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Bangladesh: KidLit and Culture (Alpanas, Chholey recipe and more)

White Alpana Bangladesh JadeLuckClub Exploring Asia for Families kids children

We are exploring the country of Bangladesh, a country I knew so little about that I didn’t actually know how to spell it. Thank you spell checker!  I do have a friend from Japan who was born and raised in Bangladesh.  He speaks perfect English, Japanese, and Bengali, so clearly he’s among the elite of his countrymen.  My other Bengali experience is when I had the great pleasure of meeting author Mitali Perkins when she visited my 3rd grade girls’ book club (she does school visits also).  During the book club meeting, Mitali captivated the girls and boys (3rd Grade Boys Book club also attended) with stories about growing up in Bangladesh as well as the power of micro lending that is transforming the country today so I included a picture book on that as well.  The main character in her book, The Rickshaw Girl, is the best painter of alpanas in her village and this proves to be a transformative skill.

Personally, I find the alpanas stunning.  I hope they inspire the inner artist in you or your child.  Our book club activity was creating our own Alpanas by painting white designs on brown tag board and the results were incredible.  I wish I had saved my daughter’s!  In Bangladesh, women also create alpanas using colored spices and powdered rice and I’ve included some gorgeous examples below. Today, you will notice how the designs  in the alpanas are applied to things like jewelry. I’ve included the talented contemporary jewelry designer, aptly named Alpana Gujral, should you need holiday gift ideas.

Finally, my Coop Preschool Mom Friend gave me the recipe for my favorite Spicy Indian Chickpeas called Chholey.  And yes, I’ve made then and they are delicious but mine are never as good as my Mom Friend’s.  Some things just don’t translate!

map of bangladesh, http://pragmaticMOm.com, Teach Me Tuesday

The Books

micro lending, a basket of bangles, ginger howard, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic Mom

A Basket of Bangles by Ginger Howard and Cheryl Kirk Noll.  This picture book demonstrates the power of micro-lending and the huge impact it can have improving impoverished lives in Bangladesh.  The book is out of print but might be at your local public library.  This book would be great for grades 3-5 though, as a picture book, the writing and pictures would connect with a younger audience though the idea of poverty and micro financing might be to advanced for them. [picture book for ages 6-12]

Rickshaw Girl, Mitali Perkins, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic Mom, Bengladesh,

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins. Naima is a ten-year-old girl, too young and the wrong sex to help her impoverished family with their family business of  pedaling a rickshaw.  Her father is ill and there isn’t much money for the medicine he needs so Naima tries to pedal the heavy rickshaw.  Disaster happens and the rickshaw, their family livelihood, is damaged.  Naima ultimately finds that she can use her talent as an artist, honed by creating the best alpanas in her village, to help create a better life for her family.  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

Brief History of Bangladesh

I knew so little of Bangladesh history that I searched online for information and found a useful but brief summary from Bengla2000.  I’ve further condensed it to four paragraphs but please go to the site if you want more information.  Who knew that Bengal was a wealthy and prosperous country during the 16th century but was decimated by a series of invaders including Turkistan, Great Britain, and Pakistan??!!

“Bangladesh came to today’s shape through a long history of political evolution. Bengal was probably the wealthiest part of the subcontinent up till the 16th century. The area’s early history featured a succession of Indian empires, internal squabbling, and a tussle between Hinduism and Buddhism for dominance. All of this was just a prelude to the unstoppable tide of Islam which washed over northern India at the end of the 12th century. Mohammed Bakhtiar Khalzhi from Turkistan captured Bengal in 1199 with only 20 men.

The decline of Mughal power led to greater provincial autonomy, heralding the rise of the independent dynasty of the nawabsof Bengal. Humble East India Company clerk Robert Clive ended up effectively ruling Bengal when one of the impetuousnawabs attacked the thriving British enclave in Calcutta and stuffed those unlucky enough not to escape in an underground cellar. Clive retook Calcutta a year later and the British Government replaced the East India Company following the Indian Mutiny in 1857.

Inequalities between the two regions i.e. East and West Pakistan soon stirred up a sense of Bengali nationalism that had not been reckoned with during the push for Muslim independence. When the Pakistan government declared that `Urdu and only Urdu’ would be the national language, the Bangla-speaking Bengalis decided it was time to assert their cultural identity. The drive to reinstate the Bangla language metamorphosed into a push for self-government and when the Awami League, a nationalistic party, won a majority in the 1971 national elections, the president of Pakistan, faced with this unacceptable result, postponed opening the National Assembly. Riots and strikes broke out in East Pakistan, the independent state of Bangladesh was unilaterally announced, and Pakistan sent troops to quell the rebellion.

The ruined and decimated new country experienced famine in 1973-74, followed by martial law, successive military coups and political assassinations. In 1979, Bangladesh began a short-lived experiment with democracy led by the overwhelmingly popular President Zia, who established good relationships with the West and the oil-rich Islamic countries. His assassination in 1981 ultimately returned the country to a military government that periodically made vague announcements that elections would be held `soon’. While these announcements were rapturously greeted by the local press as proof that Bangladesh was indeed a democracy, nothing came of them until 1991. That year the military dictator General Ershad was forced to resign by an unprecedented popular movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League.”

Alpanas

These stunning creations are made from ground rice and spices and are created by women or girls in celebration of the Hindu holiday, Diwali, the festival of lights (a.k.a. Dawali or Deepavli). We made alpanas for our book club meeting on the Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins.  Here’s what you need:

  • Some examples of alpanas for inspiration
  • Brown poster board or cardboard from a box
  • White poster paint
  • Paint brushes (thin ones are best)

We did not attempt the colored spice version.  You could try that if you are a brave soul, but that sounded awfully messy to me!  If I were to do that, I’d probably use stick glue or white glue with paint brushes and purchase ground spices at a discount store.  To create the designs, I would have the children create the first shape with the glue, sprinkle the the spice over the glue, and shake off the excess. Yes, it probably would create an epic mess!  Another idea is to let them draw them on paper using crayons, paint, oil, or chalk pastels.

