East Meets West: Asian Pacific American Heritage | Focus On

While the national debate on immigration continues, there’s agreement that the United States has a long history as a melting pot. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a celebration of the people who came to our shores from a diverse and extensive geographic area that encompasses the countries from Korea to Myanmar, the Indian subcontinent, and the Pacific islands. According to the U.S. Census estimates for 2005, people who identified themselves as Asian constituted the fastest-growing segment of minority populations, increasing three percent over the previous year. Add to that more than four billion people in Asia and there’s no doubt the influence of these diverse cultures is felt everywhere in a global economy. Though not always treated justly, Americans from Asia and the Pacific have figured significantly in the nation’s history. Working on the transcontinental railroad, interned during World War II, and later forced to flee wars in Korea and Southeast Asia, they have endured and prospered. Today fields such as sports, science, finance and the arts are all beneficiaries of their talents. Children’s literature is enriched by authors and illustrators Jose Aruego, Mitsumasa Anno, Laurence Yep, Linda Sue Park, Allen Say, and Ed Young. This bibliography features fact, fiction, and folktales set in Asia and the Pacific, as well as works about their immigrants in North America. The goal here is to balance the extensive Chinese and Japanese materials available with titles about lesser-known cultures. Concentrating on the newer titles, it also introduces some smaller presses. May 7 marks the 1843 arrival of the nation’s first Asian immigrants, but any day is a good time to explore the vibrant connection between East and West.


CUNXIN, Li. Mao’s Last Dancer. Walker. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8027-9779-7. Gr 6 Up–Only 11 when he was chosen to train at the Beijing Dance Academy, Cunxin recounts his early poverty, his rigorous lessons, and a visit to America in 1979. That first cultural exchange changed his life. Two years later, his defection was big news. A companion picture-book biography, Dancing to Freedom (Walker, 2008), tells the same story for a younger audience and includes authentic Chinese brush paintings. Audiobook version available from Bolinda Audio. HARLEY,Gail. Hindu and Sikh Faiths in America. Facts On File. 2002. Tr $30. ISBN 978-0-8160-4987-5. Gr 6-9–After explaining the Indian roots and major tenets of Hinduism and Sikhism, this title focuses on the history of the religions in the United States. Considering the early challenges faced by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, it also includes black-and-white photos and information about modern practitioners such as Congressman Dalip Singh Saund and writer/lecturer Deepak Chopra. A good source for reports. ISSA, Kobayashi. Today and Today. illus. by G. Brian Karas. Scholastic. 2007. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-439-59078-5. K-Gr 4–Describing a four-season cycle of family life with haiku, this book gently leads readers through beauty, loss, and renewal. Karas eloquently depicts Issa’s classic Japanese verses with mixed-media illustrations featuring woodblock and pencil and paint on rice paper. Divide the class into four groups; then write and draw a classroom haiku year. LAW, Felicia. Atlas of the Far East and Southeast Asia. Picture Window. 2008. PLB $27.93. ISBN 978-1-4048-3883-3. Gr 2-6–Along with the identically formatted Atlas of Southwest and Central Asia (Picture Window, 2008), this quick information guide to the region includes text and simple maps focused on landforms, climate, flora, fauna, population, agriculture, industry, and transportation. Everything is shown on colorful spreads. The atlas also features flags and a political map, as well as highlights on culture and places of interest. MACDONALD, Fiona. How to Be a Samurai Warrior. illus. by John James. (How to Be... Series). National Geographic. 2005. Tr $14.95. ISBN 978-0-7922-3618-4; PLB $21.90. ISBN 978-0-7922-3633-7; pap. $5.95. ISBN 978-1-4263-0135-3. Gr 3-6–Seventeenth-century samurai life is cleverly explained using questions about family life, weapons, armor, religion, sieges, and Japan’s future. A wealth of drawings and photographs adds to the concise information presented on each spread. Sure to entice boys, the book also discusses women’s roles. Use the clever faux samurai advertisement or concluding “job” interview questions to kick-start reports. MCCULLOCH, Julie. China. (A World of Recipes Series). Heinemann Library. 2001. pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-1-58810-386-4. Gr 3-6–Photo illustrations with step-by-step instructions help young chefs prepare simple Chinese entrees, side dishes, and sweets. Introductory notes include information on the country, its cuisine, basic cooking tools, terms, and ingredients. The dozen and half recipes are rounded out with interesting food facts plus nutrition and measuring charts. McCulloch’s India and Japan (both Heinemann Library, 2001) offer equally enticing fare. PARK, Linda Sue. Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems). illus. by Istvan Banyai. Clarion. 2007. RTE $16. ISBN 978-0-618-23483-7. Gr 2-5–School lunch, a summer storm, and day’s end are among the inspirations for these 29 structured Korean poems called sijo. The form’s long history includes songs, and it relies on stressed syllables and ironic endings. A brief, instructive author’s note will assist with lesson planning, while Banyai’s whimsical illustrations add a humorous touch. RAZZAK, Shazia. P Is for Pakistan. photos by Prodeepta Das. Frances Lincoln. 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-84507-483-8. Gr 1-4–With Pakistan in the news, this basic concept title is a good way to introduce the nation’s city and country life. Color photos help define the many Urdu terms related to food, local customs, furniture, transportation, and clothing. Religious practices also get a few mentions. For a class project, compile alphabet books for other Asian countries. WARREN, Andrea. Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnamese War Orphan Became an American Boy. Farrar. 2004. Tr $17. ISBN 978-0-374-32224-3; pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-0-374-40023-1. Gr 5-8–Blending memory and information, this biography follows an Amerasian boy through the extraordinary events that brought him to an adoptive family in Ohio at the age of eight. Visions of his mother’s suicide, his grandmother’s painful decision to place him in an orphanage, and being airlifted at war’s end are all hauntingly told. Black-and-white photos add significantly to this evocative story.


