IE writer Keira Soleore has compiled a list of children’s books featuring Asian characters and all by Asian and Asian American authors. If your children are looking for some new books to read as they spend these days out of school and distanced from friends, check these titles out and perhaps support your local bookstore by ordering from them.
Chicks Rule by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by Renée Kurilla
Chicks Rule is an empowering tale about powerful girls written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Renée Kurilla for Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Nerdy Chick has been so excited about the upcoming Rocket Club meeting. She has worked hard to design and build her rocket and is eager to show it off at the meeting. But when she gets there, she is confronted with a “No Chicks Allowed” sign. It causes her to feel very disappointed at first, and then, fume in frustration. But Nerdy Chick has a backbone of steel, and she is determined that a rocket of her own making will be fired off into space.
She cannot do it alone, so she gathers her other high-achieving chick friends. There’s Coding Chick, Gaming Chick, Writer Chick, Science Chick, Baker Chick, Rocker Chick, Painter Chick, Soccer Chick — basically chicks succeeding at every career known to humankind. These are chicks who have traveled down different paths in life and have had different experiences and joys and sorrows. But they all decide to band together, united in one goal: Flouting the “No Chicks Allowed” rule.
Chicks are strong and chicks are smart
Chicks have guts and chicks have heart
Chicks Rule is a passionate story and its earnestness and zeal for achievement is reflected in the art, in the nuanced expressions on the faces of the chicks. The art is also diverse and inclusive, showing equity between all kinds of chicks cutting across patriarchal boundaries.
There are two themes in this story. One of them is that if people come together and selflessly contribute to a common good, they can make a success of solving difficult problems. The other point of course is that girls can do anything. The book has the chicks marching together with unifying signs in an affirmation to each other that they matter and they can do anything they set their hearts on.
This is not just a story for girls to see how strong girls can be and how they can achieve whatever they set out to achieve, but it is important for boys to read this book to see girls do these things. Girls can succeed in whatever it is boys can succeed in, and all children need to understand this.
Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship by Marie Kondo, co-written and illustrated by Salina Yoon
Kiki & Jax is a deeply empathetic tale of close friendships written by Marie Kondo with Salina Yoon and illustrated by Salina Yoon for Crown Books for Young Readers.
Kiki and Jax are the best of friends even though they are quite different from each other. Whereas Jax enjoys sorting, Kiki enjoys collecting. Jax’s house is always neatly organized, and he always puts away his toys, dishes and other things when he is done using them. Kiki, on the other hand, does not like to throw away things and stashes them willy-nilly everywhere till she can’t find anything when she is looking for them. She is always running late, and sometimes, she misses playdates with Jax altogether. And she is simply unable to enjoy being in her house—she finds it overwhelming.
The inspiration for this story is Marie Kondo’s widely popular KonMari system of organization. A tidy house is a source of comfort and peace, and when you regularly practice tidying up, it itself can be a fount of joy and accomplishment. Kondo firmly believes that all members of a family can join in making their home a space of serenity and inspiration.
Jax and Kiki are such good friends that even though Kiki cannot seem to make time for him, he does not give up on her. He makes her a friendship book showing her how much he values her. When Kiki eventually confesses her problem, he decides that the best way for him to be Kiki’s friend is to help her organize her home and also show her how to stay organized. It’s that last bit that is the most important part of any organization system as Kondo will tell you.
What caught my eye about the artwork is how expressive the characters are. The joy they take in each other’s company is clearly conveyed in how they look in each other’s eyes, lean towards each other when they talk, listen to the other when they are talking, and so on—all signs of a really close friendship. Yoon has also used very bright colors and simple lines, so it is a book that would appeal to readers as young as three and also to older children.
Note: Don’t forget to turn to the end papers where the KonMari system of folding shirts is illustrated.
Nian: The Chinese New Year Dragon by Virginia Loh-Hagan, illustrated by Timothy Banks
Nian: The Chinese New Year Dragon is a twist on the tale of Nian by Virginia Loh-Hagan and is illustrated by Timothy Banks for Sleeping Bear Press (2019).
