Standing Strong Together

“As people of color, we can turn what the dominant culture deems our weaknesses into sources of strength for our art. We know different kinds of fear than they do, which gives us a different understanding of true courage. Write that. We’ve been hated on more than they have, so we have a different understanding of love. Write that. We know despair and sorrow in unique ways, so we have a special relationship with hope, and our own particular vivid spectrum of joy.”

When Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park shared those inspiring words in her closing keynote of last Saturday’s Kweli: The Color of Children’s Literature conference, the response was immediate: Thank yous. Amens. Comments that her message brought listeners to tears. Attendees of the virtual event felt seen and heard. Park’s words reminded me that stories can reveal the dangerous depths people can sink to and illuminate the resilience, bravery and beauty of the human spirit.  We see those extremes happening in real life today.

As coronavirus cases and deaths rise, another scourge has risen too – hate crimes against members of the Asian-American community, especially East Asians. Fueled by racism, bigoted political rhetoric and willful misinformation, people are shouting slurs and accusations, launching physical attacks. Directed at our brothers and sisters, it’s an assault on all of us. In the face of hate, we must stand strong together. Below, we share a few of our favorite authors, illustrators and books. Shout out yours in the comments. Please show your support by sharing their work, speaking up against discrimination and spreading love.

Kelly Starling Lyons Salutes:

Linda Sue Park photo by Sonya Sones

Dedicated to equity and inclusion, award-winning author Linda Sue Park champions children’s book creators of color and Native creators and is on the advisory boards of We Need Diverse Books and Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators. She empowers and inspires young readers through her more than 20 books including A Single Shard, a 2002 Newbery Medal winner, New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water, the Wing & Claw fantasy trilogy, titles in The 39 Clues series and numerous other novels and picture books.

Topics in her outstanding catalog include exploring Korean history. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Park has mined her heritage for stories on kite fighting, the Japanese occupation of Korea and celadon, fine pottery. Her latest novel, Prairie Lotus, is set in late 19th century America and centers a half-Asian heroine coming of age, facing racism and trying to realize her dreams. Park received multiple starred reviews including this one from Booklist: “In her latest middle-grade historical-fiction masterpiece, Park conjures the resourceful and industrious spirit of America’s westward expansion without ignoring the ugly veneer of racism….An incredible and much-needed addition to the historical-fiction canon.”

Fun, generous and gifted, Linda Sue Park creates a better world through her books and advocacy. Learn more about her here.

Debbi Michiko Florence photo by Roy Thomas

Debbi Michiko Florence is the author of the Jasmine Toguchi series, an acclaimed quartet of chapter books that star a sweet and spunky Japanese American third grader. Inspired by family experiences, Debbi created a winning character who celebrates who she is and shines a light on cultural traditions including mochi making, Girls’ Day and playing the taiko. Books in the series have been chosen as Junior Library Guild selections, Nerdy Book Club Award winners and Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year. The Jasmine Toguchi series became a favorite as soon as I read the first book. Fun and family-focused, Debbi’s stories shine with originality and authenticity.

And that’s just one of her series. Drawing on her knowledge as a former zoo educator and her love of animals (Debbi has a rescue dog, bunny and duck), My Furry Foster Family is another of her chapter book treasures. This series, featuring an 8-year-old and her family fostering pets, will add four more titles this summer for a total of eight. Next month, Debbi’s first middle-grade novel, Keep it Together, Keiko Carter (Scholastic) debuts. You can pre-order a signed copy from her local bookstore, Bank Square Books, and receive a bookmark, limited edition button and be entered in a giveaway of fun items from the book and cover. Learn more about Debbi Michiko Florence here.

Named one of the coolest dads in America by Fatherly magazine, Minh Lê

Minh Lê

creates books full of wonder, imagination and meaning. Drawn Together was the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Picture Book Winner. Illustrated by Dan Santat, the story shows a boy and his grandfather bridge a divide of language and generation through the magic of art. Moving and heartfelt, it was inspired by Minh’s own relationship with his grandfather.

