that tragic quake.

Ghost Train by Paul Yee. A winner of several awards, including the 1996 (Canadian) Governor General's Award for English Children's Literature. Choon-Yi, a daughter born to poor peasants in Southern China, faces rejection from her mother because she was born with one arm. Despite this, Choon-Yi grows into a talented artist, encouraged by loving father. When he travels to America to work on the railroad, Choon-Yi follows her father two years later, only to discover that he died during her journey. Ever the artist, she paints her father on the rails he helped to build.

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say. A 1994 Caldecott Medalist. Author Allen Say narrates his own grandfather's story of immigration and acculturation. The story begins as Say's grandfather first travels across the ocean to land in California. He travels the country by train, riverboat and on foot, always longing for his country of old. Yet when he returns to Japan, he begins to miss his adopted country of America. "The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other." An excellent portrayal of an immigrant's life between two cultures.

Heroes by Ken Mochizuki. A 1996 Teacher's Choice Award and a Smithsonian Magazine Notable Children's Book. During the sixties, when Japanese-American Donnie plays war with his friends, he must always play the enemy because he "looked like them." He loathes being forced to always play the bad guy, and asks his father and uncle to show his friends that they fought bravely for the United States during World War II. At first his relatives refuse, telling Donnie that they all should be playing "something else besides war," but in the end they reluctantly, with tremendous dignity, don their uniforms and medals.

Kai's Journey to Gold Mountain: An Angel Island Story by Katrina Saltonstall Currier. A 2005 Independent Publisher's Book Award (the book was published by the Angel Island Association). On his 12th birthday, Kai learns that he must leave his home in China and journey alone to Gold Mountain - America - to live with his father. The year is 1934, and the U.S. does not welcome Chinese immigrants. (The Chinese Exclusion Act made Chinese immigrations intensely difficult from 1882 until 1943.) When Kai arrives, officials detain him on Angel Island in a crowded barracks, with harsh interrogations and the threat of being returned to China. Will Kai ever be free to join his father?

Landed by Milly Lee. A CCBC Choice as well as a NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. Sun is ready to leave his village in China for Gold Mountain in America, even though his father warns him that passage will not be easy. Because of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, officials detain new immigrants like Sun at Angel Island until they are called to take a difficult oral exam before they can “land” – leave Angel Island and go ashore. These exams, created to prove that the hopeful immigrant is a true relative of an American citizen, ask basic questions about ancestors, but also random ones such as "in which direction is the closest tree to your ancestral home?" On the boat, Sun studied maps of his village, but as the weeks pass in detainment, the map's compass points swirl in his memory, and Sun worries that he will lose his direction and be turned away.

Love As Strong As Ginger by Lenore Look. A Parent's Choice Award Winner, a Booklist Editor's Choice and an NSSC-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. On one of her Saturday visits to her grandmother's Chinatown apartment, Katie asks to see the crab cannery where her GninGnin toils during the week along with other immigrant women. In this first-person, sensory-filled narrative, Katie provides an unflinching view of the harsh conditions working in a steamy, smelly crab chong. A day of cracking crabs and shaking out their meat earns only "...enough for bus fare and a fish for dinner...and someday, maybe enough to help you go to college." Love As Strong As Ginger gives voice to countless immigrants in menial jobs, hoping to provide their children (and grandchildren) with a better life.

Mei-Ling in China City by Icy Smith. A winner of several awards, including the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award. Based on a true story of events during World War II in Los Angeles China City, a 12-year-old Chinese American girl named Mei Ling Lee loses her best friend Yayeko Akiyama when she and her family were interned in the Manzanar War Relocation Center. By writing letters to each other, both young girls recount their painful separation and their lives in China City and Manzanar, with a focus on Mei-Ling's efforts to raise money for the United China Relief Fund for displaced citizens in China due to the Japanese invasion.

