Picture Books for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

Back in March, a representative from Holiday House offered to send me samples of books that would be great for families to read for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrated in May. The books looked so beautiful, I gladly took her up on the offer. I’ll share about the books below and some other ways to celebrate this month in Tulsa.

Watercress by Andrea Wang, pictures by Jason Chin

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This multi-award-winning book tells the story of a young girl whose parents grow excited by the sight of watercress growing by the side of the road. They stop the car, and have the whole family pick watercress – which is a pretty muddy business!

Back home, the girl is reluctant to try the food, feeling embarrassed over the situation. Her parents encourage her to try the watercress because it is “fresh” and “free.” However, the girl thinks, “Free is bad. Free is hand-me-down clothes and roadside trash-heap furniture and now, dinner from a ditch.”

Her mother then gets up from the table, returning with a photo of her family. She tells the story of how her brother died back in China during a famine. The girl then feels “ashamed of being ashamed of my family” and takes a bite of watercress, concluding “It is delicate and slightly bitter, like Mom’s memories of home.”

The books is beautiful, with poetic writing and detailed watercolor illustrations. It is based on the author’s own memories. In the author’s note, she writes, “When I was young, my parents didn’t talk about their memories of China, of growing up poor, losing siblings, and surviving war. I don’t blame them – these are difficult topics to discuss with children. But it’s important, too, for children to understand their family history…Memories have the power to inform, to inspire, and to heal.”

Rainbow Shopping by Qing Zhuang

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“I feel as gray as a pigeon on this rainy Saturday. Not long ago, China was home. But here in New York City, everything is different, and everyone is busy.” So begins Rainbow Shopping, about a young girl new to the U.S. Following this lament, the girl’s mother reminds her that, in a rare turn of events, everyone will be home for dinner that evening – Mom, Dad, and Grandma. The girl and her mother go shopping in Chinatown, buying treats from the bakery and fresh ingredients for a delicious supper.

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You’ll pick up a lot of fun information along the way, like the fact that bamboo can grow almost anywhere, or that when picking persimmons, the reddest are sweetest.

After they return home, the girl’s dad cooks dinner. And after eating, the girl shares her art wither her mom and grandma. Grandma talks about her own mother, and they reflect on the family’s heritage.

All You Need by Howard Schwartz, illustrated by Jasu Hu

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This book is part of this collection thanks to Jasu Hu’s gorgeous illustrations. Jasu, who spent part of her childhood in Hunan, China, writes, “When my editor, Neal Porter, handed the manuscript for Howard’s All You Need to me, I felt the connection to nature, dreams, and love through this poem. It evoked my childhood memories and also how much I missed my parents. This is why I chose to use my own perspective and experience as inspiration to create the story for this book.”

The text is simple and lovely: “All you need/is a planet to live on,/a sun to give you light/and warmth,/clouds to gather rain,/seeds to take root,/and trees to clean the air for you to breathe.” But the illustrations give it another dimension, as you watch a young girl explore her world as she grows up.

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Chinese New Year Colors by Rich Lo

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This is a vibrant way to become more familiar with some of the key elements of the Chinese New Year celebration. Each spread has a watercolor illustration, the name of a color and the Chinese name of that color. At the end of the book, you can read more about the objects featured in the book.

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Sunday Funday in Koreatown by Aram Kim

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This is a very relatable book, to anyone who’s ever had a disappointing day! Kitten Yoomi is so excited for Sunday Funday. She wants to eat a special breakfast, watch her favorite show on TV and wear her favorite shirt. But they’re out of an essential ingredient…her favorite show is temporarily replaced by a sports game…and her shirt is all wet!

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Her dad takes her shopping in Koreatown, where some things get better, while others fail to meet expectations. Eventually, they end up at Grandma’s house, where everything takes a turn for the better! There’s also a recipe for Yoomi’s favorite, Kimbap, at the end of the book.

Dragon Noodle Party by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Paula Pang

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I love the animals in this book! They’re so friendly. It’s a fun way to get more familiar with the Chinese Zodiac, as the animals each bring an ingredient to make a meal celebrating Snake’s birthday. Dragon noodles are extra-long noodles symbolizing a long life, so are popular in birthday celebrations.

Each page is very short, text-wise. For the most part, each page gives you the name of an animal and what ingredient they’re bringing. The end of the book provides more details about how the Chinese Zodiac came to be, what each animal represents, and more.

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There’s also a recipe for Dragon Beard Noodles, which we tried. It was very delicious!

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Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee

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This is not a Holiday House book, but I just finished reading it and wanted to include an option for older kids. Maizy Chen and her mom travel from South Dakota to Last Chance, Minnesota, where her grandparents own a Chinese restaurant. Although Maizy has only met her grandparents once, and her mom has been somewhat estranged from them, they return to take care of Maizy’s grandfather.

Maizy is not initially thrilled to be spending the summer away from home, but she quickly bonds with her grandparents and makes friends with other town residents. While spending time with her grandfather, she learns the story of how her great-great grandfather, a Chinese immigrant, came to own the restaurant. She learns about the oppression and racism experienced by Chinese people in America and about how her family did their part to care for people in need. She also experiences some prejudice herself. And she realizes on a couple occasions that she also has judged people without really knowing them.

I love Maizy’s enthusiasm to learn more about family heritage and the way she cares for her grandpa and those around her. She goes beyond her grandfather’s stories to learn more about the people her ancestors met and helped through the restaurant. Back in San Francisco at the end of the book, she’s creating a website to help immigrants connected by her family’s restaurant connect with one another.

Celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in Tulsa

Tulsa City-County Library’s Asian American Festival

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Photo courtesy Tulsa City-County Library

I’m hoping we can make it to TCCL’s Asian American Festival this year! We’ve missed every year, and I’ve always wanted to go. It’s May 20, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Martin Regional Library.

After a day of cultural presentations and performances, food trucks and more, the event concludes with a Japanese tea ceremony. Learn more at tulsakids.com/celebrate-asian-culture-through-art-performances-activities-and-food-at-tulsa-city-county-librarys-asian-american-festival/

Night Market at Tulsa Global District

On May 19, head to Nam Hai for a special event celebrating Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Night Market is hosted by Tulsa Global District and APIDA Tulsa. There will be food, vendors, entertainment and other activities families can enjoy. Find a lineup at facebook.com/events/1838167136565700

Cox Movie Night: Raya and the Last Dragon at Gathering Place

Head to Gathering Place on May 19 for movie night! There will be pre-show activities celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month from 5:30-7 p.m. These include taekwondo demonstrations, traditional Chinese dance and more.

Global Gatherings at Gathering Place

Starting May 5, Gathering Place is hosting Global Gatherings every Friday through July 28. Community members will help lead hands-on activities helping visitors learn more about their culture. Learn about East Asia on May 26, 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at the ONEOK Boathouse.

Go here for more details: gatheringplace.org/parkcalendar/event/3108771

The June 23 event will highlight South Central Asia. You can learn more about that at gatheringplace.org/parkcalendar/event/3108775

Sotw Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month Books Pin

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