KADOHATA, Cynthia. Weedflower. S & S/Atheneum. 2006. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-689-86574-9. Gr 5-8–Sumiko and her extended family tend their Southern California flower business until the bombing of Pearl Harbor shunts them to an Arizona internment camp. Lost in the barren expanse of the desert, the 12-year-old is befriended by a Mohave Indian girl struggling with the loss of her tribal land. Inspired by her Japanese-American family history, Kadohata looks at complex issues with compassion. Audiobook version available from Listening Library. LEE, Milly. Landed. illus. by Yangsook Choi. Farrar. 2006. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-374-34314-9. Gr 2-5–Twelve-year-old Sun is excited about leaving China to live in San Francisco. He’ll work in his father’s store and see his older brothers, but first he must prepare for the rigorous questions he’ll face from immigration authorities. Softly toned, detailed illustrations echo Sun’s emotions. Based on an actual account of the tight controls imposed on newcomers by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. LIN, Grace. The Year of the Dog. illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2006. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-316-06000-4; pap. $4.99. ISBN 978-0-316-03097-7. Gr 3-6–Readers follow Lin through a year-long mix of Taiwanese traditions and life as an American elementary school girl in upstate New York. Embellished with simple line drawings, this cheerful, but realistic, autobiographical novel reveals how the author experienced being different as she sought her place in the world. Short chapters work as useful writing prompts and are excellent for reading aloud. Audiobook version available from Recorded Books. MARSDEN, Carolyn & Thay Phap Niem. The Buddha’s Diamonds. Candlewick. 2008. RTE $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3380-6. Gr 3-6–When a storm wreaks havoc on 10-year-old Tinh’s postwar Vietnamese village, he and his family struggle to recover. Relying on the imperishable “diamonds” of his Buddhist faith rather than worldly goods, the boy learns to appreciate his real gifts. The strength of family love and the wisdom of traditions sustain Tinh on his journey to maturity. MARSDEN, Carolyn. Silk Umbrellas. Candlewick. 2004. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-2257-2; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3376-9. Gr 3-7–Thailand is in transition as 11-year-old Noi learns to paint silk umbrellas while her father sells his farm and her older sister works in a factory. How can Noi help her family preserve their treasured culture? This universal coming-of-age story reveals realities about a global economy but is most enlightening in its depiction of Thai lifestyles, so eloquently described by the author. NOYES, Deborah. Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China. illus. by Sophie Blackall. Candlewick. 2007. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-2400-2. Gr 1-3–Despite poetic pleas, the princess can’t escape an arranged marriage in a far-away kingdom. Longing to take a treasured fragment of the beauties of her homeland, she defies the law and takes silk cocoons and mulberry seeds hidden in her elaborate hairdo. The evocative close-up and panoramic images in this Chinese legend, illustrated in an oversize format, are softly toned with dramatic red accents. Perfect for reading aloud. PARK, Frances & Ginger Park. Good-bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong. illus. by Yangsook Choi. National Geographic. 2002. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7922-7985-3. K-Gr 3–The sadness and uncertainty of moving take on deeper meaning when the new address is half a world away, but missing Korea is eased for eight-year-old Jangmi when she finds a familiar melon and a new friend. Based on the experience of the authors’ older sister, the text is simple but insightful. Choi’s expressive oil paintings were inspired by a visit to Seoul. PARK, Linda Sue. Archer’s Quest. Clarion. 2006. