More Awesome Asian Americanswritten by Phil Amara and Oliver Chin with illustrations by Juan Calle is an illuminating young adult anthology that pays tribute to 20 trailblazing Asian American men and women whose accomplishments have created role models for this and future generations.
In the past, I’ve reviewed books that are part of Immedium’s Chinese Zodiac series so I was eager to see what this 128-page biography compilation would be like. I was not disappointed. The other good news is that this is the second book of the duology, the first was Awesome Asian Americans published in 2020.
Of the 10 men and 10 women featured (for a total of 20 chapters), each bio sheds light on an important individual whether athlete or activist, author or actor. Kids can choose to read this paperback one bio at a time or sit down and immerse themselves in the impressive array of notable figures. While the book is described as a graphic novel, it’s more just a colorfully illustrated collection with vibrant full-page and spot art throughout that adds to the positive energy emanating from every profile page.
I like how the book was organized chronologically from oldest to youngest people. I also appreciated learning not only about Asian American luminaries such as I.M. Pei, Amy Tan, George Takei, Mira Nair, and Bruno Mars, but even more so about those who, though not household names, are outstanding in their fields. For example, I had no idea that Jensen Huang was responsible for a computer chip that revolutionized computer gaming making him a billionaire, or that Dr. Peter Tsai’s N95 mask was a life-saver during the pandemic due to “its technology.” I read in shock about humanitarian Channapha Khamvongsa’s harrowing childhood in Laos as a result of the secret series of U.S. bombings there to stop the rise of communism. I never knew that since “1973, UXOs [unexploded bombs] have harmed twenty thousand civilians, primarily children” and was what propelled Khamvongsa to create an NGO called Legacies of War to clean up the UXOs. Her campaigns have made the U.S. government commit millions toward the clean-up of the UXOs as she continues to work for the good of the Laotian community both in the U.S. and globally.
I am happy to recommend More Awesome Asian Americans because it honestly brings to the fore the lives and accomplishments of 20 extraordinary people who persevered despite facing challenges from war, poverty, business failures, their Asian heritage, and in some cases their gender. The book serves as a motivating and inspiring read for any teen who has ever considered giving up when the going gets tough.
Kids will learn what an important role the AIPDA community has played in our country’s history and continues to play today in America after reading A is for Asian American written by Virginia Loh-Hagan and illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop. Also referred to as AAPI, APIDA Heritage Month was created to include Desi (South Asian) with both serving to honor and celebrate the contributions, culture, experiences, and traditions of the over “24 million people in the United States who fall under the umbrella of AAPI.”
This nonfiction picture book begins with a helpful time line of “Little-Known Milestones” and in 40 pages presents readers with an engaging format. It introduces a rhyme for each alphabet letter, appealing to the youngest of the target age range. “J is for Japanese Anime. There are all kinds of anime,/which started in Japan./All around the world,/you’ll find anime fans.” Alongside the expressive art and poem is an expository description of the topic, in this instance, anime. Since my whole family enjoys anime, I loved reading about its origins in the 1960s and how mainstream it’s become in America.
Some alphabet letters fill an entire spread (M is for Movements where social change is discussed; W is for Writers highlighting contributions made to all forms of literature and journalism), while others are divided (see art above for letters F and G). The S page focuses on Saturday schools where weekend classes offer “language classes and classes covering topics such as dance, music, art, crafts, and other cultural activities,” in order to connect children with the country of their heritage.
In addition to homing in on a variety of interesting subjects—Boba (Bubble) Tea and Korean Wave should resonate with a lot of young readers—A is for Asian American highlights accomplishments by APIDAs from the first Asian American woman to earn her pilot’s license in 1932 to the first Asian American to walk in space in 1985. The letter X details how Bruce Lee was a pioneer in promoting his mixed martial arts skills in films helping other martial arts grow in popularity. What a surprise to learn that President Theodore Roosevelt became America’s first brown belt taught by Japan’s judo master Yamashita Yoshitsugu!
And no book about Asian Americans would be complete without calling attention to the Chinese immigrants who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad under often harsh conditions yet ultimately refused citizenship; nor those of Japanese ancestry, about 120,000, who were unjustly sent to incarceration camps after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. Loh-Hagan’s writing is straightforward but topics are shared sensitively and are age appropriate.
At the start, an author’s note from Loh-Hagan states her goal of raising awareness of Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans. She also mentions the sad and alarming increase in anti-Asian hate since the pandemic and stresses the need to “learn more so we can do more.” Back matter features “definitions and words, and listing of important holidays with corresponding activities.” I hope this book helps children appreciate the myriad ways in which Asian Americans contribute to our country and make it a better place. Reading A is for Asian American provides kids with an important introduction to all aspects of Asian American life past and present and will no doubt prompt them to delve further into specific subjects. When teaching diversity-centered and cultural awareness curricula, teachers and librarians would benefit from all the information shared in this picture book as well.
Charlotte Cheng is the author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], illustrated by Amber Ren. Her picture book was released to the world on May 2, 2023. In this interview conducted by Maria Wen Adcock, author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE and founder of the parenting blog BiculturalMama.com, Charlotte discusses her inspiration for the book, Taiwanese traditions, and more.
Maria Wen Adcock: What inspired you to write Night Market Rescue?