Here are some gorgeous examples.  Isn’t is amazing how creativity is like a beacon that can brighten any environment, no matter how poor? And from such humble materials, something so visually stunning can be created?

Rangoli designs, alpanas, bengali, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic momrangoli designs, alpanas, rickshaw girl, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic Mom

Rangoli, Diwali, home decorations in India Bangladesh, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic MomRangoli, alpana, http://PragmaticMom.com Pragmatic Momalpana white, diwali, rickshaw girl activity for book club, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic Mom, PragmaticMom

Alpana Jewelry

Holidays are approaching so jewelry ideas might be appropriate here?!  I found a jewelry designer aptly named Alpana Gujral who has gorgeous stuff evocative of alpana patterns.  Here’s the link to her site and blog. I wish I had more images of her jewelry but they were impossible to hijack from her website.  If you go to her website, be sure to see her Necklace Sets and Bracelets.  They are going to be on my Christmas wish list!

Alpana Gujral jewelry, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic MomAlpana Jewelry, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic Mom

The Recipe

Spicy Indian Chickpeas (Chholey)

I love Indian food but my husband does not so I usually eat the kind out of pouches when I need a fix.  I am sorry that I don’t have a recipe that is specific to Bangladesh, but I learned from the history that culturally, that the cuisine is SPICY and resembles East Indian food.  Vegetarian curries such as Chholey are a staple.  For more information on Bangladeshi cuisine, click here.

2 cans chickpeas (or 2 cups dried chickpeas)

3 medium sized tomatoes

2 medium sized onions

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, sliced

3 cloves garlic

1 small stick of cinnamon

3-4 whole cloves

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric (powdered)

1 teaspoon coriander (powdered)

red chili powder to taste

1 tablespoon plain yogurt

Canola or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Punjabi Chholey powder (online source: Shop Organic or make your own)

1) Soak the dried chickpeas overnight and boil them until tender OR used canned ones.  (I use canned).

2) Cut onions and tomatoes into big pieces (quartered).

3) Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok and heat it using medium high heat.  Add cloves, cinnamon, and cumin seeds.  As they sputter, add the onions. Cook onions until lightly brown in color, about 10 minutes.

4) Add ginger and garlic and saute for two minutes then add tomatoes and stir them until the juices are released.  Turn off heat and let the mixture cool down.

5) Use food processor or blender and pour in mixture from wok.  Process or blend until the mixture forms a paste.

6) Using the same wok at low heat and add another tablespoon of oil and heat it.  Add the paste to the oil.  Keep stirring until the sides of the paste is leaving oil.

7) Add powdered turmeric powder, powdered coriander, salt to taste, red chile powder, and Punjabi Chholey powder to the pan.  Stir for a minute then add the chickpeas.

8) Add a little water if the mixture is dry.

9) Add yogurt.

10) Simmer for 10 minutes.

11) Garnish with fresh cilantro if you wish.

12) Serve hot with rice or any kind of bread (Naan is nice!).

This freezes nicely.  From Kashmira, my Coop Preschool Mom Friend.

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Delightful Picture Book, Jojo Eats Dim Sum by James Kye, Makes Me Hungry for More

Jo Jo Eats Dim Sum James Kye JadeLuckClub Kidlit Picture book Asian Food Children's book Jojo Eats Dim Sum by James Kye [picture book, ages 3-9]

This  delightful picture book reminds me of Lauren Child’s charming collage illustrations in her Charlie and Lola series. Like Charlie and Lola, James Kye mixes cartoon illustrations with photographs to stunning effect. The characters are drawn as cartoons and manage to convey their very big personalities.  Jo Jo is Caucasian but her favorite meal in the world is Dim Sum. Her little brother Ollie prefers pea soup. Jo Jo’s parents are pretty relaxed which is a nice contrast to the Chinese waiter who manages to be both aloof and efficient like all Chinese waiters that I’ve ever met are.

I remember dragging my kids to Dim Sum in Boston’s Chinatown. My husband and I had scouted out all the restaurants pre-kids before discovering our favorite one, China Pearl. They have two floors of rolly cart action, and the sing song hustle and bustle of the  huge restaurant nicely drowns out any bad behavior of my children including whining that they don’t like the food. Fast forward a few years and  you will now find my children chanting a little ditty titled: Dim Sum Yum Yum. I’m not sure how this turnaround happened, but I don’t argue. Going to Dim Sum is one of our favorite weekend activities. We like how it’s so fast. One minute you are starving and15 minutes later, you are stuffed to the gills.

It was precisely the food that Kye featured that turned my kids around on Dim Sum. Steamed pork buns, a.k.a. Cha Xiu Bao, is the ONLY thing my 6-year-old son will eat there if you don’t count the noodles that I have to scrape off of the “offensive” meat filling. My girls and husband love Siu Mai (the shrimp dumplings) , the noodles, and the mango pudding. But it is only I that can eat the chicken feet that Jojo also adores. She earns the admiration and astonishment of her otherwise brusque push cart lady by ordering it and relishing it. Me? I get only disgusted looks by my kids and the occasional, “Eeeuh, that’s so gross.”

“More for me!” is my reply! I should eat with Jojo instead. In fact, this book gives you the feeling of dining with them. It turns out that both My husband and I and Jojo and her parents enjoy Har Gao. The only downside is this:  it makes you really, really hungry for Dim Sum. In fact, I have to sign off now because I have to rouse my kids to get them out the door. If we arrive later than 10:30 a.m., our Dim Sum restaurant is packed!

This is James Kye’s first book, and truly, I am hungry for more. It appears that Jojo could be a series as she is an adventurous eater! Stay tuned for more!

p.s. Other Asian American picture books about Asian food that we like include:

p.p.s. What is your favorite Asian American picture book with a food theme? Please share and I’ll add to this list!