Minh’s latest is the middle grade graphic novel, Green Lantern: Legacy, beautifully illustrated by Andie Tong. Minh’s grandmother’s jade ring from her Vietnam homeland helped shape the story of his hero. Next up is another exciting partnership between Minh and Dan Santat. Their fantastical picture book, Lift, debuts May 5 and is available for pre-order now. Learn more about Minh here

And speaking of Dan Santat, do yourself a favor and check out the work of this

Dan Santat

Caldecott Medalist and master storyteller. Creator of more than 100 books for kids, his work has won countless awards and honors. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, After the Fall and Are We There Yet? are just a few of his beloved titles. He recently celebrated a book birthday as the illustrator of the 90th anniversary edition of  The Little Engine That Could.

Along with seeing Dan’s work on the shelf, you may have seen it on TV. He created the hit Disney animated series, The Replacements. More recently, he has used his creativity to give parents and kids fun educational resources during the public health crisis. Dan came up with the Santat Online Survival School for the Pandemic. #Dandemic. You can download the PDF packet here. Humble and down to earth, Dan’s joy of creating books for kids shows. “Nothing else matters if you do the thing you love,” Santat said in a TeachingBooks interview. “Even in this profession of children’s books – and no one’s rich from this – the majority of people I know who do this for a living are in it because they love it.”
Learn more Dan Santat here.

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich Salutes:

Ellen Oh

Ellen Oh is known for writing about dragons, and keeps that same fierce energy as an advocate in the world of children’s publishing. As founder and CEO of We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), Oh turned a hashtag into a nonprofit organization that has built upon longtime efforts to attack underrepresentation in the publishing industry through its internship grant program, nurtured a new generation of creators from marginalized backgrounds through its mentorship initiatives, brought authors and books to classrooms through WNDB in the Classroom and the Walter Awards (named for Walter Dean Myers), and shed light on longstanding inequities and battles in the world of children’s books.

As the coronavirus crisis necessitated the cancellation of kidlit events around the world, it was Oh who emerged as one of the leading organizers of the Everywhere Bookfest, a virtual book festival for young people taking place on May 1-2, featuring more than 50 kidlit creators on live and pre-recorded panels, and powered by over 100 volunteers, that’s already a beacon of hope to creators, publishing professionals, and readers everywhere. “Having good representation helps people learn tolerance and acceptance of differences,” said Oh in an interview. “And I think that when we don’t provide that, we fail in our duty to educate and inspire the minds of our children.”

Prophecy and The Dragon Egg Princess by Ellen Oh

My daughter has been in love with Ellen Oh’s books for years, and insisted that anything I write about Ellen gives a shout out to her Prophecy series. In her words:  “The Prophecy series is a beautifully written, action packed trilogy that, with detailed imagery, well-developed characters, emotional exchanges, and fantastical, mythic action sequences, will captivate readers everywhere. Ellen’s writing blends complex emotional lessons with intricate and well researched plots and stories so well, it really drew me into her world.”

Oh does it again with The Dragon Egg Princess. And by does it again, I mean captivates readers with her signature blend of fast-paced prose, irresistible characters, and writing chops that range from the terrifying (Spirit Hunters) to funny and kind of gross (“Everly’s Otherworldly Dilemma” in The Hero Next Door) and of course, unforgettably rich worldbuilding. Grounded in Korean culture and stories, The Dragon Egg Princess is a story of an unlikely trio — quintessential reluctant hero Jiho, the “lost” princess Koko, and Micah, a sort of rebel leader, who band together to save the world. Bursting with magic, technology — and some incredible, super-scary monsters, this is a love-letter to all who love fantasy.

The Agency Series: A Spy in The House, by YS Lee

Y.S. Lee

Suspenseful, moody, and overflowing with Victorian atmosphere, A Spy in the House is the first in a thrilling series about Mary Quinn, a “student” at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. The academy is really an espionage training ground, and teenaged Mary is a straight up spy. Mary is resourceful and quick-thinking, but also human, with secrets of her own, including big ones about her heritage and family. There’s also a hint of romance as she engages in a battle of wits and words with James, who’s carrying out an investigation of his own. Fun, feminist, and shines a light on aspects of the Victorian London era that are rarely seen. Learn more about Y.S. Lee here.

