AANHPI Literature for Children and Adults
In the second article commemorating AACTE’s recognition of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) Heritage Month, Valerie Ooka Pang, a professor in the School of Teacher Education at San Diego State University, shares her favorite literature sources for teachers to use in their P-20 classrooms. Watch AACTE’s webinar with Ooka Pang and others to learn more about AANHPI representation and inclusion in classrooms and educator preparation.
As a teacher, how often do you consciously choose literature that is about AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) populations or was written or illustrated by AAPI authors and artists?
What do you know about AAPI children and their communities? Do you only know about Chinatowns or Chinese New Year? Stories about these singular aspects often convey stereotypical perspectives. AAPIs are people like others with dreams, fears, and hopes.
If you have little knowledge of AAPI communities and you would like to know how you can begin to integrate fantastic AAPI literature into your classroom, keep reading.
Often, AAPI young people do not see themselves in educational materials. They may think, “Why don’t teachers show photos or drawings of us? Don’t we matter?”
Let me start with picture books. One of my favorite is A is for Aloha by Stephanie Feeney. It is more than an alphabet book. This resource is one of the most beautiful depictions of different AAPI children laughing, smiling, and playing. The precious black and white photos show ethnic diversity within the AAPI community. I smile when I see the photo of a girl who wrinkles her nose because she sees something yucky because “Y [is for] yucky.”
Another picture book that is a great way to affirm the backgrounds of AAPI youngsters and to share information about the wonderful cultures that they come from is I Am Golden by Eva Chen. This book can be read to children of all ages because it reinforces that each child is precious. When Chen was a child she was often made fun of because she was Chinese American. Chen wants all AAPI youngsters to know they belong. She wrote, “We know you feel alone sometimes. People tell you that you’re different and you can’t be one of them.” However, Chen repeated that Chinese American children are beautiful and powerful, and should say to themselves, “I am golden.” A teacher can use this book to celebrate all children. They are all golden and shine like the sun.
Yes We Will is an outstanding picture book that celebrates the dreams of AAPIs highlighting different people from Vice President Kamala Harris, a South Indian African American, to Philip Vera Cruz, a Filipino American labor leader who worked with Cesar Chavez to support farmworkers. As the author Kelly Yang wrote, “For we can be anything … All we have to do is dream it.” The book is an effective way to introduce students of all ages to many AAPIs like Peter Tsai, the Taiwanese American scientist who developed and devised the N95 mask that are used as protection from COVID-19 today.
Moving to middle-school books, I suggest Troublemaker by John Cho and Sarah Suk. This is a novel about Jordan Park who is in sixth grade and always seems to be in trouble. Unlike his perfect sister, Sarah, his father does not trust him and considers him a mess up. Cho wrote this book so that readers can get to know Korean American families. The story takes place in 1992 during the Rodney King riots and when Black-Korean conflicts were common in Los Angeles. Jordan wants to prove to his father and family that he can help his father protect their family business in Koreatown when the police did little to help Korean American shop owners. How can Jordan find his way through Koreatown to the family business? Should Jordan bring his dad the gun he found in the house? Jordan was determined to show his dad he was responsible. A fun read and an excellent springboard for teachers to use to talk about racism, racial conflicts, and family clashes.
We also need literature for high school and adults. The book I recommend is Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang. This is a story is filled with Wang’s internal conflicts about cultural identity, generational clashes, and issues of an undocumented family from China. Wang is tired of worrying about her immigration status and fears for her family members. Wang lived in Chinatown, New York, which is full of sweatshops but also a place she is familiar with and feels comforted by. Wang was a DACA student, a DREAMer. This compelling book could encourage high school students to think about what it means to be an American and the privilege they may have never appreciated.
Chen, Eva. (2022). I Am Golden. Feiwel and Friends Book. Illustrated by Sophie Diao.
Cho, John with Suk, Sarah. (2022). Troublemaker. Little, Brown and Company.
Feeney, Stephanie. (1980). A is for Aloha. Photographs by Hella Hammid. University of Hawaii Press.
Wang, Qian Julie. (2021). Beautiful Country: A Memoir. Random House.
Yang, Kelly. (2022). Yes We Can. Dial Books for Young Readers.