Contributors who post on WritersRumpus.com have been honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander authors, illustrators, and cultures since way back in 2014! This openness certainly includes the other categories of diverse books, but the focus this month is on AAPI books.
Grace Lin made a startling statement about one of her books the other day, which I will get to, but first let’s look at some of the AAPI books we have highlighted in the past, followed by some background on diversity in children’s books and a surge in negative attention.
A few of the many previous WR posts about or by Asian and Pacific Islanders.
Dragonfly Eyes is a Middle-Grade novel set in1950s Shanghai in the immediate aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Author Cao Wenxuan, winner of the Hans Christian Anderson Award, wrote it in his native Chinese, which was translated by Helen Wong.
Tina Cho’s four books all deal with Korean culture and she lives in Seoul, South Korea, although she does not speak the language. Here is an interview and a review of her book Rice From Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Korea. It is a story about an effort to cross a strict barrier to feed starving people.
Another, a picture book by Karen Yin, is not about human culture at all, but about inclusion in the animal world. It is called Whole Whale.
Laura Fineberg Cooper said of Natasha Ngan’s YA novel Girls of Paper and Fire that it is an “exceptional world-building mentor text”. Natasha Ngan is half-Chinese and grew up in Malaysia.
When Heather Gale was inspired by a documentary about a real Hawaiian girl, she was compelled to write Ho’onani Hula Warrior. Heather grew up in New Zealand and the book illustrator, Mika Song, grew up in Manila and Honolulu, so all three are Pacific Islanders. We are fortunate that they have made this story of a Hawaiian girl who thought she was only someone caught in the middle.
Did you know that famous Japanese-American figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi also writes children’s books? Sarah S. Brannen’s article is titled Kristi Yamaguchi is Dedicated To Reading – And Writing and highlights the charming picture book It’s a Big World Little Pig!
These are all books that delight and inspire the reader.
In June of 2014, I posted a plea for naturalized diversity, meaning that people who generate books for children should be able to reflect the world around us, with many kinds of diversity as natural elements of who we all are.
That was the year the We Need Diverse Books movement began.
Their history in their own words: “In 2014, our movement was spearheaded by author Ellen Oh and a group of 21 other children’s book writers and industry professionals in response to the announcement of an all-white, all-male panel of children’s book authors at a major book and publishing convention. What began as a social media awareness campaign quickly grew into a global movement that demanded the attention of the publishing industry, the media, and readers everywhere.
WNDB was started by a team of writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals, led by the original Executive Committee (Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, Marieke Nijkamp, Miranda Paul, Aisha Saeed, Karen Sandler, and Ilene Wong) and supported by the original PR team (Stacey Lee and SE Sinkhorn).”
Since then the publishing industry has shown steadfast initiative in producing inclusive books.
One would think that a country like the USA, founded on freedom, would not have issues with books written in good faith for children. For a description of how many children’s books, and of what genres and age groups, are subject to bans nationwide, read this from PEN.org.
Rebecca Moody’s 2023 Editorial suggested that one unintended result of raising the diversity in books is that some members of the public have countered with vehement resistance. And asks what we should do about that.
…did you know that, “librarians and teachers in Florida could face felony charges, up to five years in jail, and as much as $5,000 in fines for making certain titles available to their students”?Rebecca Moody
“The unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience.”ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada
Grace Lin’s startling statement
Grace Lin, the author of many beloved books, has a wonderful newsletter called gracenotes: the newsletter. The recent issue begins with startling news about her work.
She says, “I have recently heard that my book Dim Sum for Everyone! is included on the list of books being banned (or if you prefer “under review” with an indefinite review period; so, really, that could mean forever) in Florida. This [makes} me sad as the only thing that makes it the subject to this banning is that it features Asian characters.”
To me, that is totally shocking. Grace Lin’s books are about kindness and understanding. Is her work being challenged simply because her books are about Asian culture and characters? How can this be happening?
Previous articles here about Grace Lin include one on her views about inclusion. And another is titled Grace Lin and The Story That Heals, which I wrote in 2017. In an addendum to that post I added, “Last night I attended a wonderful event at the Society of Printers in Boston where Grace Lin was the keynote speaker. She introduced her presentation as an extended version of a TED talk she had given, which you can find here. The points she makes, which she is passionate about, are more significant now than ever before. At a time when forces are trying to coagulate white voters as being separate and of more value than minorities, children’s books like Grace Lin’s, which are windows on the world, are our responsibility to our children.”
Now, in 2023, there are forces still trying to ban Grace Lin’s inspiring, kind-hearted books and those of so many others.
But the children’s book industry has a different message about Grace Lin’s Dim Sum for Everyone.
• Starred Booklist Review
• Starred Kirkus Review
• Parent’s Guide 2001 Children’s Media Award Winner
• CCBC Choices 2002
• Best Picture Books of 2001, Baltimore County Public Library
Books about and by Asian and Pacific Islanders and their vibrant cultures enrich the lives of the children they are meant for, children everywhere. We need more of their messages of unity and understanding, not fewer.
A few more past posts here extolling AAPI books (yes, there are even more)
Two MGs: Emily Out of Focus by Miriam Spitzer Franklin and The Adventures of Na Willa by Reda Gaudiamo that paint vivid pictures of China and Indonesia are described here.
Picturebooks from opposite ends of the world – Hong Kong and France – each focus on the behavior of species other than humans. In one it’s ghoulish spiders and for the other a cast of vegetables animate the tale.
Here is an article with reviews of three picturebooks that have wildly varied characters – Samurai Santa, Gingerbread Pirates and Zombelina. Samurais and ninjas, cookies, and zombies each have their own perspectives on the world.
Hope and Humanity in “The Arrival” is a post about one of my favorite creators, amazing Shaun Tan. In this wordless graphic novel, which he worked on for five years, the immigrant experience is palpable.
What are your thoughts on books by and about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?
I agree this is shocking and I can’t wrap my head around why ‘they’ would even think to ban Grace Lin’s beautiful work. I can’t imagine where this warped thinking comes from, although sadly, it must travel down through generations from adult to child. 😦 Like many other Writers’ Rumpus readers, I can name so many wonderful books by Asian authors, such as Hope Lim, Jenny Han, Amy Tan. The list goes on and on.
Hi Laura. It seems to me that the longer the list of taboo topics the fewer books there will be left for children to read. And yes, the similarity to WWII era authoritarian actions to suppress or destroy books leads in a frightful direction. This is a nightmare scenario. What can we do about it?
This is such a fabulous post! I’ve always enjoyed reading stories based upon mythologies around the world, and Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one of my whole family’s favorites. I’m truly disgusted beyond measure about the book bannings in Florida and thank you and Becca for highlighting this issue. Banning a picture book based upon an author’s name, book title, or image on the cover chillingly recalls WWII book burnings and internment camps!
So many good ones highlighted, here. Such an important contribution to children’s literature.
Hillary, the contributions that these books have made is enormous. Grace Lin’s for example are messages of kindness and understanding. And since we are all citizens of this tiny planet, we are one big family. We should be open to one another rather than censoring.