ASIAN CHILDREN'S BOOK AUTHORS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT (PART 1)
This month we are celebrating the rich heritage and profound influence of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. It is a great month to introduce your children to books that celebrate Asian cultures through Asian children’s books. Let's get to know some Asian children’s book authors that you probably have not heard of, but should know about!
WHY SHOULD YOU CELEBRATE CULTURAL HERITAGE THROUGH ASIAN CHILDREN’S BOOKS?
Despite strides of progress, children’s books with Asian characters still account for a small minority among all books published in the US. A study in 2019 among over 3000 children and YA book titles found that only 8.7% of them feature Asian representation. (1)
Another study found that “young children are also developing their own racial identities, as well as racial attitudes. Therefore, the stories and illustrations within picture books that depict diverse racial populations are likely to influence in shaping children’s racial attitudes towards others, and their own racial identities”. (2)
For the AAPI children, seeing books and toys featuring their language and cultural heritage give them a positive attitude towards their own identity and compassion for people from different racial backgrounds. That’s why it’s so important for them to be exposed to positive children’s books with Asian characters from a young age.
INDEPENDENT ASIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHORS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT & SUPPORT
In recent years, the lack of children’s books featuring Asian children and cultures has been much improved with the increased efforts of big publishers. However, there is still much room for progress when it comes to truly represent the breadth and vibrancy of different Asian cultures, especially for the preschool age group.
Cue the talented Asian children’s book authors, usually mamas, who are publishing Asian children’s books all by themselves!
Inspired by their own journey raising bi-lingual children in a multicultural setting, these moms took it upon themselves to write and publish children’s books featuring Asian characters for their children. Many of them are entrepreneurs – sliding some creative writing and cute illustration in between pick up, mealtime, and sometimes a real job, which makes their efforts all the more admirable.
On the occasion of Mother’s Day and AAPI Heritage Month, I’ve compiled a list of independent AAPI authors for children’s books that you should seek out and support – if you also care about getting more books with Asian representation for your little ones!
ALL THESE STORES ARE RUNNING SALES ON OCCASION OF AAPI MONTH - PLEASE LOOK ON THEIR WEBSITES FOR THE SALES!
1-CRYSTAL Z. LEE’S ASIAN CULTURAL PICTURE BOOKS (IN ENGLISH)
Crystal Z. Lee is a Taiwanese American children's author of picture books Kai the Dancing Butterfly and A Unicorn Named Rin. Kai the Dancing Butterfly is about the migratory purple crow butterflies of Taiwan, and it's also a story of sibling love, empathy, and resilience. A Unicorn Named Rin is about a Chinese unicorn from the Tang dynasty, and it's a story of friendship and collaboration. As a mother of two kids, Crystal Z. Lee started writing picture books when she noticed the lack of diversity in unicorn-themed storybooks. She aims to continue contributing to diverse literature and amplifying Asian culture through her writing.
2- JUDY LI’S BABY SNACK TIME BOOK SERIES (IN MANDARIN & ENGLISH)
Judy Li is a Taiwanese American author residing in Southern California. She is an independently published children’s book author with two bilingual books, Baby Snack Time and Baby TeaTime. Her goal for writing these books is for the children in the next generation to be able to see themselves mirrored in books that they read every day and increase AAPI representation in literature and media. She also aims to help expose children to their language and culture in a fun and engaging way.
Baby Snack Time celebrates Asian culture with nostalgic Asian snacks that many Asian family households grew up with while Baby Tea Time explores the tea and food culture of different regions in Asia.
3- HAI-ANH VU – LITTLE BEAN’S TOY CHEST'S ASIAN THEMED BUSY BOOKS (WORDLESS)
Next on the list is yours truly – founder of Little Bean’s Toy Chest! A Vietnamese mom raising kids in Hong Kong and the US, I’ve found that there are not many toys focused on Asian cultures that give kids an immersive play experience. I wanted to change this by creating playful, interactive toy books that feature Asian cultures at the same time that they encourage textures discovery, fine motor skills practice, numeracy, concept learning, storytelling, and imagination. The Asian-themed activity book series now include beautiful busy books about Vietnam, China, and Hong Kong. There are also multicultural dolls (accompanying the books) that can be customized for BIPOC children, so your Asian or biracial child can request mini-me dolls that looks like themselves.
4- EUGENIA CHU’S BRANDON BOOK SERIES (IN ENGLISH)
Formerly a lawyer, Eugenia Chu writes award-winning children's books, ranging from picture book to chapter books, which all include a little Chinese language and culture. Her books, Brandon Goes to Beijing and Brandon Goes to Hong Kong, can be purchased on Amazon!
5- IRENE KANG’S BILINGUAL BOOK SPARK COLLECTION (CHINESE, HINDI, KOREAN & ENGLISH)
Mama Irene Kang is the author and creator of Spark Collection bilingual books and educational toys. She is the mom of a Chinese-Korean American family. Ever since her son was born, she had a desire to pass down her family language and cultural roots. Irene started taking care of his son full time when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She looked for books in Chinese and Korean but found it difficult to find accessible and engaging resources for a multicultural and non-fluent family like hers. She created Spark Collection to increase accessibility to Asian languages and allow families to have fun, meaningful moments together while learning their language and culture.
Spark Collection launched on Kickstarter in 2021 and their debut bilingual book My Favorite Gift is available in Chinese-English, Hindi-English, and Korean-English.
6- MICHELLE WONG MCSWEEN’S GORDON & LILI MANDARIN BOOK SERIES (MANDARIN & ENGLISH)
Mama Michele Wong McSween created the Gordon & Li Li First Mandarin Words book series to introduce her own children to the language and to inspire them to embrace their heritage. This series is an adorable and informative must-have first-words book for any family who wants to get little ones excited to open the door to learning a second language. The Asian American mama is always dedicated to inspiring and nurturing children through the joy of learning the Mandarin language: one child, one book, and one word at a time.
7- TAM LE'S TINY WRIST (IN VIETNAMESE & ENGLISH)
Although books for kids are plentiful, as a Vietnamese American mom, Tam couldn't find one that speaks to the Vietnamese part of her identity. No wonder it is so hard for many of her friends to speak Vietnamese. Everything surrounding her, from birth, is in English. Vietnamese texts are far and few in between, and even when they are presented, it is often not in the most appealing format. She wish to change that for our little ones by making books that are both visually appealing and culturally interesting. Her venture started on Kickstarter and have published a few Vietnamese- English bilingual books such as Ten Nursery Rhymes, The Legend of Cuoi, and The Color of Tet.
8- MARYANN’S OUR LITTLE MANDO BOOK SERIES (IN CHINESE, PINYIN & ENGLISH)
When new mom, Maryann, had her first child, she knew she wanted to pass down her native language and cultural heritage to her daughter. After searching for Chinese-English bilingual children's books, however, she realized that there weren't many with pinyin language support for families like hers where her husband is not fluent in Chinese. Hence, Our Little Mando was born, with a mission to help make the Chinese language more accessible to all families regardless of their level of fluency.
9- EDNA MA'S TRAVEL, LEARN & SEE YOUR FRIENDS BOOK SERIES (IN MANDARIN AND ENGLISH)
Edna is a physician anesthesiologist and mom, who was motivated to write a bilingual Chinese children's book, inspired by her son's friendship after he enrolled in a Mandarin immersion school. Although she is not a native speaker of Mandarin, she wanted to read to her children in Mandarin. She found a limited selection of books for this age group. So she created these stories to include English and Mandarin with Pinyin, to facilitate different reading levels. Her stories celebrate friendship and cultural diversity. This mama has appeared on SURVIVOR and Shark Tank!