A IS FOR ASIAN AMERICAN:
An Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Alphabet
Written by Virginia Loh-Hagan
Illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 6-10)
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.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel