Did you know May is Asian and Pacific Island Heritage Month? Honestly, I didn’t either until this week. And even though we don’t hear much about it in our news feeds — or maybe, because we don’t hear much about it — I thought it would be important to seek out some entertaining, educational children’s books about Asian culture and Pacific Island heritage. Because learning about lots of cultures, whether its your own heritage or not, makes us more compassionate, understanding people.
And helps us raise them, too.
Hey, Moana is a good start, but there’s a whole lot more out there that can really open our eyes.
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With the announcement of the hopeful end of the Korean War this week, the book All About Korea by Ann Martin Bowler and Soosoonam Barg is a great book to read with your kids. It explains Korea’s cultural icons, from the flag to the national anthem, as well as favorite foods, games, crafts and more that kids will find interesting.
For my own Korean-American daughter, it will be a wonderful resource about her own heritage. And the series has other volumes, like All About China and All About Japan, should you want to learn about the diversity of traditions and culture across Southeast Asia.
We featured Hana Hashimoto: Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki in our best children’s books of 2014 roundup, and it’s still a favorite of mine. The picture book features Hana, an Asian-American girl, who wants to perform the violin at her school talent show, but her brothers insist she’s not good enough. She beautifully displays her work ethic by practicing tirelessly to perform. And I just love how the story weaves in lovely scenes of Hana’s grandfather Ojiichan’s Japan throughout. This is one children’s book about Asian heritage I think your kids will remember.
For beginner readers who want to explore different cultures by reading to themselves, the Living In…series of books by Chloe Perkins and Tom Woolley is a perfect start. There are a few Asian countries included, like this book on Living in China. Each book depicts the geography, important monuments, and different cultural regions of the featured country, as well as a “day in the life” look at what the country is like for kids living there. I love these books to help kickstart a young child’s interest in various Asian cultures.
For older kids, ages 8-12+, the Not for Parents: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know travel books by Lonely Planet are favorites of mine. Lots of Amazon commenters mention that these books helped their kids to prepare for a trip to the country they read about, which is not surprising considering the authors. Plus, the books are small enough to pack in a carry-on and take with you on your trip. You can find a general volume on all of Asia: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (although the title is a bit of hyperbole) as well as one specifically about China.
I really hope they broaden soon to offer more titles because I bet kids would love the richness of countries like Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Mela and the Elephant by Down Phumiruk and Ziyue Chen is a beautiful retelling of an ancient Thai fable in which our heroine, Mela, sets out for adventure in her boat, but quickly runs into trouble. The animals who come along to help her snatch up their rewards, and don’t live up to their promise to assist her back home — and then she meets one special elephant. While it’s a fictional picture book, it does impart a lot of authenticity as far as Thai customs, while an author’s note includes info for kids who want to learn more.
So, yeah, I said there’s a lot more than Moana out there, but in reality, I think the film does a fantastic job bringing Pacific Island culture to life for kids — or at least mine — and getting them excited to learn more. So I’m happy to see there’s actually a new non-fiction book for grade-schoolers coming from Disney, called The Pacific Islands: A Moana Discover Book. Yes, non-fiction!
I imagine a whole lot of children will be excited to see their favorite Moana characters guiding them through information about wildlife, village culture, and even some STEM projects related to island life.