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-618-59631-7. Gr 4-7–Kevin’s just an average, 20th-century Korean-American boy when a first-century Korean archer shoots an arrow into his room. This humorous fantasy seamlessly weaves history and culture as Kevin seeks a way to transport the bewildered bowman back home. The 12-year-old combines his math ability and his grandparents’ wisdom to achieve his goal. Audiobook version available from Listening Library. RAVISHANKAR, Anuskha. To Market, To Market. illus. by Emanuele Scanziani. Tara (India). 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-81-86211-99-1 K-Gr 3–A mother/daughter trip to an Indian market is full of lushly jumbled stall scenes. Will the little girl buy bangles, a basket, or bananas? Repeated words, lilting rhymes, and a large, top-hinged format make this a jaunting read-aloud. Eye-catching paintings add extra zing. ROBLES, Anthony D. Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel/Si Lakas at ang Makibaka Hotel. tr. by Eloise D. de Jesús. illus. by Carl Angel. Children’s Book Press. 2006. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-89239-213-1. Gr 2-5–Makibaka, the Filipino spirit of struggle, is the guiding force when Lakas and his friends fight to save their residential hotel home. Using a cast of contemporary city characters and telling the story in Tagalog as well as English, the author shares his own perspective as a community activist in San Francisco. Angel’s bright, energetic paintings widen the audience for this democracy-in-action story. RUMFORD, James. Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves. illus. by author. Houghton. 2004. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-618-35611-9. K-Gr 3–Hawaii’s origins are liltingly imagined with fluid watercolor illustrations and lyrical text in this original tale. When five nature-loving Polynesian brothers land on one of the islands, one brother, Manu, cavorts with a seal he has rescued. When a volcanic eruption sends the brothers fleeing to the ocean, the seal saves a drowning Manu. Rumford includes a Hawaiian-language translation and information on wildlife. SHEA, Pegi Dietz & Cynthia Weill. Ten Mice for Tet. illus. by Tõ Ngoc Trang & Pham Viêt Dinh. Chronicle. 2003. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-8118-3496-4. K-Gr 3–A simple, single-sentence counting text combines with colorful, embroidered illustrations to introduce the Vietnamese New Year. From planning the party and going to market, each spread builds to the 10 dancing mice enjoying the holiday’s fireworks finale. This multicultural collaboration of authors and artists includes four pages of detailed explanations complete with Vietnamese terms. THOMPSON, Holly. The Wakame Gatherers. illus. by Kazumi Wilds. Shen’s. 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-885008-33-6. Gr 1-4–Nanami is the translator when her Japanese and American grandmothers harvest wakame, a seaweed eaten in Japan. Their pleasant collaboration inspires each woman’s memories of seaside living and World War II. Though their granddaughter is momentarily upset by her conflicted heritage, all three quickly promise “to protect the peace.” THONG, Roseanne. Gai See: What You Can See in Chinatown. illus. by Yangsook Choi. Abrams. 2007. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8109-9337-2. K-Gr 3–Every season is exciting at the gai see-Cantonese for street market. Exotic taste treats such as dragon fruit, eels, and crispy tofu are emphasized along with Chinatown shops for slippers and herbal medicines. The bouncy rhyming text concludes with a New Year’s Day celebration. Illustrations convey the lively scene with bright colors and interesting perspectives. Serve up this story with a display of the market food mentioned. YIN. Brothers. illus. by Chris Soentpiet. Philomel. 2006. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-23406-4. Gr 2-5–With expressive illustrations and uncomplicated text, Soentpiet and Yin continue the saga of three Chinese-American brothers begun in Coolies (Philomel, 2001). Wong is still working on the railroad, but older brother Shek and new arrival Ming are trying to make a go of a store in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Combine both titles for an accurate portrait of the hard work, loneliness, and discrimination these men endured.


