Recently I had a very thoughtful, open discussion about the importance of children, especially Asian children, feeling represented and celebrated at schools. Growing up in the public school system in the 90’s, I was not exposed to much literature about my culture. I remember reading all the Classics during Read Alouds in my elementary classroom but rarely did I see main characters in books who represented and looked like me, spoke like me, or ate the things that I ate when I went home.
When I became a teacher and did some research on my own, I realized how much children literature that celebrates Asian cultures are really out there!
If you are a teacher and you have students who are Asian, please expose them to books of characters that represent them. As humans, we all have the need to be acknowledged and “seen”, truly seen as who we are. Children are the same. They need to know that others share their experiences and that their culture is worthy of being celebrated and shared in the classroom as other cultures do! Even if you don’t have Asian students in your classroom, please find some time to read these as well to enrich your students with knowledge and understanding of the world around them.
With that being said, I would like to share with you some of my favorite books that celebrate Asian cultures for the primary grades.
This book hits home for me. Just as the author, I was too a Vietnamese refugee. I share so much of her personal experiences of growing up as a Vietnamese American and growing up in a new country that is now home. The book is longer than the other books listed, but it is written as a diary in a poetry form and is simple to understand for children. I love this book and would recommend it for second graders and up and would use it to teach empathy, character traits, and making connections.
This sweet, rhyming book is about a little Korean girl who helps her mom prepare bee-bim bop, a dish with rice, meat, vegetables, and egg in a hot stone bowl. While your students will notice that there are differences between the food that the main character eats and them, there are still many similarities between them as well! Therefore, this book would be perfect for comparing and contrasting, making connections, and reading and writing procedural text!
Do you have students who bring food from home for lunch that is not the traditional American school lunch food? I remember packing some stir-fried noodles for the son one day when he was Pre-K. He had it for dinner and loved it so much that he requested I would pack the left-overs for him to eat at school. So I did just that and was so excited for him! When I picked him up, he said that his friends asked him why he was eating noodles and he said that he didn’t want to bring them to school anymore because it was different. When he said that, it broke my heart. Therefore, I love Yoko as it is a story of cat who brings sushi and red bean ice cream to school one day and is faced with questions and harsh words from her classmates. Reading this in the classroom will definitely allow for some good conversations about diversity, acceptance, and kindness!
This sweet story is about a little Korean boy who receives a letter from his grandma who lives in a town near Seoul. Through their correspondence, the reader gains a better understanding of where Juno’s grandma lives and the close relationship between the two of them. Not only does this book give young readers a peek into life in Korea, but it also encourages young readers to make text-to-self connections and is also a good segway for students to practice writing friendly letters to their own grandparents!
In this book, Aneel’s grandparents from India visits him and his grandfather, Dada-ji tells him some of the most wonderful and adventure-filled stories that he has ever heard. However, he figures that to have the same powers that his grandfather had as a kid, he has to learn to make and eat the hot, hot roti Dada-ji ate!
Children have always wondered about my name, Ha. Growing up, I always had kids question me about it and people still do when they first meet me, which I do not mind anymore. However, I wish so much that my teacher could have read this book to me when I was a kid as I was the one with the ethnically marked name and had secretly wanted to change my name. Now, I understand how my name has shaped me to be the person that I am today and how it is so much of my identify. If you have students who also have ethnically marked names, this book will help them to understand how special their name really is while it also helps other students to learn acceptance of differences.
This story is based on the author’s grandmother’s journey growing up in China and overcoming the traditional expectations of girls to become the person that she wanted to be. I love this book because not only does it speak of Chinese traditions and culture, it also has a positive message for little girls! After reading this, students may write and share their wish for themselves and their dream of what they want to be when they grow up.
Have you ever tried dim sum before? It’s one of my favorite Asian dishes! Almost every Sunday, my family would go to a local Chinese restaurant to eat dim sum after church when I was a kid. The small dishes are dumplings filled with various meats and vegetables that are usually steamed or fried. They are flavorful, often served in mini bamboo steamers, and pushed around the restaurant in carts to patrons. I love dim sum, and I love that this easy-to- read book describes these beloved Chinese dishes to young learners in such simple and descriptive terms!
Set in the Hawaiian islands, this book describes how the main character celebrates New Year with her family. It is filled with descriptions, details, and examples of how different Asian cultures blend together to make up her family. Students can easily connect this text to their life as understand how we all share so many traditions from other cultures within our family as well!
With Chinese/Lunar New Year coming up, this time of year is the perfect time to introduce your students to Asian cultures as many local Asian restaurants and grocery stores will be decorated with red decorations and pictures of the new Zodiac sign. If you need a quick and meaningful read aloud, I highly suggest my personal favorite, Sam’s Lucky Money by Karen Chinn.
If you need resources to celebrate Chinese New Year with your students, click to the images below for more details.
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