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Celebrating 4th of July with Asian American KidLit

american Wei celebrating 4th of july 4 fourth with Asian American picture books kidlit JadeLuckClub Jade Luck ClubHappy Birthday United States on this 4th of July!  To celebrate, I selected two picture books with an Asian twist.  Both families are immigrants from China.  The children in each book, like all children of immigrants, straddle two worlds trying to be “more-American-like-their-friends” while immersed in the culture and traditions from their home country. But what is lovely in both these books is an acceptance that there is no one correct way to celebrate being an American.   This is a homage to the United States of America, the great melting pot nation.  Happy Birthday!

The American Wei by Marion Hess Pomeranc

It’s a big day for Wei Fong.  Today, he and his family will become United States citizens!  And the day is especially lucky because he has his very first loose tooth and he’s hoping the Tooth Fairy will come tonight.  Calamity strikes when Wei loses his tooth in front of the Federal Courthouse where they are to be sworn in.  Luckily people of all race and nationality pitch in to help Wei find his tooth and they make just in time to their ceremony.  It was the best day ever!  [picture book, ages 4-8]

Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong

When her parents cook Chinese food to sell at their store on the 4th of July, the little 2nd generation Chinese American girl thinks that her parents “don’t get it.”  No one wants Chinese food on the 4th of July, right?  A simple story that depicts perfectly the straddling of two worlds that 2nd generation children feel and, as it turns out, there are all kinds of ways to celebrate America’s birthday!   [picture book, ages 2-6]

To examine either book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

 

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Meet Wendy Shang: The Amy Tan of Children’s Lit (The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, ages 9-12)

Meet Wendy Shang, a shining voice in children’s literature that actually portrays Asian Americans as we are — not nerdy, tweaky, math wizards — but nuanced balancing the tightrope of assimilating versus being Asian that we all walk. The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is her first chapter book for ages 9-12 but it’s a break out! Expect it to win many awards this year. I can’t wait to read more of her work, so much so that I tracked her down for an interview.
Children's author Wendy Shang The Great Wall of Lucy Wu Pragmatic Mom PragmaticMom JadeLuckClub Jade Luck Club best Asian American authors children's books
1) Tell me about growing up.Where did you live? Siblings? Where are you parents from? Any semblance of Tiger Mom or Dad?I still live near where I grew up – in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC – but it was quite different then!  It’s so diverse here now – you might see someone in a hijab working at the sushi counter or hear a call for any Nepali speakers at the library – but I was the only Asian student in my first elementary school for a long time (and I still remember the name of the second Asian student because I felt so relieved when she arrived).  My parents were born in China, but spent their young adult years in Taiwan before coming to the US.They were absolutely NOT Tiger parents.  When that book first came out, in fact, my mother was concerned that people would think she had been a Tiger Mom because my brother and I had done pretty well in school, become a doctor and lawyer, that sort of thing.  They certainly had high expectations, but it was up to us to get there.  Both of my parents gave us a lot of freedom in that regard, but did let us know that education was a family priority and that they were ready to make sacrifices for us. 
2) When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did your parents feel? What did you do to pursue?It’s funny – I LOVED to write as a kid.  I wrote my first book in kindergarten, won awards for writing in elementary school, and maintained a weekly “serial” with a friend in high school.  But somehow, making a career out of writing didn’t even seem like a possibility to me.  The idea of an author as a real, live person was a bit odd!I took up writing while I was a stay-at-home mom.  My parents were really supportive of me being a stay-at-home mom, and so moving to writing wasn’t a big leap to them, I think.  My husband, though, really hung in there for me, especially in the early days when I would leave him with three small children after he had a full work day so I could take a class on writing for children.  My first course was at the Writer’s Center with Mary Quattlebaum, and I remember just feeling electrified when I went to class.  It was probably a small miracle that I didn’t drive off the road in pure excitement. 
3) Your character, Lucy, seems to nail exactly what it’s like to walk the tightrope between assimilating and being Asian.How much of Lucy is you?There are aspects of me that are definitely in Lucy; I drew a lot upon my memories of feeling alienated as a kid.  But Lucy is really her own person.  One thing I really love about having LUCY out in the world is how many different people come to me and say, “My family is from [insert any country], but I really relate to your book!”
4) Do you have children? If you do or intend to, how will you raise your children with respect to their Asian heritage?I do have children.  I would say that the best thing I’m doing for them with respect to their heritage is living near their grandparents, where they can hear lots of stories and discussions about their family’s history.
5) What are you working on now?
I am working on a baseball book set in the 1970s.
6) What authors had the greatest influence on you?What were your favorite authors growing up? Now?When I was a kid, I really loved Judy Blume.  I felt like she really understood me, and of course, there was Tracey Wu from BLUBBER.  There weren’t a lot of Asian characters in pop culture aside from Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, and seeing a girl like me in a book was so gratifying.  I also liked Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ellen Conford and John Fitzgerald.  And to me, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is pure perfection.Right now, I’m going through a heavy boy phase, because I’m working on a boy character.  I really enjoyed Kurtis Scaletta’s Mamba Point, and Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now has just captured my heart as a reader and my mind as a writer.  On the “adult” side of reading, I’ll read anything by Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Ann Patchett and Jhumpa Lahiri. 
7) What advice would you give to someone who says that they want to be an author?I would say, don’t think about being an “author.”  I think a lot of people get overwhelmed by that.  Just think about writing.  Try to write a little bit every day.  Maybe write about what you ate, or look for a funny little situation that captures your imagination.  Write about something that made you angry or delighted or sad or puzzled.  Then after you’ve written a bit, go back and look at what you’ve written down.  You may hate some of it, but chances are, you’ll find something that you like and would be willing to write a little more on.

To view Wendy’s book at Amazon, just click on image of book. I also have reviews here on my other blog, PragmaticMom.

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Top 10: Best Chinese American Children’s Books (ages 2-14)

best top 10 chinese american children's book literature jadeluckclub jade luck club kids china summer reading for early childhood education preschool kindergarten The Chinese immigrant experience is one with a long history in America resulting in becoming the largest Asian population in America today.  There is a great one-page overview on Chinese immigration that details this history.  Interestingly, this article says that the earliest Chinese immigrants during the 1700’s were well received and became wealthy but attitudes changes negatively during the mid-1800’s when less skilled Chinese “Coolies” came during the gold rush.

As I think about the Chinese immigrant experience — my father immigrated from China to pursue a Ph.d program at U.C.L.A. a few years before the Communist Revolution — my own experience is probably similar to most second generation immigrants in the quest to balance American culture while honoring an Asian past.  Of course, my background is dissimilar to most Chinese immigrant stories as my mother is of Japanese descent and 2nd generation at that.  And did I mention that I married a Korean?

And so each of us carries an immigrant story that is unique.  I chose these books because there was something special about each of them that helps me to connect to my Chinese roots and I hope that you enjoy them to, even if your ancestry isn’t Asian.

For my own children, a “mixed-plate” to quote a Hawaiian term,  they are 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Asian.  And at 1/4 Chinese, 1/4 Japanese and 1/2 Korean, they are an unusual mix in that these three countries have traditionally hated each other for centuries.  And so in reading these stories, they may or may not relate to any of these stories, but I hope that it will help them to honor and take pride in their ancestry even if it’s as varied as a patchwork quilt.

Honorable Mention

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Shang [chapter book, ages 9-12]

If there is one chapter book that I would single out as THE seminal Asian American coming of age story, it would be The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. What is unique about this story compared to all others is that the Chinese American family is an assimilated 3rd generation family without the usual Asian stereotyping. It’s not about characters that are super smart geniuses or that play the violin/piano like a child prodigy … these are characters that Asian kids living in suburban communities across the United States can actually relate to. Fitting in while retaining your Asian culture. Living up to high family expectations and standards. Being your own person versus who your parents want  you to be. Good stuff! And it’s so well written that I think it will be up for many, many children’s lit awards. Wendy Shang is the Amy Tan of children’s literature. Try her for yourself!

Historical Tales (A Story of Ancient China) series by Jessica Gunderson

I found these great beginning chapter books at the library.  They are a very interesting and accurate historical fiction series that brings Ancient China to life.  Great if you are also combining any museums of, say, Terracotta Warriors.  The Terracotta Girl would be a perfect fit!  The Jade Dragon is a more general story combining ancient sports (horned helmet wrestling jiao di, rowing and archery) with dragon symbolism.

Fa Mulan by Robert D. San Souci
I always find it interesting to read the picture book a movie is based on.  San Souci retells this legend that comes from a ballad composed around 420-589 A.D.   about the battles found between the Chinese and Tatars (what is now Mongolia and Manchuria).  This retelling shows that the Disney movie is faithful to the ballad with one big exception, Mulan did have permission from her parents to join the army.  Filial piety is pretty important in Asian culture!  [picture book, ages 6-10)

Nim and the War Effort by Milly Lee

Nim wants to win the paper drive but her grandfather won’t let her miss Chinese school.  She has to venture out of Chinatown in order to prove to a Caucasian kid that she’s an American.  [picture book, ages 7-12]

Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges

Thank you to reader Kristen Marie for this suggestion!

Ruby is unlike most little girls in old China. Instead of aspiring to get married, Ruby is determined to attend university when she grows up, just like the boys in her family. Based upon the inspirational story of the author’s grandmother and accompanied by richly detailed illustrations, Ruby’s Wish is an engaging portrait of a young girl who strives for more and a family who rewards her hard work and courage. [picture book, ages 4-8]

 

10. The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong

I chose this picture book as much for gorgeous traditional Chinese paintings as for the story which is about the life of painter Han Gan, who lived in China 1,200 ears ago.  The myth is that he is a such a great painter of horses that one of his paintings comes to life.   [picture book, ages 5-8]

9. Beautiful Warrior:  The Legend of the Nun’s Kung Fu by Emily Arnold McCully

This is a Great Books for Girls by Kathleen Odean selection about a nun who is a master of Kung Fu and helps a village girl avoid a unwanted marriage.  A great book about girl empowerment through the martial art of Kung Fu.  Think The Karate Kid for girls!  [picture book, ages 5-9]

8. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord

This is the story of Shirley Temple Wong as she immigrates to America at age 8 and discovers that American is the land of opportunity by learning about baseball, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the great Jackie Robinson.  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

7. Coolies by Yin

When one thinks of Chinese immigrants, the image of “Coolies” comes to mind and this period marks the period of when new Chinese immigrants were viewed negatively.  The Coolie story is an important story about the Chinese immigrants during the 1800’s and underscores why “Coolies” were an important part of building the great railroads across the Western United States. [picture book, ages 5-8]

6. The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

It’s the Year of the Dog, and Pacy learns that this is the year to “find herself” which means trying to find her special talents and how she fits in with family, friends and classmates.  There is a little bonus gift in that Pacy enters a book writing contest and that book is The Ugly Vegetables!  Grace Lin is the “Amy Tan” of children’s literature and this is a gentle story for anyone who struggles with finding themselves.  In real life, Grace Lin said that she actually won the science fair and you can check her website to find out more about what really happened in real life versus Year of the Dog.    [chapter book, ages 8-12]

5. Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

Millicent Min is an 11-year-old girl genius with no social skills or friends except for her Grandmother Maddie.  While Millicent can rationalize her solitude, her parents and grandmother co-conspire to socialize her.  They force her to play volleyball and to tutor an annoying Chinese American kid, Stanford Wong, who is the polar opposite of her.  Things look up for Millicent when she makes her first friend, Emily, at volleyball.  But things come to a head when Emily finds out that Millicent and Stanford are lying to her as they both try to hide their tutoring arrangement from her.  And to make matters worse, Maddie decides to move to England.  Millicent is a genius, but can she figure out how to repair her friendship?  [chapter book, ages 9-14)

4. The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

One of my favorite picture books about a little Chinese girl who objects to the “ugly vegetables” her family grows compared to her non-Asian neighbors who grow beautiful flowers.  But when her mother makes a delicious soup from the Chinese vegetables, all the neighbors want to trade flowers for soup. What I like about this story is that “fitting in” is something internal that the little girl feels; not as  result of overt prejudice.  And in the end, her differences enrich the entire neighborhood. [picture book, ages 4-7]