BERGER, Barbara Helen, retel. All the Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet. illus. by reteller. Philomel. 2002. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-23387-6. K-Gr 3–Subtle text and expressive illustrations work on many levels as readers follow a boy and his yak “one foot in front of the other” on their journey to Tibet’s holy city. This parable also contains a fast-moving horse and rider as a reminder that slow but steady achieves the goal. Compare with the tortoise and the hare. COBURN, Jewell Reinhart. Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella. illus. by Eddie Flotte. Shen’s. 1998. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-885008-09-1. Gr 1-4–The slippers are golden, but there’s a mean stepsister, a scheming stepmother and, thankfully, a loving prince. Kind and obedient, Angkat finds married bliss with the help of the Spirit of Virtue, but her family problems don’t end with the wedding. Lured to her death by her father and stepmother, she is magically rescued by her prince. Flotte’s watercolor illustrations capture Khmer culture. GARLAND, Sherry. Children of the Dragon: Selected Tales from Vietnam. illus. by Trina Schart Hyman. Harcourt. 2001. Tr $18. ISBN 978-0-15-224200-8. Gr 3-6–These six tales blend Vietnam’s natural beauty with its mythical past. In a land where dragons are legendary ancestors, it’s natural to find stories explaining the tiger’s stripes, the monsoon rains, and the man in the moon. Other tales caution about greed, pride, and jealousy. Each legend is enlivened with Hyman’s India-ink and acrylic illustrations. Concluding explanations link facts with fantasy. HONG, Chen Jiang. The Magic Horse of Han Gan. tr. from French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick. illus. by author. Enchanted Lion. 2006. Gr 1-5–In 13th-century China, the painter Han Gan rises from poverty to the Emperor’s household by drawing horses. Fearing they might leap from his silk paper, he tethers them all, until a greedy warrior convinces him to create a war horse whose ferocity and strength become legend. Hong’s stirring paintings, also on silk, echo those of the master. Pair with Suho’s White Horse (see below). LEDGARD, Edna. The Snake Prince and Other Stories: Burmese Folk Tales. (International Folktales Series). Interlink. 1999. pap. $15. ISBN 978-1-56656-313-0. Gr 5-8–Two dozen simply told tales capture Burma’s ancient culture. A thorough introduction to the country, now called Myanmar, includes the author’s childhood remembrances. Organized thematically, many entries have familiar folktale story lines that make this title useful for comparing and contrasting. They’re good for reading aloud, and the time line and glossary add valuable details. O’BRIEN, Anne Sibley. The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea. illus. by author. Charlesbridge. 2006. PLB $14.95. ISBN 978-1-58089-302-2; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-1-58089-303-9. Gr 3-8–Well rooted in Korean culture, this lively 17th-century tale tells how a low-born son earns respect by helping people oppressed by corrupt authorities, and, eventually, the right to address his own high-born father. Illustrated in a reader-friendly graphic-novel style, the picture-book-size pages are softly colored and invitingly varied. Two pages of notes complete this broadly appealing title. OTSUKA, Yuzo. Suho’s White Horse: A Mongolian Legend. tr. by Richard McNamara and Peter Howlett. illus. by Suekichi Akaba. RIC Pub. 2006. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-74126-021-2. Gr 2-5–First published 40 years ago, this story explains the origins of the morin khuur, a traditional Mongolian instrument. Suho, a poor shepherd boy, loses his beloved white horse to an unscrupulous governor. When the badly injured steed dies, Suho is inspired to make a fiddle with the animal’s remains. Earth-tone illustrations echo the barren steppe landscape. This update features a CD with story and music. SO, Meilo. Gobble, Gobble, Slip, Slop: A Tale of a Very Greedy Cat. illus. by author. Knopf/Borzoi. 2004. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-375-82504-0; PLB $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-92504-7. K-Gr 3–A hungry cat begins this cumulative tale by eating 500 cakes and his best friend, a parrot. Before it’s over, the feline swallows a woman, a farmer, a donkey, an entire wedding party, and, finally, two crabs that lead them all to daylight. This retelling of an Indian folktale, with its repetitive phrases and watercolor on rice paper images, makes an engaging storyhour offering.
Barbara Wysocki is a Children’s and Young Adult Librarian at the Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT.

