Asian Americans have long been depicted as “inassimilable aliens” in the canon of American children’s literature. In recent decades, Asian American writers have worked hard to “write their own story rather than letting others write them out of it” and “reposition themselves as central to the American experience rather than peripheral” (de Manuel and Davis, vii). An Na’s A Step from Heaven may resonate with the thousands of second-generation Korean American children whose families struggle to achieve the American Dream – or heaven, as Young Ju believes – and Laurence Yep’s Golden Mountain Chronicles literally chronicles the experiences of the Chinese pioneers who persevered and established communities in California, despite violent eruptions of xenophobia, earthquakes and other calamities. Authors such as An Na and Laurence Yep make critical contributions to telling the stories of America’s children – telling them beautifully, accurately and skillfully.
As Asian American communities continue to grow and diversify, and as schools and libraries tighten their budgets, it is even more important to recommend only the best and broadest children’s and young adult stories representing the Asian diaspora. Reviewers may, with the best intentions, positively review and promote a book, but miss the mark because their lack of knowledge and familiarity regarding a certain culture or ethnic group. This bibliography fills that need by recommending children’s and young adult literature that has at some level been vetted by those with that knowledge and familiarity.
While this bibliography attempts to highlight works written and illustrated by Asian Americans, we also include works by non-Asians whose careful research make important contributions in telling our stories. For example, Joanne Oppenheim’s Dear Miss Breed tells the courageous story of Clara Breed, a San Diego public librarian who provided books to Japanese American children interned during World War II at Poston, Arizona so that they could have access to stories. Similarly, those of us who created this bibliography hope to provide access to stories that reflect a more diverse, accurate and hopeful world.
Books, like people, defy easy categorization. While the authors of this bibliography attempted to organize books first by country of origin (and its attendant diaspora) and then by reading level, the impossibility of doing so is reflected in our uneasy and perhaps questionable placement of certain stories. For example, should Jama Kim Rattigan’s Dumpling Soup be listed under “Korean and Korean American” or “Hawaiian and Pacific Islander”? The transnational movement of bodies also defies easy categorization; stories that take place in multiple places such as Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey caused us to pick headings such as “Japanese and Japanese American” and “Cambodian and Cambodian American.” We were less sure about how to categorize Mongolian, Malaysian, and Tibetan stories because there were no recommended stories that take place in the United States; clearly, there is much room for growth.
Librarians and educators who have expertise and interest in children’s and young adult literature depicting Asian people and cultures compiled this bibliography as a recommended list for interested readers. Some titles were enthusiastically promoted and others received conflicting comments; all of the books made the list, leaving you, the reader, with the final responsibility of reading each book with a critical and discerning eye. Ultimately, we hope that you will enjoy these stories, and learn something about the breadth of Asian diasporic experiences.
Dr. Sarah Park, 2010