Mei is a young girl living with her mother in a village on the edge of sea. She hates the first day of spring, because Nian, the fierce evil dragon who lives under the mountain in the sea, loves to come out to eat little girls and boys.
Mei is scared. Her whole village is scared. But help was at hand. On the eve of the first day of spring, a magical warrior visited Mei in her dreams.
He says to her, “Hundred of years have passed and new year is coming. Nian’s power grows stronger. And my spell grows weaker each year. You must defeat Nian in fifteen days or Nian will be free forever.”
Mei is fearful of the task entrusted to her and asks why she was the chosen one?
The warrior tells her, “You were born in the Year of the Golden Dragon. It is your destiny.”
Then what follows are a series of things Mei tries to permanently defeat Nian. Every time, she tries something new, Nian retreats, but returns with protection against that thing. Nian keeps Mei on her toes, but she is ultimately victorious over him. Nian gets turned into a stone statue, a symbol of good luck and fortune.
Mei shows immense leadership despite her short years. When the warrior drops the mantle of responsibility on her young shoulders, instead of weeping and running away, she stands tall and uses her ingenuity. Such is her strength of conviction that she can command all the villagers to listen to her. The villagers, in turn, are truly appreciative of her and celebrate and reward her with riches like they would the head of a village.
There is a timeless quality to Banks’ work where he brings a legend to present-day life through the indomitable spirit of Mei. The dragon though fierce-looking is shown hapless under Mei’s power. The color palette is chosen to emphasize dramatic elements of the story as are the details in the illustrations.
Nian is the perfect book to explain the Chinese New Year traditions to children.
Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh
Our Favorite Day is a heartwarming picture book written and illustrated by Korean-American Joowon Oh for Candlewick Press. Meant for the very young, it’s an age-old tale of a special loving relation between grandparents and grandchildren.
Every morning, Papa wakes up and has a routine for his day to follow. After appreciating nature outside his window, he sits in his particular chair and enjoys his first tea of the day. He then takes care of his plants and tidies up the kitchen. After getting warmly dressed up in a coat, he heads into town on the bus. He enjoys strolling through the streets people-watching and window-shopping.
The store that makes him pause in appreciation is a craft store — it is one where he has been many times before. As he ponders what is available, an idea takes shapes in his head, but today is not the day for purchasing. So he goes on to his favorite lunch haunt for steamed dumplings. On his way home, he notices some lovely flowers by the roadside, but today is not the day for picking them. In anticipation of tomorrow, he goes to bed early.
The next morning unfolds in much the same fashion as the previous day — with a couple of changes — but the afternoon brings with it a joyous event.
For a début book, Oh writes and illustrates with sensitivity and assurance. The art is a great match for the story. Illustrated in watercolors and layered with gouache and paper collages, there is great forward energy in the images. This is mimicked in the suspense of the story.
When you find the reason why Papa is greatly anticipating this particular day of the week, the relief from having the mystery solved gives way to delight as you watch the joy the grandfather and granddaughter take in each other’s company.
Thursdays are my favorite days.
In our world of nuclear families, our children miss these moments with the older generation that will stay with them for their lifetime. With Our Favorite Day, Oh is reminding children how much their grandparents love to spend time with them. Oh is also reminding parents to nurture this relationship for their young ones.
Patience, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez, illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Patience, Miyuki is a magically illustrated children’s picture book by Seng Soun Ratanavanh with words by Roxane Marie Galliez for Princeton Architectural Press (2019).
Readers were introduced to the young girl, Miyuki, in the critically acclaimed Time for Bed, Miyuki (2018). In this book, Patience, Miyuki, she is eager for springtime and for her garden to bloom. But on the first day of spring, when she visits her garden, she is sad to see that one little flower is still asleep. The story of Patience, Miyuki follows Miyuki’s search for the purest water for her little flower—and the farther she searches, the more frustrated she becomes. So ends the first perfect day of spring with Miyuki having been unable to appreciate it.