3. Apple Pie on 4th of July by Janet S. Wong

When her parents cook Chinese food to sell at their store on the 4th of July, the little 2nd generation Chinese American girl thinks that her parents “don’t get it.”  No one wants Chinese food on the 4th of July, right?  A simple story that depicts perfectly the straddling of two worlds that 2nd generation children feel.  [picture book, ages 2-6]

2. Zen Shorts by Jon Muth

Jon Muth manages to take Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu anddistill it into three stories that both children and adults can relate to.  A wonderful book for everyone’s bookshelf.   The artwork is gorgeous too! [picture book, ages 4 – adult]

1. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

My oldest has always loved Asian folk tales.  In this NewberyAward winning book, Grace Lin’s finest work to date weaves Chinese Folk tales into a story that is greater than the sum of it’s parts.  With Asian themes of filial respect and sacrifice, she writes a novel that is the “Asian Percy Jackson.”   [chapter book, ages 8-12]

 

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

 

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Top 10: Best Japanese American Children’s Books (ages 2-16)

best japanese american children's books kidlit pragmaticmom jadeluckclub jade luck club japanese american picture books best summer reading lists The story of Japanese immigration is also true for my own family history.  Changes in Japan during the Meiji Restoration from 1868 to 1912 wrought great changes in Japan as the country tried to modernize.  The old feudal system of titled landowners was abruptly stripped away, and the daimyo domains of titled landowners were turned into prefectures.   For those families including my own, they were forced to buy back their own lands as some of their lost lands included sacred family burial grounds.  To earn the money, large numbers of Japanese men found work in Hawaii in the pineapple and sugar cane plantations and from there, migrated to the mainland.

Following in the wake of the Chinese immigrants marked the Japanese immigrants as a part of that group, and resulted in a negative attitude towards the Japanese immigrants almost immediately and this negative attitude lasted for more than 50 years.  At war with Japan during WWII brought prejudice and fear of Japanese Americans to new heights and resulted in forced internment camps, a low point for American history.

Throughout it all, Japanese Americans perserved, pushing their children into lucrative careers in the sciences and trying to assimilate post WWII so that they would encounter less prejudice.  I think this is the reason for a relative dearth of well known Japanese-American children’s authors, which the  one exception being Cynthia Kadohata.  It was strange to me that many important Japanese stories were not told by Japanese Americans.  I tried, therefore, to focus my list on lesser known authors telling important stories.  I hope this list will inspire more authors in this genre!

For a brief history of Japanese immigration, please see this link:  http://library.thinkquest.org/20619/Japanese.html

Honorable Mentions

Umbrella by Taro Yashima

With Japanese words throughout, this is a sweet and gentle story of a little girl, Momo (peach in Japanese),  who is excited to use her new present of an umbrella and new rain boots. [picture book, ages 4-8]

The Inn-Keepers Apprentice by Allen Say

I tire a little of all the WWII internment story lines.  I do think it’s important, but there is more to the Japanese American experience that just that period of time. When I found this book at the library, I was surprised that Allen Say wrote middle grade fiction. I always thought of him as a picture book illustrator and author. I read the book, expecting not to like it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it kept my interest. First of all, though the book is set in post WWII Japan, the book focuses on a coming-of-age story of a middle grade boy who is unusual for many reasons.  His mother comes from a Samurai aristocratic background but married a Korean.  Then got divorced! That is very unusual for this time. And the boy is determined to apprentice with a famous cartoonist. I wondered if the story rang so true because it was Say’s own story. I finished the book, satisfied by a good read and then researched it.  Yes, it is his own story and what a fascinating person he is! [chapter book, ages 9-14]

The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida

I read this story a long time ago and remembered that it was a particularly sad story of internment that I couldn’t bring myself to read to my girls. The little Japanese girl is given a bracelet by her American friend that she brings to internment camp that gets lost.   [picture book, ages 8-12]

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

A story about post bombing Hiroshima where Sadako, who loves to run, becomes ill due to the radiation from the bomb.  It is believed in Japan that folding a thousand paper cranes brings girls good luckand good health.  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

[chapter book, ages 10-14]

An Illustrated History of Japan by Shigeo Nishimura

A gorgeously illustrated history of Japan.  It would be a great reference book, particularly to look through for the artwork.  Each period of history is briefly detailed.   [picture book, ages 8-12]


10. Suki’s Kimonoby Chieri Uegaki

Even though Suki’s sisters teaser her, she wears her beloved kimono (yukata) to the first day of school.  It was a gift from her obachan, grandmother, and she has especially fond memories of spending time at a (obon) street festival dancing with her.  But is it a good idea to look so different?  [picture book, ages 4-7]

 

9. Yoko’s Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells

Rosemary Well’s has incorporated traditional Japanese art themes into her luscious illustrations about Yoko communicating with her grandparents back in Japan.  A sweet and endearing story.  [picture book, ages 2-6]

8. A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai

A bi-lingual (Japanese/English) story about the author’s grandmother who was interned at Topaz and really did grow 8 foot sunflowers in the desert.  A stoic story about coping with internment.  This is the author’s first book.  [picture book, ages 7-11]

 

7. A Jar of Dreams by Yoshiko Uchida

11-year-old Rinko lives in Berkeley, California during the Great Depression and life isn’t easy, especially when you are Japanese American because she encounters prejudice almost daily. When her family opens a small laundry, their local competitor, a well known bigot and bully, threatens them.  Things change when her Aunt Waka comes to visit from Japan,  and she helps to convince them to chase their dreams, even if it seems improbable that they will be given the same opportunities as non-Asians.  Despite the prejudice that her family faces, Rinko learns to take pride in her Japanese self.

