Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What I learned....

Back in February, I read an blog post by Ellen Oh called Dear White Writers, in which she talks about the need for and importance of POC authors writing and publishing their diverse stories in their own voices. When I decided to look at books for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I took the first passage of Ellen's letter to heart, when she wrote:

"Yes, We Need Diverse Books.  But that doesn't always mean that we want YOU [white writers] to write them.  No, it means we want you to support them.  We want you to read them.  We want you to promote them, talk about them, buy them, love them.  We want you to recognize that these stories told by Authors in their own voices has as much importance as all the white one the are published year after year."

Support, read, promote, talk, buy love - that what #WeNeedDiverseBooks meant to me from the start and still does.  I'm not a writer, but I am white.  So, this year, when Asian Pacific American Heritage Month came round, I decided to focus on books written by authors who are are either Asian American or Pacific Islanders.  It didn't really go the way I thought it would.

I read a total of 9 novels, 1 graphic novel, and 9 picture books.  What I discovered is this:

1- Asia and the Pacific Islands covers a lot of ground and a lot of countries, including Hawaii.  And yet, given the criteria I set for myself, I still didn’t find as wide a variety of books as I thought there would be, although, for the most part, what’s out there is pretty good stuff. 

2- Much of what I did find is not longer easily or readily available.  Yes, I found lots of lists with excellent recommendations, but many of the books I wanted to read were no longer in print or the author was not Asian American or a Pacific Islander.  One of my goals on Randomly Reading is to always use as many library books as possible.  Not everyone can or wants to buy books, and all libraries can do inter-library loans.  If the library doesn’t have a book and I think it is a particularly worthwhile story, I generally check the availability and cost and comment on that.  I am hoping that some of those hard to find books will at least be made into ebooks someday, if not simply reissued.  

3- You are probably wondering why you don’t see any books written about the Asian experience of Asian Americans including Japanese American during WWII.  In fact, I’ve read and reviewed a lot of books on that subject on my other blog, The Children's War, but again, after going through my posts, I’ve discovered that most of the books I read and reviewed where not written by Asian Americans.  

4- One of the things I love about the United States is that there are so many people from so many different countries, and they all bring with them aspects of their culture that widens our horizons. Yet, I can't imagine what it must feel like to arrive in a new country, completely different than the one you just left, not always being able to speak or understand English, not knowing the rules and mores of the school you must be sent to, finding yourself in a place where you might not be particularly welcomed, and being expected make a life for yourself.  I'm tired just thinking about it, imagine living it day by day.  Besides celebrating accomplishments and culture, I think that reading about the experience that diverse authors write about not only educates, but it is also a way for kids to develop empathy for the struggles of others.

5- This has been a real eye-opening experience.  Unfortunately, I had some asthma issues at the beginning of May that set me way behind as far as posting about the books I read.  I still have to write about American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, Ticket to India and Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, which will come later.

  Other books I have read and posted that are by authors who are are either Asian American or Pacific Islanders about include:

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai  
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly   
The Name Jar written by Yangsook Choi   
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits 
Juna's Jar by Jane Bahk
Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh,
Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn
Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin 
Maggie’s Chopsticks by Alan Woo 
Chinatown by William Low 
Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Aswani  
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman 
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidler
Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier 
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed 
The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata 
Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai
Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo

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