Celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month with #ELKReads

By the Elkridge Branch staff

It seems especially vital to raise up and celebrate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) this year, during the increased violence and harassment faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the United States. Racist attacks fueled by fear and hatred, especially surrounding the pandemic, have been on the rise in 2020 and 2021, including here in Howard County. We must all stand together against hatred and work to protect and honor the rich cultural heritage of the AAPI community. Reading “own voices” stories about the life experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is a good starting point for increasing our understanding and appreciation of the AAPI community. See our suggestions aimed at readers of all ages, and keep an eye on our Facebook page for more titles as well.

The collage includes: Good Night Friend by Nidhi Chanani, against a blue background, a white circle shows an illustration of two children and some animals. Lift by Min Lê has a lush jungle with the word LIFT in all caps tilted across the center with a girl and her cat sitting in the doorway of the "I". The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin illustrative cover has soft drawings of a girl and her mom working in a garden. On the bottom of the collage: Toddler Two by Anastasia Suen shows two small children, one on a bicycle and one with a striped ball. Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet by Sanae Ishida has a watercolor painting of a bamboo stand with the title character.  Drawn Together by Minh Lê shows a young boy hugging an older man with all sorts of imaginative images in the background.

For Little Kids

Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet: An Adventure with Little Kunoichi the Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida

Will Chibi Samurai find a special pet just for him? Join the adventure in this second beautiful picture book in the three-part Little Kunoichi series. Meet all kinds of creatures familiar in Japanese culture throughout this playful tale, and find out more about Japanese animals and culture with special notes at the end of the story.

Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat 

Where can an elevator take you? Join your little one on their adventure with Iris, a little girl who loves to press the elevator buttons to go up or down the building where she lives. After the button accidently breaks, Iris is able to save it from the trash, and the elevator button takes her on new adventures in her room.

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin  (also available as an eBook on CloudLibrary)

In this charming story about celebrating differences, a Chinese-American girl wishes for a garden of bright flowers instead of one full of bumpy, ugly vegetables, but her mother assures her that “these are better than flowers.” Once it’s time to harvest, the whole neighborhood agrees that those ugly vegetables turn into the most delicious soup! A recipe at the end invites readers to try their hand at making their own tasty vegetable soup.

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar shows several characters in silhouette, including one holding the Indian flag, and one character above the title facing forward amidst a background of colorful flowers.  Cilla-Lee Jenkins:  Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan depicts a girl with raised arms in front of a door from which fantastical creatures are emerging, including a dinosaur and a unicorn.  Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung shows a blue fish in a fishbowl surrounded by goldfish.  Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence shows the title character holding a plate of mochi, dressed in a pink tutu and crown.  My Beijing:  Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun shows a character on a bike carrying a small child in front, with statuary, trees, and a building in the background.  Frazzled:  Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes by Booki Vivat shows a  frazzled-looking character in yellow pants and an orange shirt, reaching out in the direction of a gray cat.

For Big Kids:

Cilla-Lee Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

With a new baby sibling on the way, spunky eight-year-old Cilla will make sure her family can’t forget about her. She vows to become a famous bestselling memoirist before the baby arrives. Being both Chinese and Caucasian is an essential part of Cilla’s family and her life story. Sincerely touching and irresistibly funny, this is the first book in an excellent three-part series.

Frazzled: Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes by Booki Vivat

Abbie has big plans for the school year, such as running for class president. She’s also thrilled to have her own shiny new locker – that is, until she finds out she has to share it with someone else. Follow the frazzled life of Abbie Wu as she navigates the hazards of middle school in this fast-paced title filled with adventures and doodles.

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung

Chloe Cho has always wondered why her parents will NEVER talk about their lives in Korea before moving to the United States. Other people’s parents are thrilled when their kids ask questions about their lives, but Chloe’s parents just dodge and change the subject. As Chloe enters seventh grade, she is excited to learn that she will have a Korean American teacher who can finally help her learn more about her heritage, but what she learns is VERY different from what she imagined, leading to a whole different set of questions.

