Our December Shelfie comes to you from our Advisory Council member, Kait Feldmann. Kait joined Scholastic in May of 2014 and is an Editor at Orchard Books, where she is building a list of picture books and graphic novels. Kait is a proud hapa (mixed-race Chinese) and founding member of People of Color in Publishing. She is a strong advocate for diverse representation on and beyond the page and is particularly passionate about editing humorous and heartfelt stories featuring kids of color.
We talk a lot about the need for more racially diverse books in publishing. The statistics are upsetting and it’s undeniable that we need more representation of Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC). But it’s not just about equality in numbers, it’s also about equity in the stories represented. What kinds of books do we open the door for as gatekeepers? What are we telling BIPOC children about themselves in the stories that we give them?
The Diverse BookFinder's research has made it clear that there are harmful messages in the dominating patterns in books about BIPOC. Their data on Asian picture books, for example, illuminates that “Characters of Asian descent are most often depicted in stories focused on Asian cultures (Beautiful Life) or in traditional tales (Folklore)...an overemphasis on these kinds of stories may suggest that Asian people are 'foreign' or 'other,' or that Asian cultures existed only long ago and far away.”
I decided to focus on this takeaway for my post because it is the most personal for me. I’m mixed-race Chinese/white and grew up in Orlando, where I rarely saw people who looked like my Asian family. The other places where I could have seen this side of myself--on the page and on the screen--were also dismally lacking.
Don’t get me wrong, there are and always have been great picture books by and about Asians. My copy of ANNA’S SECRET FRIEND (1989) written by Yoriko Tsutsui and illustrated Akiko Hayashi was well-worn. And I think it’s no coincidence that my mother filled our bookshelves with the works of Mitsumasa Anno, Taro Yashima, Ed Young, Allen Say, and Taro Gomi, to name a few. But just because something has been done doesn’t mean it’s done. And despite all of the wonderful books by and about Asians that we could point to and say “Well what about…!”, the truth is they are still few and far between, especially compared to the disco party of mirror-books with white characters.
As an editor, I can say that the racially diverse picture books I see least of in my submission box are the stories I want most: Any Child stories where kids of color star in mischievous romps, whimsical adventures, and heartfelt narratives that explore the fears, flights, and fantasies of childhood. Below are a few Any Child Asian picture books that I feel embody this and would love to see more of on shelves!
A little girl uses her imagination and a light bulb to go on an adventure in a dark attic.
Perhaps my favorite picture book of all time, this wordless book follows a child into their imagination. It begins with the child’s shadow puppet taking flight; with each page-turn more and more shadows transform to match the child’s make-believe, and the shadows’ real life counterparts disappear as we become fully immersed in the child’s imagination. Suzy Lee has written and illustrated several other wordless books that are worth diving into as well-- including WAVE, MIRROR (2010), and LINES (2017)!
A little boy is excited about a trip to the beach with his parents planned for the following day...Then the storm arrives. At bedtime, he thinks, "I wish I had a ship with big propellers that would spin stronger winds to drive the storm away." While asleep, his wish becomes his dream, and he manages to blow away the dark clouds with his imaginary vessel. Then, to his delight, when he awakens, he finds his dream of clear blue skies has come true --from Publisher
This book follows a child who is dismayed when a brewing storm means cancelling the family beach trip they had been counting down to. Frustration turns to fear as the storm picks up, and one dashed dream turns into another dream about sailing into clear skies. I see this as a book about the storm inside--for young children, one perfectly planned dream gone awry can create the perfect storm of frustration, fear, and transformative imagination that launches fantastical journeys like the one in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. For more whimsical flights, also take a look at Miyakoshi’s THE TEA PARTY IN THE WOODS as well as THE NIGHT GARDENER (2016) and OCEAN MEETS SKY by The Fan Brothers.
A young girl wakes up to the year's first snowy day. From her initial glimpse out the window to her poignant adventures—rolling a snowman, making snow angels—the girl's quiet quests are ones all young readers will recognize. Simple, muted text and exquisite, evocative art conjure the excitement of a day spent exploring the wonder of snow—and the magic that, sometimes literally, such a day brings. -- publisher
This short and sweet picture book is about the radical joy of new discoveries and the wonderful imagination that it can inspire. This book feels like a delightful nod to SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, and also reminded me of UMBRELLA (1958) by Taro Yashima, SNOW DAY (2010) by Komako Sakai, and SNOW (1982) by Isao Sasaki.
A boy and his grandfather cross a language and cultural barrier using their shared love of art, storytelling, and fantasy.
A beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated story about a grandfather and grandchild who transcend their language barrier through their shared language of art and imagination. This book left me as it left its protagonists: speechless. I also love the imagination-fueled grandparent/grandchild in Tony Piedra’s THE GREATEST ADVENTURE (2018), which strikes heartfelt chords and leaves us wondering: if our imagination inspires us to feel something, doesn’t that make it real?
There are many great articles, speeches, and Twitter threads about how important it is for all kids to see themselves in the books they love (like Anne Sibley O’Brien’s recent post Every Day Books for Every Child), as well as plenty of resources for additional recommendations if you’re looking for further reading! In addition to checking out the rest of the Diverse BookFinder posts, here are some other great reads and resources: