When I was in first grade, my school librarian pulled out a book to read to the class. “Today,” she said, “we’re going to read ‘The Five Chinese Brothers.’”
“Chinese!” all my classmates whispered and turned to me, “just like you!”
Even as young as I was, I burned with embarrassment, resentment and despair. The Chinese brothers were mustard yellow with weird hats and long pigtails. I watched “Little House on the Prairie” on television and my favorite food was McDonald’s french fries. Those five brothers were not Chinese just like me.
When I decided to become a children’s book author, I remembered this. My first picture book, “The Ugly Vegetables,” takes place in a suburban neighborhood and deals with one child’s chagrin at having a Chinese vegetable garden while the neighbors grow flowers. “The Year of the Dog” is a middle-reader novel full of normal friends, family and school as an Asian American girl integrates her two cultures. I try to make books that feature Asian culture in a way the contemporary child, regardless of what race they themselves are, can relate to.
And, of course, I’m not the only author who does this. These days there are many wonderful Asian American books for kids of all races and ages to connect with, and this month, Asian American Heritage Month, is the perfect time to share them! Here are ten of my favorites:
1. Suki’s Kimono
By Chieri Uegaki
Spunky Suki decided to wear her blue cotton kimono on her first day of school, despite protests from her sisters and laughter from her classmates. By the end of the day, however, all are admiring Suki and her irrepressible spirit.
2. Dumpling Soup
By Jama K. Rattigan
Young Marisa helps make dumplings for New Year’s Eve in this sweet and truly multicultural family story.
3. Ruby’s Wish
By Shirim Yim Bridges
Set in “old” China. Young Ruby dreams not of getting married, like the other girls in her household, but of attending a university. Based on Bridges’ grandmother’s story, this book is lovely as well as inspirational.
4. Grandfather Counts
By Andrea Cheng
When Helen’s grandfather moves in with her family from China, she doesn’t understand him—especially because she doesn’t speak Chinese! One day, Grandfather joins Helen to watch the trains, and together they count the cars in Chinese and English. They begin language lessons and a special bond is formed. A wonderful book!
5. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things
By Lenore Look
A highly entertaining chapter book featuring second-grader Alvin’s adventures and his fun, Chinese American family. Once you read this one, you’ll definitely want to read the other Alvin Ho books too. Don’t miss Lenore Look’s “Ruby Lu” series, either!
6. Stanford Wong Flunks Big-time
By Lisa Yee
Before there was Jeremy Lin, there was Stanford Wong! In this hilarious middle-grade novel, Stanford is attending summer school in order to pass sixth-grade English. If he doesn’t pass, he won’t be able to play basketball, and his friends and Emily Ebbers won’t like him anymore. But to pass, he’ll have to survive being tutored by super-annoying Millicent Min. Don’t miss the companion books also by Yee: “Millicent Min, Girl Genius” and “So Totally Emily Ebbers.”
7. The Case of the Goblin Pearls
By Laurence Yep
Laurence Yep is, perhaps, the most respected author of Asian American children’s literature. Many probably already know his highly acclaimed historical fiction, such as “Dragon’s Gate” and “Dragonwings.” However, readers might not know his Chinatown Mystery series, where Lily and her famous movie-star aunt track down thieves and saboteurs. Fun, realistic and, surprisingly, touching.
8. Good Luck Gold
By Janet Wong
Forty-two poignant, insightful and humorous poems about the Asian American experience by an acclaimed poet. Moving beyond stereotypes, Wong’s poems are honest and compelling. This is a great book to begin important conversations about multiculturalism and race.
9. Nothing but the Truth and a Few White Lies
By Justina Chen Headley
Half-Asian Patty is a smart, wisecracking high school sophomore who doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere. Will a summer at math camp, of all places, change that? Teenage girls will adore this YA novel, I know I did!
10. American Born Chinese
By Gene Luen Yang
This YA graphic novel is modern masterpiece in children’s literature. Three humorous, deceptively simple plot lines–the ambitions of the Monkey King; Jin Wang, an Asian American boy who desperately wishes to fit in; and Danny, an all-American boy embarrassed by his Chinese cousin (purposefully a stereotyped caricature)–interweave into a powerful and moving commentary about Asian American identity.
More information about Grace can be found on her website, http://www.gracelin.com/.