Good things in life are worth waiting for, worth slowing down for in order to cherish their value. Everything, everyone, grows in their own time, and impatience cannot hurry them along. Growing nature symbolizes hope, longevity, and good fortune. Miyuki’s wise grandfather asks her to slow down so she can recognize the gifts the natural world is giving her, instead of spurning them in her hurry to force a flower to bloom.
This book is as much a story of nature as it is a story of nurture, of teaching the young girl the importance of mindfulness. Miyuki’s grandfather explains to her the importance of imbuing the present moment with her presence, rather than focusing on a future event of great uncertainty. The book is thus an emissary of deep existential wisdom.
Ratanavanh is an extraordinary artist who regularly shows her painting and drawings in France and abroad. The illustrations are gorgeously dreamy and intricately detailed, and they bring with them the joy of springtime and the energetic impatience of a young girl. While there is a definite progression to the art as it follows Miyuki’s story and emotions, each page is a frameable piece in itself.
This is a book to savor and a keeper for your home library.
Stormy by Guojing
Stormy is a heartwarming wordless book about friendship, compassion, and belonging by illustrator Guojing for Schwartz & Wade Books (2019).
A little pup is lost outdoors. He lives wild and scrounges around for food. One day, he sees a woman approaching a bench near him and runs away. From afar he observes her as she observes him. The next day, she shows up again but with a ball for him, but he is scared of this stranger. He only plays with the ball after she has left and allows it to comfort him in the night. After many days, her patience is rewarded when he comes close enough to her to play with her. He has deemed her safe.
One day, he follows her home. She pretends to be unaware of it. That night a terrible storm breaks over the city, and the poor pup shelters under a wet cardboard box near the trash can. She rushes outdoors frantically looking for him everywhere, but upon returning to her doorstep, she finds his ball and him hiding near the trash can. She scoops him up, and he in his exhaustion, fear, and chills, allows her to take him indoors. She pampers him, and at last, he is comforted.
He has found himself a forever home.
Guojing is an incredibly talented artist. Using a palette of minimal colors, she has charted an entire gamut of emotions between a woman and a dog. The illustrations are understated and yet very expressive in body language. As a reader, you feel such sadness and tenderness towards the pup and such warmth towards the woman.
Kindness is at the heart of this story. Recognizing that dogs, like humans, seek love and need love to survive, she decides to befriend a stray puppy and offer it love. The wise woman has deep resources of patience and understanding. Not everyone can trust right away when offered a treat. Trust takes time to build.
I highly recommend this book for children and adults alike.
Up Down Inside Out by JooHee Yoon
Up Down Inside Out is a children’s picture book by artist and printmaker JooHee Yoon for Enchanted Lion Books. Full of aphorisms rendered in art, this is a gorgeously innovative book for the ages.
It is less a typical children’s picture book than it is a delightful curiosity for children of all ages. It explores the interactive nature of books with flaps, die-cuts, pull-outs, and a dramatic gatefold, while inviting discovery and expansive thinking from the reader. The humor and playfulness in the images with its discoverability of joy is as appealing as it is surprising. Exaggerated emotions add to the whimsical, comic nature of the visual renderings.
Each of the eighteen maxims challenges the reader to really think through the words and what they mean and how the visual depiction translates and adds to the meaning of the words. It is not merely an image of the saying, but rather the essence imagined through a printmaker’s creativity.
Using only two spot colors, a pantone red and a pantone blue, Yoon has created a wide variety of colors, shadows, and tones, ranging from black, gray, and purple to the red and blue. Printmaking techniques used to be an integral part of children’s picture books decades ago, but these days, they have fallen out of favor. Thus Yoon’s work with this book is especially notable as it brings back the form in all its storied glory. Yoon is truly a gifted printmaker and his artistic skill in hand and digital tools is evident in the layered and textured artwork.
Up Down Inside Out is a collectable—a beautiful book to touch and hold—one that everyone can enjoy.