In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), here is a collection of books from my lists. Click on the titles below to buy these books.
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo and Lin Wang
Anna May Wong was one of the earliest Chinese-American movie stars. She was born in Los Angeles in 1905, and started working as an actress in the 1920s, during a time when movies portrayed Chinese people in a demeaning way. Because her family was poor and relied on her earnings, she played these kinds of parts for many years and became a successful actress. In 1936, Anna May visited China and learned as much about the culture as she could. While there, she vowed never again to act in a movie that portrayed the Chinese in a negative light. Starting in 1937, Anna May Wong accepted only roles that showed her character in a positive light. These movies include Daughter of Shanghai (1937), The Lady from Chungking (1942), and Bombs Over Burma (1943). This picture book relates Anna’s ambitions and struggles using text and pictures appropriate for children six years and older.
Mighty Mountain and the Three Strong Women, by Irene Hedlund
Folktale, ages 5 and up. A Japanese tale about a wrestler who, on his way to the capital to compete in the Emperor’s wrestling match, encounters three women stronger than he! They help him train for the competition, he wins, and then he returns to marry one of the women. A funny story with beautiful color illustrations.
Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India, by Uma Krishnaswami
Folktales, ages 5 and up. Eighteen folk tales from India, including the story of Chitrangada, who chooses to rule her kingdom rather than remain the wife of a handsome prince; and Supriya, who teaches adults about compassion. Told in a simple, engaging style.
Tofu Quilt, by Ching Yeung Russell
Poetry, ages 8 and up. I’ve never seen a book quite like Tofu Quilt. It is a collection of 38 free-verse poems about the author’s childhood in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 1960s, and her desire to become a writer, despite the fact that she is a girl and is not expected to have a career. The poems are simple, story-like, and heartfelt.
Aruna’s Journeys, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan
Fiction, ages 8-12. Aruna was born in the U.S. and her parents are from India. Aruna hates looking “different.” Just when she finally finds a best friend at her new school, her parents take her to India for the whole summer. There she meets her feminist aunt Vandana who is on a hunger strike to avoid an arranged marriage. Vandana’s example and words encourage Aruna to hold on to her dreams and enjoy being different. Filled with details of urban life in India, and one of only a very few available novels about Indian-Americans. Winner of the 1998 Skipping Stones Magazine Award for multicultural books.
Ela Bhatt: Uniting Women in India, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan
Biography, ages 10-14. Ela Bhatt overcame her shyness and her stuttering to start a union for the poorest women in India. By really listening to the women and helping them implement their own ideas, Ela helped the women start a bank, worker cooperatives, and child care cooperatives. This inspiring book is part of the Women Changing the World series published by the Feminist Press, which also includes Aung San Suu Kyi: Standing Up for Democracy in Burma, by Bettina Ling.