 

Don Tate Salutes:

Air travel is a huge part of an author’s and/or illustrator’s career. It is not always as glamorous or exciting as one might imagine. Over-crowded airports, delayed or canceled flights, and turbulence! Oh, my! But recently, I’ve read news stories about how racism against Asians has become another unfortunate factor. Several of my Asian colleagues have posted on social networks about hate stares—or worse—received while traveling. Some people want to blame the coronavirus outbreak on every Chinese person who ever lived. Really? This is a time of love and empathy, not hate and bigotry. Below I highlight the names of four of my friends of Asian descent who write for children. I love their works, I know you will too.

Arree Chung

Arree Chung is the award-winning author-illustrator of numerous books for children, including the “Ninja!” series and “Out!” Most recently, his “Mixed: A Colorful Story” was a Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, 2018. It was one of my favorites, too.

In addition to writing and illustrating books for children, Chung is the creator of “Arree’s Free Creativity Camp,” an online class for parents with kids interested in drawing, storytelling and creating comics. Registration is free at www.arree.com/camp.

Grace Lin is an award-winning and NY Times bestselling author/illustrator of picture books, early readers and middle grade novels. Her awards include the Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a Geisel Honor for Ling & Ting, and a National Book Finalist for When the Sea Turned to Silver. In 2019, Lin was the recipient of the Caldecott Honor for A Mooncake For Little Star. 

If you haven’t yet seen Lin’s TEDx talk on diversity, “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf,” do yourself a favor and check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wQ8wiV3FVo

In November of 2019, Lin and author-illustrator, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, co-curated an art show at the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Now & Then: Contemporary Illustrators and their Childhood Art, featured Lin and Krosoczka as well as 17 other artists (including me, Don Tate), honoring childhood creativity. The exhibition was a huge success!

Today, Lin hosts a podcast called Kids Ask Authors, a weekly 5-10 minute podcast where she and a guest author answer one question from a child reader.

Mike Jung

Mike Jung is the author of Unidentified Suburban Object. He is a library professional by day, and a writer (and ukulele player) by night. Jung was a founding member of #WeNeedDiverseBooks team, which promotes diversity in children’s publishing. His forthcoming book is called The Boys in the Back Row, due October 6, 2020. Publisher blurb: “Best friends Matt and Eric are hatching a plan for one big final adventure together before Eric moves away: during the marching band competition at a Giant Amusement Park, they will sneak away to a nearby comics convention and meet their idol – a famous comic creator. Without cell phones. Or transportation. Or permission. Of course, their final adventure together is more than just that – really, it’s a way for the boys to celebrate their friendship, and their honest love and support for one another.” It’s just the kind of story that needs to be told in these dire times, in my humble opinion.

Paula Yoo

Paula Yoo is a children’s picture book author, novelist, and TV writer and producer. Her debut YA narrative non-fiction book, Vincent Chin, is about a Chinese man whose beating death in 1982 galvanized the Asian American community. The killing of Chin became the first landmark federal civil riots violation trial for an Asian American in the U.S. The book is being edited by Simon Boughton and will be published on his new imprint called Norton Young Readers of W.W. Norton & Co, slated for an early spring 2021 release.

From Paula Yoo’s website

Yoo is also a TV writer and producer. Her credits range from NBC’s “The West Wing” to The CW’s “Supergirl” to most recently the short-lived Freeform series “Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists.” And big news: as a screenwriter, she has sold her first TV drama pilot called Olympic Boulevard for the new Peacock streamer. Info here.

Crystal Allen Salutes:

Lisa Yee

Born and raised in Los Angeles, young Lisa loved reading and riding the teacups at Disneyland.  As an adult, she has taken on some of the oddest jobs, including, but not limited to, actually being Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World, working for a creative think tank, and leading seminars for dairy farmers.  This may explain why Lisa Yee is so creative.

It’s just Lisa being Lisa, using all of her talents.

Even though she’s been paid to eat chocolate, the thing Lisa likes most is writing – except for when she has writer’s block, or needs a snack, or is distracted. Hm…can anyone relate?

To me, Lisa Yee is one of the most amazing authors of our time, penning stories filled with action, adventure, comedy, and plenty of emotion.  Just a few of her middle grade novels include, Millicent Min: Girl Genius, So Totally Emily Ebers, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, and also in the series is Warp Speed, the Stanford Wong spin-off about a Star Trek geek who gets beat up, and of course, the incredible DC Super Hero Girls series. If young adult novels are your thing, Lisa’s got you, too, with Absolutely Maybe, and most recently, The Kidney Hypothetical — Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days.