The cover of You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins depicts a woman dancer in muted pastel colors.  The cover of Frankly in Love by David Yoon is in stylized letters in shades of green, blue, and turquoise against a yellow background.  The cover of Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay shows a character in a black shirt against a peach background, with flames behind him and erupting from his two outstretched hands.  The cover of The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen depicts the main character, Tiến, wearing an oversized bomber jacket and holding a book that he is reading, against a background of a mermaid-like fairy tale character.  The cover of Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed depicts a girl against a pink floral background, holding a camera and pointing it at the viewer as she looks through the lens.  The cover of Almost American Girl by Robin Ha depicts the title character, a teenage Korean girl, walking into a classroom and holding books, turning back to look at the viewer, with students in desks all face-forward and looking at her.

For Teens:

Frankly in Love by David Yoon (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook on Libby/OverDrive)

Frank Li is a high school senior trying to balance his parents’ expectations of him as a first-generation Korean American, and their racism, with his own dreams and desires. He sets up an elaborate plan to start dating a white girl without his parents knowing but ends up finding his heart pulling him in a different direction. As he faces unexpected obstacles, Frank must figure out what is most important to him and how he can best help all those he loves.

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (also available as an eBook on Libby/OverDrive)

Jay is preparing to graduate high school and attend the University of Michigan in the fall, but his plans take a turn when he learns that his Filipino cousin Jun was killed as part of the president’s war on drugs. With his family refusing to discuss what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines himself to find out the truth. In this captivating story, Jay has to work through more than he expected to find the full truth and his own peace.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook on OverDrive, and as an audiobook on CD)

In this sweeping novel, author Mitali Perkins draws on her own experiences as an immigrant to the United States to give readers a look into the life of one family across generations. Hear from alternating narrators in the Das family as they experience defining moments during their adolescences, spanning decades and continents. Each woman brings her own views and strengths to the story as she works to find her way through the challenges that face her.

The cover of They Called Us Enemy by George Takei shows young George in line behind his parents at a Japanese-American concentration camp during World War II, with a fence and an armed guard in the distance.  The cover of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo shows a woman in elegant dress, lying on her side with her arm outstretched in front of her, with magenta flowers, green leaves, and glistening gold stars creating a muted, magical effect in the foreground.  The cover of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See shows a girl peering through several branches in the foreground of the picture, all in shades of orange and green.  The cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a black and white photograph of one person embracing another from behind.  The cover of L.A. Son:  My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi shows the author in an L.A. baseball cap, with newspapers plastering the walls behind him, pointing at the title of the book.  The cover of All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung shows a brown branch with four white blossoms against a purple background, with the branch weaving through the white lettering of the title.

For Adults:

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook on CloudLibrary, and an eBook and an eAudiobook on Libby/OverDrive)

Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a moving title about class, race, love, and the power of storytelling. Written in the form of a letter to his illiterate mom, Little Dog – our speaker – recounts his family’s history from before he was born, using it as a gateway to expose parts of his own life that his mother has never known. With a stunning rawness and grace to its prose, this is an intimate, striking portrait of the Vietnamese immigrant experience.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

In the Chinese community of 1890s Malaya, Li Lan, the 17-year-old daughter of a struggling merchant, accepts an offer from the wealthy Lim family to become a ghost bride to their recently deceased son, ensuring her a future of comfort and respect as the widow of a man she never knew. What she expects to be her uneventful new life takes an unexpected turn as she finds herself haunted by her ghost husband and drawn into the land of the dead. Hunted by vengeful spirits and assisted by creatures of legend, Li Lan must solve the mystery of her husband’s death and find her way back to the land of the living. By weaving together both history and mythology, Choo creates an enchanting and atmospheric fantasy adventure.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (also available as an eBook on OverDrive)

They Called Us Enemy is a graphic novel memoir written by famed Star Trek actor George Takei. Detailing his family’s internment during WW2, it explores the tough choices made by his parents during this dark time of sanctioned racism. Though he was just a child at the time, Mr. Takei’s insights explore his feelings of betrayal and injustice during this harsh chapter of American history.