Charlotte Cheng: My family comes from Taiwan, and although I was born in the US, we made trips back to Taipei as often as we could to visit family. Each time we visited, my parents brought me to famous Taiwanese night markets so I could soak in the tastes and joys of their childhood. To this day, I can still recall the smells of sizzling sausage and the sights of colorful goods. I wanted to share these fond memories with others and chose to do so by writing Night Market Rescue!
MWA: Why did you decide to use a stray dog as the main character? How did you come up with his name?
CC: I was struggling to figure out how to write Night Market Rescue with an interesting perspective. A few years ago, we also learned that some street dogs rely on night markets to survive. I started exploring how a night market could be seen through the eyes of a street dog. In fact, during one of our family trips to Taiwan, I spent time taking photos of night markets from a dog’s perspective. I then chose to name the dog GoGo as the word “gou” is also the Chinese word for dog.
At the same time, we started helping rescue organizations and fostered a few dogs. Eventually, we decided to rescue one ourselves. His name is Waldo, and he is a proud and integral member of our family. In fact, GoGo might look a little like Waldo because we shared photos of him with Amber Ren, the talented illustrator for Night Market Rescue.
MWA: What Taiwanese traditions did you want to make sure you featured in the book?
CC:I focused a lot on sounds, tastes, and textures. I wanted people to feel like they’re with GoGo as he explores the night market. Some specifics I made sure to include were the scooters (one of Taipei’s preferred modes of transportation), sizzling sausage (a famous Taiwan treat), and haggling grandmas (a staple of any Asian market).
MWA: Why did you think it was important to write a book highlighting Taiwanese culture?
CC: Taiwan is a small island packed with a fascinating history. From Dutch castles to lantern festivals to marble canyons and mountains that rise above the clouds, my parents devoted a lot of time sharing their culture with me. I now have a young daughter and hope stories like Night Market Rescue will be an opportunity for me to do the same. Furthermore, Taiwan is a place that many people don’t have a chance to visit. I hope Night Market Rescue will be a way for them to learn about this special island.
MWA:What was the process like working with the publishing team?
CC: I’m a collaborative creature at heart, so working with the publishing team was a dream come true! Lauri Hornik is the President of Rocky Pond Books, a new imprint at Penguin. The moment Lauri acquired Night Market Rescue, she immediately began working with me to refine the manuscript. The book is in rhyme, so revisions were a little tricky, but the story is so much stronger now!
I then got to see this story come alive through the talented hands of our illustrator, Amber Ren. It began with character designs and pencil sketches. Then she added vibrant colors that brought movement and energy to each page. Throughout each stage, the Rocky Pond team invited me to provide feedback and suggestions. Sometimes, I even sent specific photos of my dog Waldo to help highlight how Taiwanese street dogs behaved in different scenarios! It was a pleasure witnessing the images transforming into the final illustrations that are now found in the book.
There are many others at the Rocky Pond team that have contributed to making Night Market Rescue as well: from art direction and book design to marketing and publicity. I’ll be collaborating with Lauri and her team on four more books over the coming years. I’m greatly looking forward to working with them all again, and I’m so grateful to be a part of the Rocky Pond family!
MWA: What did you and your publishing team love the most about the illustrations?
CC: Amber Ren is such a creative and detailed illustrator! She captured the sights and sounds of a Taiwanese night market with vibrant and colorful images that just jump from the page. There are so many details that I hope readers will catch. Someone is drinking boba in the background because the beverage was invented in Taiwan. Even my Ama makes an appearance as she briskly bargains with a vendor! Amber also hand-wrote each vendor sign in traditional Mandarin, and she even incorporated feedback from my parents on the exact phrasing of some of the vendor names. Most of all, Amber managed to illustrate the full spectrum of GoGo’s emotions – from curiosity to loneliness to joy. You root for GoGo because he’s so charming and eager when exploring the night market. I could not imagine working with a better illustrator than Amber, and I hope we can work together again! e
MWA: Do you have any books or projects coming up? If so, please describe them.
CC: I actually have several books coming out over the next few years! In 2024, Roar Choo, illustrated by Dan Santat, will be published by Rocky Pond Books. It’s a story of how a dragon recovers from a cold through the help of a phoenix friend. In the same year, A Name for Sister, illustrated by Sophie Diao, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s a magical new sister story inspired by a centuries-old naming tradition from China. In 2025, Rocky Pond Books will also publish two more of my stories: I Miss You Most (2025), illustrated by Xindi Yan, and Icy Fruit (2025), illustrated by Vivian Mineker. Both of these books are inspired by my two grandfathers. You can sign up for my newsletter or follow me on social media to stay updated about these books.
Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books, including Explore China: A Mulan Discovery Book and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curricula for a variety of companies, including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop.
You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her social media sites above.
ABOUT INTERVIEWER MARIA WEN ADCOCK:
Maria Wen Adcock is the author ofIt’s Chinese New Year, Curious George [January 2023], published by Clarion Books/Harper Collins. Maria is a first-generation Chinese-American writer and founder of the award-winning multicultural parenting blog www.BiculturalMama.com. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Bloomberg News, Newsday, and Huffington Post. Maria is a board member of Multicultural Kid Blogs, an organization supporting diverse parenting bloggers, and co-host of the annual event Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
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