New Trends in Transnational Asian Children’s Books

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

A couple of weeks ago, I (Yoo Kyung) celebrated a student’s cross-departmental achievement. At the dinner in honor of this achievement, the strawberry ice cream prompted those at my table to share their “favorite” things. With my reputation as a teacher of children’s literature courses at a local university, my table-mates asked what my five favorite children’s books were. Then someone asked me, “Do you think children’s books in this country are getting better or worse?”

new trends in transnational Asian children's books, The Name Jar Choi, My Name Is Yoon Recorvits, Baseball Saved Us Mochizuki, The Bracelet Uchida

This was a genuine question asked by a parent who is pretty familiar with children’s books. In response, I told my table about my concern for advocates of diverse books for children in the U.S. With these concerns, I shared some positive observations I have made about recent U.S. Asian children’s books, such as new trends in transnational Asian children’s books in terms of quality of diverse books.

This episode at the dinner table lends itself to the topic for the WOW Currents this month. I wanted to discuss these new trends in transnational Asian children’s books beyond the dinner table. I continued thinking about this topic and shared with Junko Sakoi. More specifically, this month’s WOW Currents will discuss new patterns in children’s books that Junko and I both identify as our cultures and our home countries — children’s books about Korea and Japan in the U.S. Further, we will discuss shared experiences of Asian cultures in children’s books beyond Japan and Korea. We recognize representational excellence of nearly-disregarded historical contexts in Asia that we feel close connections to as U.S. Asians.

Many people are familiar with books like The Name Jar (2001) by Yangsook Choi, My Name Is Yoon (2003) by Helen Recorvits, Baseball Saved Us (1993) by Ken Mochizuki, The Bracelet (1993) by Yoshiko Uchida and many more. These books were published in the 1990s and 2000s, which was a prosperous time period for academic discussions around multicultural literature. Rudin Bishop and Violet Harris, Joel Texel, Mingshui Cai, Elaine Aoki, Rosalina B. Barrera and others opened the door and challenged ideas of multicultural literature in the ’90s through the 2000s. The books from this time period have become classics in multicultural literature.

Sometimes because of these “classics,” newer Asian-culture books don’t get much attention. The classic multicultural books in classrooms seem to meet minimum requirement for diversity reading material. This month, we focus on and introduce new books about Asian children released within past three years. We will discuss the new trends in transnational Asian children’s books and what they indicate in classroom practice.

We start next week with new books about Korea and Korean people in diasporic and universal contexts. On the third week, we will discuss changes and patterns in books about Japan with a focus on historical and contemporary circumstances, since many of books about Japanese-Americans have focused on WWII experiences. The last two weeks of October, we will list additional books that may help us to think of atypical U.S. Asian experiences and the perspectives of Chinese-adoptees, Taiwanese-Americans, and Vietnamese-Americans, which will draw attention to internal diversity rather than the expansive concept of “Asian-Americans.” Over the entire month we will highlight new authors and illustrators whose works add richer cultural diversity to books in the U.S.

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