The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. Our staff are always happy to help you with your questions about books, tools, technology, and more!

Rainbow Reads for Children, Part Two

The cover shows two pairs, each with a rabbit and a chick. The chick in the most prominent pair is vocalizing the word "Neither" in a speech bubble, referring to the baby animal in the foreground, who is "neither" rabbit nor chick. but a blend of both, with the legs, beak, and wings of a chick and the ears and tail of a rabbit.

 Reviews by Laci R.

Welcome back! It may be July but I’m still thrilled to share some more of my favorite LGBTQ+ picture books with you. Please be sure to check out Part One of my suggestions so you can enjoy the full list.  

Maiden & Princess by Daniel Haack is a modern fairy tale about a strong and brave maiden invited to attend the Prince’s royal ball. She isn’t terribly excited about attending, but with a little nudging from her mother, she decides to go. The maiden makes quite the impression on the guests and even finds love when she meets the Princess. One of my favorite things about this book how it truly celebrates lesbian love, as none of the characters respond with “it’s forbidden” rhetoric. This bedtime favorite offers a lovely alternative to the predictable royal courting fairy tales. Pair with Prince & Knight by the same author.

We Love Someone We Sing to Them / Cuando Amamos Cantamos by Ernesto Martinez offers a heartwarming, bilingual story of a young boy who loves another boy. He shares this with his father and together they write the young boy’s crush a traditional serenata. The lyrical prose and whimsical art made me cry with beautiful depictions of supportive family relationships, cultural traditions, and falling in love for the first time. The lyrics to the songs are words you feel deep in your soul, as they solidify the undeniable power associated with expressing love through music (a personal safe haven of mine). “He says that gardens like mine, even through droughts, have persisted. He says that gardens like mine have always existed.” 

I’m always drawn to stories that celebrate not fitting into a certain mold based on societal views and perceived norms. A few great examples include: 

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall tells about a crayon who was labeled incorrectly at the factory and so is mistaken for the wrong color. This label confuses the crayon in question as he clearly draws every picture in blue. Many other crayons try to help him be red, but no matter how creative a suggestion, it doesn’t work. After a new friend arrives, things start to feel different for Red as he realizes he’s been blue all along and can live a fulfilling life just the way he is. A life where he doesn’t have to force himself to be something he’s not, just because of the packaging he was given. A great look at gender identity.  
 
Neither by Airlie Anderson takes places in the land of This and That, where the only two things that exist are blue bunnies and yellow birds. What happens when a green egg hatches revealing a new friend who isn’t quite a bunny or a bird? After struggling to fit in with each group, Neither decides to journey to find a new home and happens upon the Land of All – a place with many colors and shapes representing creatures of all kinds. This book does a great job at promoting diversity and teaching that differences can unite us. It’s also a wonderful way to introduce the topic of being non-binary.  

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian features two worms who are in love and excited to get married. As they plan the wedding, all the other bugs and insects in town are ready to help and give their opinions. They offer endless suggestions based on tradition. Who will wear the dress? What about the tux? It’s quickly decided that those details don’t matter. All that matters is that worm loves worm and, in their love, they create a new way of having a wedding that is right for them. Seeing a child cheering for these worms through the light in their eyes, alone, makes it worth reading aloud.  
 
I hope these titles help to introduce or continue the conversation about the LGBTQ+ community and all the reasons they should celebrate and be celebrated this month and always. Books that show LGBTQ+ characters in everyday settings diversify your reading collection while teaching compassion and love. I certainly wish more books like this were around when I was a kid, but I’m thankful to report that some of the mentioned books have helped me, as an adult, solidify layers of my own queerness. I’m learning every day how to embrace who I am and what it means to be me. I see myself in these books, and that is invaluable. There is so much joy to be found in being true to oneself, which is always something worth celebrating.  

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.