A Jar of Dreams is an accurate protrait of what life was like for Japanese immigrants pre- WWII, but it also details the determination, hard-work, and strong familial bonds that propelled them to succeed.  [chapter book, ages 10-14]

 

6. Tokyo Friends by Betty Reynolds

Katie is a young American girl living in modern-day Tokyo.  Spend time with Katie and her Japanese friends learning about Japanese culture, holidays and the Japanese language. And the story rhymes! [picture book, ages 2-12]

5. Tea With Milk by Alan Say

May’s parents return to Japan and it’s a tough adjustment for her to make.  She prefers her tea with milk and sugar but in Japan, she must drink green tea, go to high school all over again to learn to be a proper Japanese lady, and assume her Japanese name, Masako.  Finally, she rebels and  moves to Osaka where she gets a job and meets a man that prefers his tea with milk and sugar.  This is the love story of Alan Say’s parents. [picture book, ages 6-9]

4. Kira-Kiraby Cynthia Kadohata

This Newbery Award winning novel is a Japanese Grapes of Wrath story about the Takashima family as they move  from Iowa to Georgia in the 1950’s and work menial, grueling jobs at a non-unionized poultry farm.  The three kids, Lynn, Katie and Sammy,  manage to have fun and dream of better times ahead despite their difficult conditions until Lynn comes down with a fatal illness.  The book manages to portray life for post-WWII Japanese Americans  in an insightful and realistic way.  [chapter book, ages 10-14]

3. Weedflowerby Cynthia Kadohata

From Starred Review, School Library Journal. Grade 5-8–When Pearl Harbor is attacked, the lives of a Japanese-American girl and her family are thrown into chaos. Sumiko, 12, and her younger brother, Tak-Tak, live with their aunt and uncle, grandfather Jiichan, and adult cousins on a flower farm in Southern California. Though often busy with chores, Sumiko enjoys working with the blossoms, particularly stock, or weedflowers (fragrant plants grown in a field). In the difficult days that follow the bombing, the family members fear for their safety and destroy many of their belongings. Then Uncle and Jiichan are taken to a prison camp, and the others are eventually sent to an assembly center at a racetrack, where they live in a horse stable. When they’re moved to the Arizona desert, Sumiko misses the routine of her old life and struggles with despair. New friends help; she grows a garden with her neighbor and develops a tender relationship with a Mohave boy. She learns from him that the camp is on land taken from the Mohave reservation and finds that the tribe’s plight parallels that of the incarcerated Japanese Americans. Kadohata brings into play some complex issues, but they realistically dovetail with Sumiko’s growth from child to young woman. She is a sympathetic heroine, surrounded by well-crafted, fascinating people. The concise yet lyrical prose conveys her story in a compelling narrative that will resonate with a wide audience.–Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA .  [chapter book, ages 12-16]

2. So Far From the Sea by Eve Bunting

Laura Iwaski and her family visit her grandfather’s grave at the Manzanar War Relocation center where he died during internment.  Both her parents were relocated though at different camps.  Her father was a little boy when this happened and this marks the last time they will visit before moving to Boston.  Their final visit sums up the attitude of most Japanese-Americans who were forced to relocate:  a terrible thing that happened to them.   But , as the Dad says, “Sometimes in the end thre is no right or wrong.  It is just a thing that happened long years ago.  A thing that cannot be changed.”  [picture book, ages 8-12]

1. Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

Ken Mochizuki’s were interned at Minidoka Internment camp in Idaho, and this is the story based on true events, of how they used baseball to cope.  The little boy in the story is small for his age, but perserves to become an excellent player.  The story continues post-internment and things are not better.  Luckily, the boy’s skill in baseball helps to bring everyone together.  This is the author’s first picture book. [picture book, ages 8-12]

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Top 10: Best Korean American Children’s Books (ages 2-16)

Best Korean American Children's Books Literature KidLit Young Adult Books Fiction JadeLuckClub, Jade Luck Club, Pragmatic Mom http://JadeLuckClub.com My husband is Korean and I joke that the Koreans are nicknamed “The Irish of Asia.”   Like the Irish, they have a strong culture despite a long history of invasion and occupation.  Like the Irish, they have a penchant for drinking and fighting.  And like the Irish, there is a vein of melancholy than runs through their DNA.   Or at least, this is my take on it.

When my 4th grader did a unit on immigration, they covered many nationalities — she did Japan — but not Korea.  I think it’s because the Korean immigration story to the United States is a fairly new one that began in earnest after the Korean War [think M.A.S.H.!].  And the Korean immigrants, more so than other Asian nationalities, have made it to the United States in pursuit of higher education, and thus, when they stayed, they were able to land squarely in the middle  class.

The Korean American authors have a unique stories to tell.  Their collective memories of the old country are still fresh, as is their immigrant experience.  And if you use food to tell the story of a culture as I do, Korean cuisine is becoming the Next Big Thing.  Or at least in New York City that seems to mark the beginning of every big food trend.  My husband and I found it amusing when we visited NYC a few years ago that the big trend was upscale, fancy Korean restaurants.  We lived near Korea Town in Los Angeles for many years so we equate good Korean food with small, but clean “dive.”

In any case, ride the trend and enjoy these 10 Korean American children’s books with your children.


Honorable Mentions

Dear Juno by Soyung Pak

Juno is a little boy who receives a letter from his grandmother in Korea. He can’t read Korean and his parents are busy with the usual household chores.  Despite the language barrier, he is able to understand the letter though his mother eventually translates it for him. The letter is special as are the enclosures — a dried flower and a photo of his grandmother and her new cat. And Juno decides to write a letter back. One that will also transcend their language barrier. He makes several drawings and encloses a very large leaf. And so they write each other back and forth … at least until she comes to visit! [picture book, ages 4-9]

The Korean Frogs: A Korean Folktale Retold by Yumi Heo

This is a cute picture book that tells the story of naughty frogs who don’t listen to their mother. A fun and funny story to remind the kiddos to listen to mom! [picture book, ages 3-8]

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

When Unhei moves from Korea to the United States, she is a little embarrassed by her name so she tells her new classmates that she doesn’t have one.  They all help to choose a new one for her by putting choices into a jar but in the end, Unhei decides that her Korean name is just perfect.  This is the perfect book for anyone with an “ethic first or middle name” that they are a little embarrassed about.  [picture book, ages 5-9]

