May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month and last week Heather Blake from the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire shared her picks. Being Filipino myself and raising children of mixed heritage, I think it’s important to expose my children to books that show how diverse the American experience can be. The stories below are told in the voices of children who may look different than your own, whose families may practice different customs, or eat different foods, but their experience of triumph, joy, hardship and struggle are universal.
Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan: Anyone who looks back fondly at big family gatherings, staying up late with your cousins, or grandma’s cooking, will love this book! The main character, 7-year old Marisa, shares the story of her annual New Year’s Eve gathering with her extended family at her grandmother’s house in Oahu. It’s a time when she finally gets to help make grandma’s famous Dumpling Soup. Marisa’s family is a tapestry of ethnicites, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian and even Haole (Hawaiian for Caucasian people) but they all share the bond of family and a love for good food!
As Marisa describes sitting around a crowded kitchen table with her aunts, gossiping and making dumplings, I feel like this scene is replicated in so many people’s memories. The dumplings could just as easily be your grandma’s pierogis, meatballs, spaetzle or lumpia. And don’t we all have our own version of Uncle Myung Ho who always eats more than his share?
A big warm, fuzzy read for kids preschool age and up. We picked this up at our local library, but we might have to hit the book store or Amazon to make this part of our permanent collection.
Tea with Milk by Alan Say: We are all familiar with “coming to America” stories, but this book tells the true story of author Alan Say’s American-born mother, May, whose family returns to their native Japan when she is a teenager. I think this reverse immigration story, of an American moving to a different country, will strike a chord of empathy in American kids who may not fully understand the difficulty that an immigrant child can experience. More than an immigration story, it’s also a feminist story of a girl with an indomitable spirit, who refuses the notion that all she needs is a husband from a good family. May eventually finds her happily-ever-after, but it’s on her own terms.
I adore this touching story so much, I’m buying it for a friend who is adopting an older child from abroad. While I enjoyed reading it to my preschoolers, I think older grade school kids will be better able to empathize with May’s struggles of fitting in and will applaud how she overcomes them.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki: This is a classic underdog tale of a boy who finds redemption through good ol’ American baseball, but it’s set against the bleak backdrop of a World War II Japanese Internment Camp. Use this book as a tool to open up a discussion with your kids about racism and dealing with anger and other negative emotions. It’s a dark and shameful time to remember in our history, but it’s an important lesson on why we study history – to prevent us from making the same mistakes in the future.
The narrator, “Shorty” will be identifiable for many kids who have felt like they were the oddball because they were too little or not the greatest at sports. His victories will become their victories and you might shed a tear when (spoiler alert!) he finally hits a home run.
Much like baseball has been the savior to many a disheartened child, it’s books like Baseball Saved Us that can serve as a balm to soothe the hurts from our not-so-distant past.