Media Picks

By Phyllis Levy Mandell Countries Around the World (Series). 6 DVDs (from series of 52). approx. 13 min. ea. with tchr’s. guide. Library Video Co. (libraryvideo.com). 2004-5. $19.95 ea. Includes: Cambodia; China; Indonesia; Japan, Myanmar; Vietnam. Gr 2-5–This fascinating and well-organized series does an outstanding job of giving youngsters a quick but thorough introduction to these countries by providing information about geography, religion, political systems, daily life, food, culture, and a little history. Visit a Buddhist temple and the Shanghai Opera House in China, ride an elephant in Cambodia, shop in an outdoor market in Indonesia, watch a traditional puppet show in Vietnam, and much more. Families of the World (Series). 5 DVDs (from series of 20). 30 min. ea. with tchr’s. guide. Master Communications (familiesoftheworld.com). $29.95 ea. Includes: Families of China (ISBN 978-1-888194-61-6); Families of Japan (ISBN 978-1-888194-59-3); Families of Korea (ISBN 978-1-888194-67-8); Families of Thailand (ISBN 978-1-888194-57-9); Families of Vietnam (ISBN 978-1-888194-72-2). Gr 1-5–Each live-action program explores daily life from the viewpoint of two children, one living in an urban neighborhood and the other in a rural area. Viewers learn about food, clothing, religion, education, geography, culture, transportation, and more. This outstanding series offers wonderful compare and contrast opportunities. The Firekeeper’s Son. video or DVD. 14 min. with tchr’s. guide. Nutmeg Media (nutmegmedia.net). 2005. video: ISBN 0-9747116-7-X, DVD: ISBN 1-9339382-7-7. $49.95. Gr 1-5–Linda Sue Park narrates this version of her picture book (Clarion, 2004) set in 19th-century Korea about the bonfire signal system. Accompanied by traditional instrumental music that captures the setting and emotional tone, the watercolor-and-pastel illustrations depict the modest village and people in cool blues in contrast to the heated reds and oranges of the flames. This powerful film involves viewers in a boy’s inner conflict as they learn about an ancient tradition. Ruby’s Wish. video or DVD. 10 min. with tchr’s. guide. Nutmeg Media (nutmegmedia.net). 2005. video: ISBN 0-9761981-8-5, DVD: ISBN 0-9776262-7-X. $49.95. K-Gr 3–In 19th-century China, only boys received a formal education. But Ruby loved to learn, and her grandfather had her tutored at home, making it possible for her to become one of the first girls in that country to obtain a university education. Based on the true story of author Shirin Yim Bridges’s grandmother, this award-winning title (Chronicle, 2002) explores issues of equality and stereotyping. The film is narrated by the author, and Sophie Blackall’s gouache illustrations reflect Asian art forms while background music lends flavor.  

On the Web

Resources for Teachers Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. http://apalaweb.org/awards/awards.htm. Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. (Accessed 3/01/08) Since 2004, this ALA affiliate has been recognizing authors and illustrators whose work promotes Asian/Pacific American culture and heritage with an award “based on literary and artistic merit.” In-depth descriptions of winning titles are provided. The Learning Page: Community Center: Asian Pacific Americans. http://memory.loc.gov/learn/community/cc_asian-pacific.php. The Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. (Accessed 3/01/08) Brimming with primary-source photos, newspaper articles, and government documents, this site looks at Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian history and culture with links to bibliographies and lesson plans. Resources for students are also included. Our Asian Heritage: Children’s Books on the Asian American Experience. http://sfpl.org/sfplonline/kids/booklists/asian.htm. San Francisco Public Library. San Francisco, CA. (Accessed 3/01/08) Carefully annotated and categorized into folktales, picture books, nonfiction, and fiction, this bibliography for elementary and middle-school readers reflects one library’s holdings but helps direct readers with its broad geography and publication dates. Sharing Cultures: Asian American Children’s Authors: A Selected Bibliography. http://ala.org/ala/alsc/alscresources/booklists/sharingcultures.cfm. Association for Library Service to Children. Chicago, IL. (Accessed 3/01/08) More than seven dozen titles, offering fiction, folktales, and nonfiction for ages 4 through 12, are presented in brief, useful annotations. Though compiled in 2001, the list includes many recently published authors. Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. http://apa.si.edu. Smithsonian Institution. Washington, D.C. (Accessed 3/01/08) Click on “Major Initiatives” for links to brief histories, past exhibitions, and, in some cases, curriculum support on the experiences of Filipinos, Indians, Koreans, and Vietnamese in America.

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