I used to collect Asian/American and Mixed children’s book titles at my former blog Multiracial Asian Families. Once I stopped posting at that blog, however, I stopped updating the book lists. Years later, I suddenly find myself needing to collect again. A couple things have lead me back to this point.
Professionally, I’ve been giving more talks at schools and in family-oriented settings. Parents frequently ask, “Do you have a book list?” I used to suggest a simple web search, but parents would get discouraged. Because web searching isn’t simple, and it takes time to sift through results. For parents who don’t have a lot of time this isn’t a helpful suggestion. Also, I realized, parents wanted my recommendations, not the recommendations of a stranger.
Personally, since my son started chapter books, I noticed it’s become even harder to find things that mirror his experience than when he was younger. Even if I can find something Asian, there seem to be more books about Asians in Asia than about Asian Americans. There’s not enough ethnic diversity and I’ve never once found a book on Taiwan, where my family is from. Then, add to that, there’s still so few books about Mixed kids.
Years ago, I wrote an essay for Racism Review, “My Child Has Experienced Racism (And Yours Probably Has Too)”, about discrimination in children’s book publishing and my son not seeing himself in his reading materials. My son was in preschool then. He’s a third grader now. Not much has changed.
The Children’s Cooperative Book Center (CCBC) has been tracking diversity in children’s books since 1985; books by and about Asian/Pacific and Asian/Pacific Americans, specifically, since 1994. In 2017, a picture book character was two times more likely to be a rabbit than an Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American child. Of the books depicting Asian/Pacific/American children, only 39.5% were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage. The CCBC has never counted depictions of Mixed Race children and authorship by Mixed Race people at all.
A little depressing, sure. But also energizing. There are holes that need filling, and I’m here to fill them. So, I am starting a Book Club and here’s how it will work. Since my focus is mirroring and representation, all the titles I explore will be about people and children. I will not be looking at books about animals or inanimate objects.
I will focus specifically on Asian/American and Mixed kids in literature because that’s my lived experience and my family’s lived experience. But please remember all youth of color and authors of color are facing barriers in literature and publishing. Where I can, I’ll collect resources on books about other groups of color. There’s simply a time issue.
For my Book Club, I will generate three types of content:
- Roundups. Free. Blog posts (right here!) looking at youth titles around a theme. Might be praise, might not. Themes will be picked using a feminist, anti-racist, decolonizing lens.
- Reviews. For subscribers. One exceptional Asian/American youth book per month. Titles will reflect Asian and Asian Mixed youth identities in nuanced, meaningful, authentic ways. Books about race and oppression, but also books about kids just being kids (esp. since children of color are often pigeonholed into stereotypes and not seen as being able to do everyday things). Also, as much ethnic diversity as possible, not just East Asian.
- Book Lists. For subscribers. Long lists, updated monthly. Available as PDFs. Two lists currently: “Sharon’s Asian Booklist” and “Sharon’s MIXED Booklist.” “Sharon’s Asian Booklist” only includes titles by Asian/American authors (#OwnVoices); bonus if illustrators are People of Color. Unfortunately, not enough titles to do the same for multiracial children. So, “Sharon’s MIXED Booklist” includes authors and illustrators of all backgrounds but #OwnVoices is indicated and specially indexed where it exists.
My Book Club will not be comprehensive or exhaustive, but it will be intersectional, feminist, and anti-racist. I will bring forward titles that speak to me. No fetishizing, exotifying, or stereotyping of Asian cultures allowed. Also, no discrimination towards marginalized identities inside and outside our communities (transphobia, ableism, misogyny, anti-blackness, anti-Muslim hate, etc.).
Politicizing our children—by validating their identities and others—should be a priority if we care about justice and change. But as time has shown me, it doesn’t just happen on its own. Raising the next generation is revolutionary work and I renew my commitment to it. I’m enjoying collecting kids’ books again wearing a radical set of glasses. Come join me.