Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Picture Book Roundup for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a time to remember and celebrate the history and contributions that Asians and Pacific Islanders have made to the country.  This year, I decided to look at books that were written by authors who have either immigrated to the United States themselves, or whose parents or grandparents did.  Some of my choices may be familiar, some may not be so well known, all are excellent books for young readers.

Grandfather's Journey written and illustrated by Allen Say
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993, 32 pages, Age 5+

Allen Say tells how his grandfather left Japan to see the world, exploring the cities and countryside of the United States, falling in love with the California coast.  Returning to Japan, he married and brought his wife to San Francisco, where they lived and raised a daughter.  But homesickness drove his grandfather back to Japan to live.  Once there, however, he began to miss America, though he never returned to his adopted country.  Say has captured the pull of one's birth culture and one's adopted culture beautifully in the tribute to his grandfather, in both text and his tenderly realistic watercolor illustrations.

A Teacher's Guide is available from Scholastic

My Chinatown: One Year in Poems written and illustrated by Kam Mak
HarperCollins, 2001, 32 pages, Age 4+

In almost photographically realistic oil paintings, My Chinatown is the story of one young boy's adjustment to living in his new city and country.  Missing everything familiar about his home in Hong Kong, the young narrator, who is now living in Chinatown in New York City, slowly adjusts to his new life over the course of a year, eventually finding pleasure in his new surroundings.  The poems are divided up into the four seasons, and each includes information about customs and traditions, for example, the New Year celebrations in winter, the Dragon Boat Festival in Queens, in summer and the Lunar Festival in the fall.

Mei-Mei's Lucky Birthday Noodles: A Loving Story of
Adoption, Chinese Culture, and a Special Birthday Treat
by Shan-Shan Chin, illustrated by Heidi Goodman
Tuttle Publishing, 2014, 32 pages, Age 4+

It's Mei-Mei's sixth birthday and she is really excited.  Her birthday also happens to be the day her mom and dad brought her home from China to be a family - so it is a double celebration.  After getting dressed in her new red for luck dress, she's reading to help her mom make the good luck noodles.  Good luck noodles symbolize a long and happy life in Chinese culture.  After helping mom, Mei-Mei's friends and family come for her party, bringing red envelopes filled with money, another Chinese tradition, before sitting down to eat their delicious good luck noodles.  This is a really nice story about adoption and the interesting thing is that the reader never finds out the race of the parents who adopted Mei-Mei.  The illustrations are bright and cheerful, matching the happy mood of the story.

Dim Sum for Everyone! written and illustrated by Grace Lin
Dragonfly Books, 2003, 32 pages, Age 3+

A young narrator introduces readers to the Chinese tradition of Dim Sum, small dishes of food eaten with chopsticks.  Lin captures the custom of a family sitting at a large round table in a restaurant and the ladies who come around pushing trolleys each on full of a different dish.  Why such a large table?To accommodate all the little dishes.  Lin's colorful illustrations are whimsical, yet capture the sharing spirit behind a Dim Sum meal.  She has included a detail explanation of the history and customs attached to eating Dim Sum.  This is an ideal book for anyone trying to introduce their kids to trying something new.

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, art by Ken Min
Lee & Low Books, 2011, 32 pages, Age 7+

Aneel's grandparents are visiting from India and he just loves hearing the stories his Dada-ji tells him. When his grandfather tells him about how about the wonderful roti his Badi-ma used to make and how it made his so strong, Aneel decides to make him some just like his mother had so long ago. But no one wants to help.  As he mixes up the ingredients, his family gathers around and Badi-ma helps Aneel cook the roti.  But will it have the same strengthening power as in the past.  This is a wonderful intergenerational story about family even as it introduces kids to Asian Indian culture.  The illustrations are done in acrylic and color pencil and reflect the playfulness of the story.

A Teacher's Guide is available for download from Lee & Low.

Halmoni and the Picnic by Sook Nyul Choi, illustrated by Karen Dugan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993, 32 pages, Age 4+

Everyday Yummi and her grandmother walk to school together, and even though her friends always greet her Halmoni, she never says anything to them.  When a class trip is planned, Halmoni agrees to be a chaperone, but when she starts making kimbap and barley tea for all the kids, Yummi worries about how her classmates will react to it.  Will they like it?  Luckily, her teacher knows just what to do.  Another nice intergenerational story highlighting the difficulties of adjusting to a new county and new customs.  The colorful, realistic illustrations done in pencil and watercolor capture the Korean section of Manhattan beautifully and are bordered in Korean- inspired textual designs.  

A Teacher's Guide is available to download for this book.  

Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008, 32 pages, Age 4+

Told all in the kind of rhyme that reminds the reader of playground chants, a hungry young Korean girls helps her mother buy the groceries needed to make this traditional dish, a favorite of hers.  At home, she helps, sort of, in the preparation of the Bee-bim Bop, getting hungrier and hungrier as she and her mother work.  Finally, it is time to sit down and eat, even the dog, who has helped clean up spills all along, has a bowl full.  This is the kind of story that will make you recall your own mother's everyday meal that you remember as being so special and probably was.  The rhyme is sweet and bouncy, and the illustrations depict every step of the meal preparations.  A great book to choose for when your young readers are ready to help in the kitchen.  Best of all - there is a recipe at the end for making your own Bee-bim Bop and boy, does it sound delicious.

Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders
Little Brown Books, 1998, 32 pages, Age 5+

The night before New Year's Eve, 7 year-old Marissa'a aunties, her grandma and mom get together at her home on Oahu, Hawaii to start preparing the filling for the dumplings that will make their traditional dumpling soup.  Everyone brings their own cutting board and knives, so they can all work, gossiping and chapping, all except Marissa.  But Grandma promises that the next day she can help wrap the dumplings.  Marissa is so excited, except she dumplings are lumpy, not perfect like her aunt's or her mom's.  But her family assures Marissa that her dumpling taste just as good as all the others.  This is a very nice story about a very diverse family - including Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, and haolo.  Her grandmother calls the family chop suey meaning all mixed up, making it "more spicy." There is an nice glossary in the front of the book, defining terms in English, Hawaiian, Korean, and Japanese.  If you've never eaten dumpling soup, you are in for a treat.  And you can find the recipe on Jama Kim Rattigan's website HERE

Journey Home by Lawrence McKay, Jr., illustrated by Dom and Keunhee Lee
Lee & Low Books, 1998, 32 pages, Age 6+

Mai, 10, is excited but nervous about traveling to Vietnam with her mom.  Her mom had been born there, but given up for adoption during the Vietnam War.  Now, she wants to try and find out who she really is and who were her birth parents.  The only clue she has is a hand made kite and a photo taken at the orphanage with the kite.  After a few days of searching, Mai and her mom are feeling rather discouraged until they spot a man selling hand made kites.  Could he possibly hold the key that will unlock the door to finding her mother's parents?  The beautifully expressive and unusually colored illustrations really reflect the different moods in the story, perhaps because of the way they were done: by "applying encaustic beeswax on paper, then scratching out the images, and finally adding oil paint and colored pencil."  

A Teacher's Guide is available to download from Lee & Low

This was a very interesting post to do and it made me aware of a number of things which I plan on sharing after I have posted about all the books used of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Meanwhile, you can find a rich source of teaching resources at the Smithsonian Education website HERE


  1. This is a great resource for me as an adoption coach. Many children have been adopted from Asian countries and we are always searching for quality books that feature diverse characters.

  2. Loves this list and thanks for all the links to the teachers' guides: so helpful!


Imagination Designs