A few weeks after I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I set out on a mission to gather as many books as I could afford featuring characters that looked like what I imagined my future child would. I hadn't had much luck finding stories featuring Hapa or other mixed-race characters, but I did find some English-Tagalog and English-Korean books, as well as picture books featuring Asian American kids or themes of diversity and acceptance.
Sadly, many of those books were relegated to the bottom of the bookshelf shortly after my daughter was born. These stories were long-ish and complex, and once she started to understand stories, she stayed loyal to three or four books which she forced me to read over and over again.
Well, Hyphenites, it's been three years and Sehana has finally explored her bookshelf beyond The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Green Eggs and Ham, and Where the Wild Things Are. Here are some of our favorites.
Stella and the Stars by Andy Wang
This storybook about constellations is a favorite bedtime story in our home, second only to Where the Wild Things Are. I'm partial to the illustrations, not just because they're cute, but also because Stella actually kind of looks like my Sehana. It's short, sweet, and the perfect way to end a great day. (Note: Andy is a friend of our blog editor, who agrees enthusiastically with this review but did not write it.)
Red is a Dragon: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Thong
It's heavy on the color and all of the pages are super vibrant. Also, there are lots of elements of Chinese culture here. The illustrations really make this book.
Dear Juno by Soyung Pak
This story incorporates two of my favorite things: language and handwritten letters. Juno writes in pictures while his grandmother writes in Korean, but they are still able to bridge the communication gap. Sehana has a handful of birthday cards in her keepsake box that are written entirely in Korean, and this was the perfect book to give her some ideas on how to write back to her relatives in far flung places.
Ambrosia by Dan Manalang
There's a new kid at the produce section in the market: a brown, hairy coconut. None of the other fruits like him. The story gets a little weird when the coconut opens himself up and lets the other fruits taste his insides, but there's a nice message in here of tolerance and acceptance. A definite winner if your kid likes to eat fruit.
Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel by Anthony D. Robles
My favorite of the bunch is a children's retelling of the I-Hotel story. Admittedly, it's a little complex for my three-year-old, but she loves the illustrations. The book is written in both English and Tagalog and is a great way to introduce little ones to the beautiful struggle.
Bonus: I know the infamous Go The F**k to Sleep is not multi-cultural, but here's a hilarious video of somebody's lola reading it disapprovingly.