F is for Fabuloso by Marie G. Lee

I happened upon this Korea-American author for grades 4-6th and wanted to share it because it’s a fabuloso book!  It’s unclear why her book didn’t make a bigger splash when it came out about 10 years ago.  She’s a really vibrant voice for Asian American children’s literature so I wanted to let you know about her.  The author is a second generation Korean American and grew up in Minnesota much like her lead character, Jin-Ha, in F is for Fabuloso.   It’s a tender and gentle story about straddling two worlds especially as the go-between for her mother who is shy to speak English.  [chapter book, ages 8-12]

If It Hadn’t Been for Yoon Jun is another book, also by Maria G. Lee,  that I was trying to locate at the library which I wasn’t able to find yet, but I suspect it is also very good.  I will find it and update you! [chapter book, ages 8-12]

Count Your Way through Korea by Jim Haskins, illustrated by Dennis Hockerman

This seems like a basic counting book on the outside, but it’s actually packed with interesting factoids about Korean culture.  AND the text is really advanced; it’s actually too hard for a toddler or preschooler learning how to count to 10.  I’d just this to teach older kids, say in elementary school or learning a Korean version of Karate, how to count to 1o in Korean. [picture book, ages 6-9]

Count Your Way through Korea, learn korean numbers, pragmatic mom

The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Ruth Heller

This is the Korean version of Cinderella set in olden-times Korea.  [folk tale picture book, ages 4-8]

Korean Cinderella story set in olden times, pragmatic mom, pragmaticmom.com

Chi-Hoon, A Korean Girl by Patricia McMahon with photographs by Michael F. O’Brien

This is a day-in-the-life glimpse of an elementary school aged girl, Chi-Hoon.  My oldest found it fascinating to learn about life in modern day Korea.  The reading level is perfect for grades 3-5.  [non-fiction, ages 8-12]

Chi-Hoon, life in modern day Korea pragmaticmom.com

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10. Sumi’s First Day of School Everby Soyung Pak.

Sumi doesn’t speak English and today is her very first day of school ever.  Will it go well?  [picture book for ages 2-7]

9. Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park.

A light-hearted rhyming picture book on a favorite Korean national dish.  It’s popular in restaurants but it evolved as a way to use up all the leftovers.  In this book, a family spends all day preparing this little girl’s favorite meal.  With a recipe at the end!  [picture book for ages 2-5]

8. Where on Earth is My Bagel? by Frances and Ginger Park.

A whimsical story about a little Korean boy who dreams of a New York bagel and, with the help of his friends, is able to make one.  [picture book for ages 3-7]

7. Halmoni and the Picnicby Sook Nyul Choi.

An advanced picture book about a girl and her Korean grandmother and how they both learn to bridge the cultural gap with food.   [picture book for ages 5-8]

6. Yunmi and Halmoni’s Tripby Sook Nyul Choi.

Halmoni takes her granddaughter on a trip back to Korea to meet the family, but Yunmi worries that her grandmother might not want to come back.  [picture book for ages 5-8]

5. Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent.

14-year-old Joseph Caldararo has a loving family and is a well-adjusted popular kid at school.  But when his social studies teacher assigns a paper on Your Cultural heritage, his world gets turned upside down.  He knows he’s adopted from Korea when he was just an infant and it’s never really bothered him before, but now it does.  It doesn’t help that the new dry cleaners are taken over by a Korean family who are off-out by his adoption.  And it makes his parents upset when he wants to learn more about his own cultural heritage.  His best friend assists him in conducting an internet search to try to trace his parents but that’s a long shot at best!  But what to write for this paper?  His confusion about who he is leads him down a path of deceit and now everything is a mess.  On top of this, he’s trying to get a date for the school dance.  Whoever said that middle school is tough is right!  [chapter book, ages 9-12]

4. The Year of Impossible Goodbyesby Sook Nyul Choi.

A haunting but ultimately uplifting story of author Sook Nyul Choi’s experience living in war-torn North Korea.  [chapter book for middle schoolers]

3. The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park.

Set in 15th century Korea, Korea’s Golden Age, two brothers — one  skilled in kite making and the other skilled in  kite flying — combine their skills to compete in a kite flying contest on behalf of the king.  [ages 7-12]

2. Seesaw Girl by Linda Sue Park.

A glimpse into the lives of the  nobility during the Golden Age of Korea and the restrictions placed on women.  [chapter book for ages 8-12]

1. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.

Newbery award winning book about a famous potter during the Golden Age of Korea.  [chapter book for ages 8-12]

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What Happened to Harvard Plagiarist Kaavya Viswanathan Anyway? How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life…Updated

Kaavya Viswanthan How Opal Mehta Got Kissed Got Wild and Got a Life and How Kaavya Got Rich Got Caught and Got Ruined Harvard student JadeLuckClub http://JadeLuckClub.com

I just learned of Kaavya’s recent tragedy. Her parents were in a fatal airplane crash recently. My deepest sympathy for her loss. Her neurosurgeon father was the pilot of a small plane and her obstetrician mother was the passenger. The cause of the crash is still being determined.

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…and how Kaavya Viswanathan, then 17-years-old and a freshman at Harvard University, Got Rich, Got Caught, And Got Ruined.

I happened to find a copy of the book that I heard to much about at my favorite bookstore in the overrun bins. It was reported that her book was yanked from the shelves and destroyed which is little sad but happily this copy and few others have survived. My 5th grader read it and liked it and while she hasn’t read many YA books referenced in her book, it will be fun to read them and find the similar passages. Kaaya’s plagiarized book list reads like a who’s who of YA authors. (Actually, that might be a fun post for my other blog!).

This post, however, is the story of Kaavya, a successful college student (pre-med at Harvard no less), who got a reported $500,000 publishing contract and then published a young adult novel (about an Indian American girl who gets into Harvard) that was fraught with egregious examples of blatant plagiarism. The full extant is actually rather impressive in its depth and breadth. If you remove her plagiarism from this novel, it appears that her book becomes Swiss Cheese with holes everywhere.

