Book Talk: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Marlene Michalek Kathy Gerber Allison Gerolami

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! Since 1992, this is the month where we highlight the accomplishments and contributions of the AAPI communities in the United States. With the unacceptable rise of anti-Asian violence worldwide, it is even more important to bring attention to these amazing books written by AAPI writers.

Before introducing you to the winners of 2021's American Library Association's Asian/Pacific American Awards for Children and Young Adult literature, just a note on prolific children's author/illustrator Grace Lin who gave a wonderful TEDx talk called " The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child's Bookshelf." 

Grace Lin shared her journey as an artist and the importance of discovering her Asian cultural heritage at a Tri-Library virtual meetup this week for NYPL, Queens and Brooklyn Public Library. "Our culture is something to be treasured," said Lin, who added that "when I was young, I felt so sad and worried that there was no one who looked like me."

Feeling embarrassed to be different, she said she rebuffed her mother's efforts to teach her about her Asian culture. But, today as an illustrator and author, she realized that the Chinese folktales her mother had left on the bookshelf for her to discover were invaluable in helping her find her voice and inspire her work.

"A child can love any story if given the chance," said Lin, as she remarked on the popularity of her children's novel, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, after the book received a Newbery Honor medal in 2010.

She described the novel as being akin to "a Chinese Wizard of Oz" and proudly explained that it has been produced on stage in many schools with everyone clamoring to play the adventurous main character, Minli, who leaves her village on a brave quest to find the Man in the Moon.

The winners of 2021's ALA Asian/Pacific American Awards below are sure to inspire similar devotion in young people. And, for even more books written by AAPI authors, check out this booklist: BKLYN Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.


Book Cover: PAPER SON
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist written by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki
2021 ALA Asian/Pacific American Award Picture Book Winner

An inspiring picture-book biography of animator Tyrus Wong, the Chinese American immigrant responsible for bringing Disney's Bambi to life. Before he became an artist named Tyrus Wong, he was a boy named Wong Geng Yeo. He traveled across a vast ocean from China to America with only a suitcase and a few papers. Not papers for drawing--which he loved to do--but immigration papers to start a new life. Once in America, Tyrus seized every opportunity to make art, eventually enrolling at an art institute in Los Angeles. Working as a janitor at night, his mop twirled like a paintbrush in his hands. Eventually, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime--and using sparse brushstrokes and soft watercolors, Tyrus created the iconic backgrounds of Bambi.

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Danbi Leads the School Parade written and illustrated by Anna Kim
2021 ALA Asian/Pacific American Award Picture Book Honor

Danbi is thrilled to start her new school in America. But a bit nervous too, for when she walks into the classroom, everything goes quiet. Everyone stares. Danbi wants to join in the dances and the games, but she doesn't know the rules and just can't get anything right. Luckily, she isn't one to give up. With a spark of imagination, she makes up a new game and leads her classmates on a parade to remember!

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When You Trap a Tiger written by Tae Keller
2021 ALA Asian/Pacific American Award Children's Literature Winner

When Lily, her sister Sam, and their mother move in with her sick grandmother, Lily traps a tiger and makes a deal with him to heal Halmoni.

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Prairie Lotus written by Linda Sue Park
2021 ALA Asian/Pacific American Award Children's Literature Honor

Prairie Lotus is a powerful, touching, multilayered book about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father's shop, and making at least one friend. Acclaimed, award-winning author Linda Sue Park has placed a young half-Asian girl, Hanna, in a small town in America's heartland, in 1880. Hanna's adjustment to her new surroundings, which primarily means negotiating the townspeople's almost unanimous prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story. Narrated by Hanna, the novel has poignant moments yet sparkles with humor, introducing a captivating heroine whose wry, observant voice will resonate with readers. In Dakota Territory in the 1880s, half-Chinese Hanna and her white father face racism and resistance to change as they try to make a home for themselves. Includes author's note.

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This Light Between Us of World War II written by Linda Sue Park
2021 ALA Asian/Pacific American Award YA Literature Winner

In 1935, ten-year-old Alex Maki of Bainbridge Island, Washington, is horrified to discover that his new pen pal, Charlie Lévy of Paris, France, is a girl, but in spite of his initial reluctance, their letters continue over the years and they fight for their friendship even as Charlie endures the Nazi occupation and Alex leaves his family in an internment camp and joins the Army.

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Displacement written by Kiku Hughes
2021 ALA Asian/Pacific American Award YA Literature Honor

Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco when suddenly she finds herself displaced to the 1940s Japanese-American internment camp that her late grandmother, Ernestina, was forcibly relocated to during World War II. These displacements keep occurring until Kiku finds herself stuck back in time. Living alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese-American citizens in internment camps, Kiku gets the education she never received in history class. She witnesses the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly but managed to cultivate community and commit acts of resistance in order to survive.

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This blog post reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Brooklyn Public Library.


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