Professor: Books to Celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

Since 1992, America has recognized May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, a celebration of people from these cultures who contribute to US society.

Cindy Welch, associate director of UT’s Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, has selected a variety of books for kids of all ages to learn more about the Asian and Pacific American cultures.

“These books were chosen based on the author’s connection to a specific heritage or experience,” said Welch. “At times heartbreaking, each one is a story of determination and triumph.”

Picture Books

Grandfather’s Journey, written and illustrated by Allen Say. A lovely and gentle picture book describing Say’s grandfather’s experience moving from Japan to America and the realization that there is much to love— and miss—in each country.

The Name Jar, written by Yangsook Choi. When new Korean immigrant Unhei attends her first day of school, she is asked her name. Unhei tells her class that she hasn’t decided on a name yet and they very helpfully fill a jar with their suggestions. When the day comes for Unhei to decide, the jar is gone but Unhei has embraced her name and decided to keep it.

Take Me Out to the Yakyu, written and illustrated by Aaron Meshon. “Yakyu” is Japanese for baseball, and this clever picture book compares the game as it is played in Japan and the United States. There may be differences, but everyone gets excited when a player gets a home run.

Grades 1–3

Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic, written by Ginnie Lo and illustrated by Beth Lo. Indiana-born Jin-yi and her sister are visiting their aunt and uncle in Illinois when Auntie Yang discovers that some farmers grow soybeans—a popular food back in China where Auntie Yang is from. Auntie picks soybeans and creates an annual soybean picnic, each year inviting more families to join them for the fun and feast.

Here I Am, written by Patti Kim and illustrated by Sonia Sánchez. This wordless picture book shares the experience of a young boy newly arrived in America, a strange place where he understands nothing of the culture or language, and how he begins to find friendship and joy in his new home.

Grades 4–6

Listen, Slowly, written by Thanhhà Lại. Instead of a summer at the beach, American-born Mai is sent back to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is on a personal quest. Will Mai discover that those roots are her roots and part of what makes her who she is?

Tiger Boy, written by Mitali Perkins. When a female tiger cub escapes a nearby animal reserve, Neel trades studying for tiger tracking, determined to save the cub before poachers capture it, and risk his family’s high hopes for a brighter future for him.

The Turtle of Oman, written by Naomi Shihab Nye. Aref Al-Amri’s family is moving from Oman to Michigan and he’s leaving everything he knows behind, including his grandfather Siddi. The day before leaving, Siddi takes him on an overnight trip that gives him lasting memories of his beautiful country.

Grades 7–9

Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, written by Joanne Oppenheim. Clara Breed was a children’s librarian in San Diego in 1942 when Japanese-Americans were being forced into internment camps, and rather than ignore the children who disappeared from her library, she corresponded with them, sending gifts and books. The letters between the librarian and children chronicle this time in American history.

Full Cicada Moon, written by Marilyn Hilton. Seventh-grader Mimi is determined to become an astronaut and wants to take shop rather than home economics, something that just isn’t possible in 1969 for a girl who is biracial (half black/half Japanese) and new to the school. When she stands up for what she believes in, surprising things happen in this verse novel.

Grades 10–12

A Step From Heaven, written by An Na. Young Ju’s immigration with her parents from Korea to America is anything but smooth and easy. Her parents are convinced America is a land of promise but coming to terms with changes in culture and expectations takes a toll on her family, and she must decide on her own path toward the future.

No Surrender Soldier, written by Christine Kohler. It’s 1972, and when Kiko comes across an old man— a Japanese soldier hiding in the jungle behind Kiko’s house in Guam—all the terrible parts of his life and his family’s wartime history with Japanese soldiers coalesce into a decision to do something permanent about this stranger. But will that make him the same as those he condemns?

CONTACT:

Cindy Welch (865-974-7918, cwelch11@utk.edu)

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, tyra.haag@tennessee.edu)