The sad thing is that Kaavya was very young and also pre-med at Harvard. Having “been-there-done-that” myself, I know that this is an academically challenging load. No doubt that her book commitments coincided with mid-terms, finals and life in college. I suspect that if she just had more time, say the summer off to write her book or even an extra year, she would have written a similarly engaging book minus the assist via other authors. Can you really blame her for poor judgement? Yes and no but at the end of the day, it was the error of an immature teen. Not fully formed. Not fully baked. And Crispie from being in several simultaneous pressure cookers.

My 5th grader was intrigued with both the book and the plagiarism and we both wondered what happens when the media storm is so intense yet the child — and really, she’s just a child — is promising and clearly talented. Does it all turn out right in the end, minus lifelong embarrassment not to mention permanent lifelong detention?

Happily, she has landed on her feet. Kaavya, while no publisher will touch her with a ten foot pole as yet, is now a law student. Her dad is a doctor so kudos to her for forging a new path. She is a student at Georgetown Law which is not shabby at all, and has summer interned at a prestigious law firm.

So what is the lesson here kids? I think that it’s stay true to yourself and that like the story in Zen Shorts, good news is also bad news, which is the philosophy of 4th Century Chinese philosopher, Chuang Tzu. And take the path less trodden. And don’t lie, steal or cheat. Or… if you are good at that, become an attorney!

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APALA Awards for Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature. Have You Heard of These?

Yasmin's Hammer Best Asian American Picture Book Apala Awards Jade Luck Club JadeLuckClub http://JadeLuckClub.com best Asian American books for kids children adultsIt came as big surprise to me to learn that there is, indeed, an Asian American Children’s and Young Adult Lit Award. It was Faye Bi from Little Brown who kindly pointed it out to me. I am pretty surprised because I spent the last year tracking Google Alert words “Children’s Book Award” in search of award winning children’s books. I also googled “Asian American Children’s Book Award” and this award did not come up on the first page so maybe they just need help getting the word out. I’m happy to help.

The winners of the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature from APALA (Asian Pacific American Librarians Association) were announced on March 25, 2011. The prizes promote Asian/Pacific American culture and heritage and are awarded based on literary and artistic merit.  Past winners from 2005 and onward are here. I’m glad it exists and I hope that it becomes more widely known! Thanks Faye!

I am excited to learn about these authors and books; most are new to me. I know Mitali Perkins because we live in the same town and she graciously came to my daughter’s book club to speak about The Rickshaw Girl. She is a fabulous and wonderful person and I will feature her soon on my blog. I have The Heart of a Samurai on my bedside table to read. Unfortunately, there’s a stack of books there waiting to be read. My fifth grader tried it out and rejected it but I am not sure why.

How about you? Have you read any of these books or authors and what did you think of them?

Picture Book Winner

Malaspina, AnnYasmin’s Hammer. Illustrated by Doug Ghayka.


Picture Book Honor
Thong, RoseanneFly Free! Illustrated by Eujin Kim Neilan.

Children’s Literature Winner
Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai.

Children’s Literature Honor
Perkins, MitaliBamboo People.

Young Adult Literature Winner
Senzai, N. H. Shooting Kabul.

Young Adult Literature Honor
Bazaldua, BarbaraA Boy of Heart Mountain. Illustrated by Willie Ito.

Adult Fiction Winner
Yamashita, Karen TeiI Hotel.

Adult Fiction Honor
Truong, Monique.  Bitter in the Mouth.

Adult Non-Fiction Winner
Lee, Erika and Judy Yung. Angel Island: Immigration Gateway to America.

 

Adult Non-Fiction Honor Book
Huang, Yunte. Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History.

Adult Non-Fiction Honor Book
Vaswani, NeelaYou Have Given Me a Country.

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Best Asian American Children’s Authors & Illustrators

Asian American Children's Young Adult Book Award JadeLuckClub PragmaticMom Pragmatic Mom Asian American Tiger MomThere is the Pura Belpre Award, established in 1996, and presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

And the Coretta Scott King Book Awards which honor new African American authors and illustrators with less than three published works.

Don’t forget the Africana Awards which honors outstanding authors and illustrators of children’s books about Africa published in the United States.

One more:  the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award which honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience.

 

There are plenty of children’s book awards for multicultural children’s books, but where is the one for Asian American’s Children’s Literature honoring best Asian American children’s books? That’s right, there isn’t one. YET …

 

I’m partial to [Put Your Name Here] Asian American Children’s and Young Adult Book Award which honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Asian American experience. Do you want to name this award? Let’s talk! It really isn’t so hard to do, right? First you need the $ sponsor. Some legal stuff to set up a non-profit and put the money into a trust. Then define the award and categories– I’d let the name sponsor have a big say. Next would be creating a committee to set up rules, regs and procedures, and pick the first judging committee.  A fancy logo would be nice.  Get the publishers on board to send the books to the judges. Fire it up, pick some winners, have a fancy award dinner, and communicate it. It could even be for a specific nationality, like best Chinese children’s books!

 

And who should win it? I’d put my money on one of these authors (assuming that we can go back in time to make our awards if the award must be given during year the book was first published). I think these are some of the best authors that are either Asian American OR depict Asian American themes or characters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

And I know I am missing a lot of good books out there. I’m new to Young Adult lit.

Please help me add more candidates. What are your favorite authors or books in this new-you-and-I-are-creating Asian American Children’s or YA Literature genre? Please share in comments section. And pick your winner!

Mitsumasa Anno

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Sook Nyul Choi

Yansook Choi

Cynthia Kadohata

Rose Kent

Marie G. Lee

Grace Lin

Lenore Look

Bette Bao Lord

Jon Muth

Soyung Pak

Linda Sue Park

Mitali Perkins

Allen Say

Wendy Shang

Jordan Sonnenblick

Yoshiko Uchida

Rosemary Wells

Janet S. Wong

Gene Luen Yang

Taro Yashima

Lisa Yee

 

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