Lisa has been named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Resident, USA TODAY Critics Pick, and more. Side note:  Lisa, one day we’ll need to talk about that ghost we both experienced at the Thurber House…

Thank you, Lisa Yee, or maybe we should call you Lisa Yay!  The children’s world of literature is better because of you.

You can visit her website here.

Tracey Baptiste Salutes:

Christina Soontornvat

Christina Soontornvat is the author of picture books, the chapter book series Diary of an Ice Princess, and both fiction and nonfiction middle grade books. I’m very excited about her recently released A Wish in the Dark which is a take on Les Misérables with a distinctly Thai flavor, infused with magic, mystery, truth, and the fight against oppression. Add to that the language and landscape is lush and gorgeous. Her next book will be All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team. I don’t mind telling you that I am unbelievably excited for this one. Only an own-voices writer can capture the unique cultural and religious background needed to understand all aspects of this incredible true story. Soontornvat’s expertise as a scientist is sure to add much needed context as well in this technically challenging rescue. It is sure to be riveting. You can find out more about Christina Soontornvat and her work here.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is one of my favorite artists. Her bubbly personality explodes on the pages of every book she writes and illustrates. She has illustrated or written and illustrated about 25 picture books with the forthcoming Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure. I have been a follower of Debbie’s Twitter feed for some time, and she started doing broken crayon drawings several years ago. The results were unexpected, lovely, and fantastic. I’m thrilled to see she’s found a way to make them into a picture book. The story is written by Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park (another one of my favorite human beings) and is due to be released in August of this year. Ohi’s website is bursting with downloads and activities for young readers. You can find it here.

Tameka Fryer Brown Salutes:

American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang

Books that offer an “insider’s view” on any topic are valuable reads. Those that focus on complex human experience issues such as race, gender, class, and ability are of particular interest to me. American Born Chinese (Square Fish/Macmillan), by former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant Gene Luen Yang is such a book. It was handed to me years ago by my eldest daughter, to whom it was assigned in high school. In a matter of days, our entire family had read it.

ABC is an engaging, timely read that offers plenty of opportunities for self-reflection. It is a great tool for starting critical conversations with young people about the racist perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors currently being directed at Chinese Americans specifically, and Asians and Asian Americans more broadly today.

Learn more about American Born Chinese here and Gene Luen Yang here.

 

 

10 thoughts on “Standing Strong Together

  1. Thank you for a comprehensive list that I can read and share. The constant need to speak up against discrimination and spreading love is needed. Through books, the message can be shared and heard forever and ever.

  2. Coming together (virtually of course) is so important at a time like this. I also am so blessed to have #allies in #kidlit who support my work and are my friends too. Thanks to author/illustrator Don Tate at The Brown Bookshelf for creating and sharing this post and including our #Canadian #kidlit #author #illustrator sweetheart Debbie Ohi. I have had the chance to be blessed by author @LindaSuePark’s (she is featured in the article) amazing closing keynote at this year’s recent Kweli Journal: Color of Children’s Literature conference online this year (took a lot of notes). Other #East #Asian #Canadian #kidlit and #yalit creators to check out are Kyo Maclear, Ruth Ohi, Susan Yoon, Charlene Chua, Julien Chung, Hilary Leung, Ishta Mercurio, Catherine Hernandez, Qin Leng, Soyeon Kim, #AaronLam, Ann Y.K. Choi, #RaymondNakamura, Joy Kogawa books, and Jennifer Mook-Sang Author. I am forever indebted to my #ALikkleMissLou editor at Owlkids #KarenLi who is now the new publisher at Groundwood Books, my former publicist for both of my #Malaikaseries books at Groundwood Books Cindy Ma, as well as one of my editors for #MalaikasCostume who is also a Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty, #ShelleyTanaka. I am sure that I am missing other names too. And if you haven’t had a chance yet, check out author and The University of Guelph Creative Writing MFA faculty Carrianne Leung’s award-winning #ThatTimeILovedYou which is an amazing short story collection set in #Scarborough, told in the voice of a twelve year old. If my list is any indication, #AsianCanadian authors are having an impact on an industry in much need of diverse stories. The Festival of Literary Diversity #foldkids #kweli20virtual

  3. Great blog as a brown woman I always think of Blacks or African Americans that are the only ones that face racism. It truly is sad that humans are such bullies. Anyone clearly can get this virus and its because of our president I feel encourages such bullying especially when calling the coronavirus a “Chinese disease” how hurtful that maybe. But aside from the negativity I never knew there were so many Asian-American authors. I guess I never really thought about it either. I am glad I found this blog. As a future educator this really is an eye opener. It shows me I should brighten my horizon and explore more diverse books.

