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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Biographies of Famous AAPIs

I've already shared several picture and story books that discuss important Asian-American historical events; now I'd like to share a few biographies of famous Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in honor of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While many excellent books exist, I'm focusing on picture books since that is the genre I'm most familiar with.

Be Water, My Friend: The Early Years of Bruce Lee by Ken Mochizuki. Award-winning author Mochizuki delivers a gentle tribute to this well-known martial artist. The story follows his early years living in Hong Kong before his parents shipped him to San Fransisco at the age of 18 in order to avoid legal troubles. Although this book received mixed reviews, it's quite popular in the Tongginator's school library, most especially among boys from second to fourth grade.

El Chino by Allen Say. Booklist Editor's Choice. This inspirational yet humorous portrayal of a Chinese-American's persistent effort to overcome stereotypes and fulfill his dreams successfully blends one person's search for the American dream while still maintaining an ethnic identity. The story follows Arizona-born Billy Wong, the first-ever Chinese bullfighter. As Billy grows up, his father tells him, over and over again, "In America you can be anything you want to be." Needless to say, Billy proves his father right, standing out from the crowd of Spanish bullfighters by wearing his native Chinese clothing and calling himself "El Chino."

Hiromi's Hands by Lynne Barasc. Children's Books of the Year by the Bank Street College Children's Book Committee and an Amelia Bloomer Project award-winner. This upbeat, contemporary immigration story tells the tale of Japanese-American Hiromi Suzuki, one of the first female sushi chefs in New York City. I love one of the predominant messages of this book:"girls can do things here that they cannot do in Japan," but Barasch makes it as much a story about family values and love as it is about a woman breaking into traditional mens' territory.

The Last Princess: The Story of Princess Ka'iulani of Hawai'i by Fay Stanley. A 1991 ALA Notable Book as well as the Carter G. Woodson Award from the NCSS. "The full page paintings are reflecting the beauty of the islands and the handsome racially mixed people who live there...A visual treat," said School Library Journal in a starred review. The day Princess Ka'iulani was born, bells rang joyously and cannon fired noisy salutes--at last there was an heir to the Hawai'ian throne. But although this beautiful young princess worked tirelessly to prepare herself to rule, and fought bravely to protect the rights of her beloved people, and befriended important people such as President Grover Cleveland, she would never be queen.

Pie Biter by RuthAnne Lum McCunn. A 1984 American Book Award (ABA) winner. Based on the real-life experiences of a young Chinese immigrant named Hoi, this tale combines a bit of history (the building of the transcontinental railroad) with a traditional American tall tale, an American success story and a universal folktale of trickery. Hoi, always hungry, begins eating pies because -according to the railroad boss - he "cannot hold a bowl, chopsticks and a pick axe, too." As the years go by, Hoi finishes building the railroad, goes into business with his friend Spanish Louie, and finally returns to China, where he spreads his love of American pies with the Chinese.

Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim. 2003 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator and New Writer Award, a 2003 Amelia Bloomer Project award winner and an ALA Recommended Feminist Books for Youth. Although this book doesn't quite fit the category, I had to include it because I love it so. And because - without women such as these - there would be no Maya Lins and Vera Wangs today. Chinese-American Yim tells the tale of her maternal grandmother in the old country during the turn of the century, before she immigrated to the United States. Ruby is unlike most little girls in old China. A tutor teaches any of the 100 assorted grandchildren who wish to learn, but Ruby is the only girl who continues to study while also keeping pace with learning her many household duties. One day, her teacher shows Ruby's grandfather a poem she has written in calligraphy: "Alas, bad luck to be born a girl; worse luck to be/ born into this house where only boys are cared for." Grandfather questions her about the poem, and she confides her wish to go to university. Years later, at a New Year's Day celebration, he shows her that he listened to her heart's desire.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo. "Choices" by the CBCC and the Carter G. Woodson Award by the NCSS. Anna May Wong escaped the reality of backbreaking work in her family's laundry by slipping away to the movies as often as she could. Disheartened by the stereotypical characters Chinese actors were forced to portray in the cinema, Wong worked tirelessly to eliminate the old Asian stereotypes that had become film standards. Her persistence and willingness to work hard in endless small parts ultimately paid off as she became Hollywood's first Chinese-American movie star and the first Asian-American to gain international fame for her acting abilities and keen sense of fashion.

Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story by Paula Yoo. A Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, "Choices" by the CBCC and a Children's Book of the Year by the Bank Street College CBC. On a summer day in 1932, preteen Sammy Lee watched enviously as divers catapulted into the public swimming pool. Sammy desperately wanted to dive, too, but, as a Korean-American, he was only allowed to use the pool one day a week. This did not weaken his resolve or passion. Over sixteen years Sammy faced numerous challenges, but he overcame them all during the summer Olympics of 1948. A matter of seconds after his final platform dive, the scores appeared and Dr. Sammy Lee became the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal.

Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss. Booklist's Top Ten Biographies in 2010 and NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in Biographies. Every Sunday Maggie Gee’s family would gather at the local airfield to watch the airplanes, and Maggie would tell her brothers and sisters the stories she saw in her head–stories of her flying across oceans and deserts just like the pilot Amelia Earhart. But in the 1920s and 1930s few girls took to the sky, and it took a World War for Maggie to live her dream. Acclaimed author Marissa Moss tells Maggie’s story, from her childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area to becoming one of only two Chinese-American Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) to serve during the war, while Carl Angel’s powerful illustrations depict Maggie’s determination and bravery.

Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku by Ellie Crow. Children's Book of the Year by the Bank Street College CBC and an Asian Pacific American Award for Literature. Growing up in Honolulu, with the Pacific Ocean as his backyard, Duke Kahanamoku learned to swim and surf at a young age. By his early twenties, Duke's lightning-fast swimming won him a place on the 1912 US Olympic team and a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle race. Over the years Duke struggled with racism and financial troubles, but by the end of his twenty-year Olympic career, he retired with six medals. Throughout his life, Duke's passion was surfing. He traveled the world, introducing surfboarding to Australia and the east and west coasts of the United States. Considered the father of modern surfing, Duke spread his love of the ocean and Hawai’i wherever he went.

[BONUS] Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki. Winner of numerous awards, including "Choices" by the CCBC and an ALA Notable Children's Book. This true story is not about an Asian-American, but it is simply too good to not mention. In 1941, the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara saved the lives of thousands of Polish Jews during the Holocaust by issuing visas despite government orders. For this Sugihara received the "Righteous Among Nations" Award and in Yaotsu, Japan, the Hill of Humanity is named in his honor.


Jaggerfan1 said...

Wow, I never knew there were books out like that, about stuff like that. The library near my house sure don't have books like that, are those books restricted to certain age limits? what i mean is are they for younger kids? Because I'm sort of interested in that book about Bruce Lee, I'm kind of a fan and I would love to read it.

Plus, Asian culture has been an avid fascination of mine since 7th grade, so I guess it's deep rooted. I have always been fascinated by Chinese and Japanese culture, and I'm sooooooooooooo glad I follow this blog. I love what you put on here, it's amazing!

CC said...

So do you recommend that I check a bunch of them out from the library at once, or just a few at a time. I think it would be really good for me and the kids (and even my students!)