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits. Countless awards, including a 2004 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award, an ALA Notable Children's Book and a Booklist Editor's Choice. Yoon’s name means "shining wisdom," and when she writes it in Korean, it looks happy, like dancing figures, but her father tells her that she must learn to write it in English. In English, all the lines and circles stand alone, which is just how Yoon feels in the United States. Yoon isn’t sure that she wants to be YOON. Each day in school she learns a new English word and imagines that could become her name instead. In the end, she comes to accept both her English name, recognizing that however it is written, she is still Yoon. Most importantly, she comes to accept her core self while living within a foreign environment.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting. Won the inaugural Arab-American Book Award. On the second day in a new school in a new country, a Muslim girl rides in a hay wagon heading to an apple orchard on a class trip. She realizes that the dupatta on her head sets her apart, causing some children to act friendly, while others are not. Her father has explained, "…we are not always liked here. Our home country (never named in the story) and our new one have had difficulties." Later, her classmates protest when she puts a green apple into the cider press instead of a ripe red one as all the others have done. But the delicious cider that results provides a metaphor for the benefits of diversity.

Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi. A winner of several awards, including an NSSC-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies and a Smithsonian Magazine Notable Children's Book. This lovely bridge book (in between a picture book and a chapter book) tells the story of a Korean-American family who first moved to the United States after the Communist invasion of Seoul in 1950. Sumi, missing her mother who is training to be a soldier, finds comfort in watching the trains come and go, knowing her mother will one day return to her riding a train. While watching the trains one day, Sumi's grandmother shares the tale of the "peacebound trains" she and her two children (including Sumi's mother) rode to escape the 1950 invasion.

Pop's Bridge by Eve Bunting. An NSSC-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. In 1933 construction began on the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco, CA. This fictional story about a historical event tells the story of two boys watching their fathers help to create this legendary bridge. Robert's father is a high-iron man, a skywalker, and, in his son's eyes, has a far more important and dangerous job than the painting Charlie Shu's dad does. When Robert's mom gives the youngsters a jigsaw puzzle based on an artist's rendering of the yet-to-be completed bridge, Robert hides a piece to give his father the honor of completing the puzzle. But when a tragic work accident leads to the death of 10 men, Robert realizes that the work is equally dangerous for all involved. Roberts decides to cut the last puzzle piece, offering half to each dad.

So Far From the Sea by Eve Bunting. A 1998 Parent's Choice Award. Laura Iwasaki and her Japanese-American family will soon move from California to Boston, so they are making one last visit to Laura's grandfather's grave, which sits far from the sea and fishing he loved, within the Manzanar War Relocation Center, where 10,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during World War II. As the family stands by the graveside, Laura's parents tell of their struggles and their lives inside of the relocation camps. Laura listens of the injustices and tries to understand.

Ten Mile Day: And the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad by Mary Ann Fraser. A 1996 ABA "Pick of the List." Fraser's well-researched text provides a detailed account of April 28, 1869, when, as the result of a $10,000 wager, Central Pacific crews laid a record-breaking ten miles of track in a single day. Kirkus Reviews stated that this book provides "fascinating detail concerning building methods, engineering challenges, and the people involved, while honestly addressing the prejudice faced by Chinese laborers and acknowledging the railroad's role in ending Native Americans' way of life."


Christina said...

WOW! I didn't know all those books existed. Thanks so much for sharing!

The Byrd's Nest said...

Looking into these and thank you for always keeping us educated! Praying for you and I know you are super busy getting ready for Mei Mei but just wanted you to know that somewhere in Mexico....someone is on her knees praying for your family:) Hugs and much love!!

LaLa said...

Thanks so much!!! Can I just link this post? I can share it with some teachers who hopefully can incorporate some of this. Unfortunately, May in schools means end of the year and I don't know how much they would do with it...but it is worth a try : )

Cedar said...

Thank you so much for this list! So much work you did from the middle of the crazy hole!

DebM said...

I love books. And I love this list! Thank you! But, just wondering... How do you have time? You are going to
China soon!!!! :-)

Anne said...

Thanks for the list, TM. I'll tuck it away for my own use later, and meanwhile see which ones our public library has.

Martha said...

I don't know most of these, but you forgot two of my favorites (both chapter books): In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson and Dragonwings.

Jaggerfan1 said...

I know of another book, it concerns Asian families. It's called Farewell to Manzanar, i recently bought it because it was good when i read it in high school. It's a memoir about a girl named Jeanne Wakastsuki and her family growing up in the Manzanar Internment camp. I would recommend this for older kids, maybe not for younger children because they may not understand it, but it's a very good book.