  4. It is amazing to see different ethnicities writing and becoming authors. Having a voice and sharing their story about either their culture or their love for something that’s significant to them in their life. Having an eye for different things and being able to write about it and compare it to the things that are either happening today or either that we are witnessing in society is a great thing. We need to show each other that we are all different and can accept one another. We are called the United States of America for a reason. This is for the world to be united and not be against or discriminate against one another.

  5. With the current covid-19 crisis and the fallout that society has experienced, it is important now more than ever to come together and not be blinded by hate, fear and ignorance. Books are a great way to teach children the values of courage, love, and hope, but it is difficult to do so when children cannot identify with the characters. The importance of having books with diverse characters and books written by authors of various ethnicities is paramount because only these authors and their characters can shine light on the unique struggles that children of different cultures can identify with. I personally am a fan of Christina Soontornvat’s “Diary of an Ice Princess” books. My seven year old sister is an avid reader of this particular series and has closely related to Princess Lina’s struggle to belong. Saadia Faruqi is another author that I believes deserves some attention. As a Pakistani-American and mother of children raised in the US, her picture books seamlessly blend both Pakistani culture and American culture in a way that all Pakistani-American children can relate too and love, all while sending the message of love and family. Seeing how these diverse books can touch children and make them feel like they belong and are a part of something bigger is priceless, and I sincerely hope that more of these diverse books make their way into schools, homes, and the hearts of adults and children alike.

  6. Authors of children’s books have the opportunity to mold the minds of our future leaders. So, I want to send a huge SHOUT OUT & THANK YOU! To all the authors featured in the “Standing Strong Together” blog. It is unfortunate that we still have people in the world who handle their own stress and ignorance in unhealthy ways. Our world thrives from diversity and it is the love for humanity that will allow us to survive life’s challenges.
    I am really impressed with the selection of authors in the “ Standing Strong Together” blog. Each author is spreading their vivid spectrum of joy through the power of storytelling that will have positive influences on young readers.

  7. I love the beginning quote. People face many obstacles when it comes to dominant cultures and we should learn to make positivity out of it. Learn to love, especially now with the pandemic happening. We need to learn to view everyone with love. It is really heartbreaking to see how malicious and racist people have been towards the Asian-American community. The virus is not their fault. It is no ones fault. I do agree that this racism is a hit to all of us. People need to stop believing false information. The media is so quick to spread hate and lies.
    Shout out to this blog for shining light on the Asian community and posting these amazing authors. Christina Soontornvat’s latest book has definitely caught my interest. Will be looking to buy to read with with my middle school aged niece. Big love to the Asian community and this blog for turning something negative into a positive.

  8. WOW to the opening quote, it is so powerful and so directly on point. Certain pictures are continuously painted of colored people and I agree that we must paint the picture ourselves. We must share why our tribulations set us apart, we must show the beauty that has risen from the ashes. I also agree that this isn’t the time for hate and discrimination if anything it is time for comaradery and solidarity. I truly hope that all of the ignorance can die down so people can see the bigger picture.I really love this provided list of books as well! I am really looking forward to purchases, “Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure,” by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, for my daughter.

  9. WOW to the opening quote, it is so powerful and so directly on point. Certain pictures are continuously painted of colored people and I agree that we must paint the picture ourselves. We must share why our tribulations set us apart, we must show the beauty that has risen from the ashes. I also agree that this isn’t the time for hate and discrimination if anything it is time for camaraderie and solidarity. I truly hope that all of the ignorance can die down so people can see the bigger picture.I really love this provided list of books as well! I am really looking forward to purchases, “Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure,” by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, for my daughter.

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