Growing Up Chinese-American: Books for Young Readers
When I was growing up in the ’70s there was very little in the way of books that reflected who I was—a first generation Chinese-American girl living in New York City. My parents spoke Chinese, but I spoke English fluently and very little Chinese. Even today, I speak what I call “Baby Chinese.” I ate NYC public school lunches, so my favorite foods were (and still are) pizza and ice cream, but I had a traditional Chinese dinner each night. I went to “English” school during the week and “Chinese” school on Saturdays. I also LOVED to read and read everything I could get my hands on, but I could never see myself in the books from school or in the library.
I remember reading (and now I’m dating myself even more) the Sue Barton series, all the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators and Nancy Drews. I remember loving Andy Buckram’s Tin Men by Carol Ryrie Brink, which started my love of science fiction. I flew through the Oz books and cried over books by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Louisa May Alcott. Yes, there were books set in China or about Chinese children, such as Arlene Mosel’s Tikki Tikki Tembo and Claire Huchet Bishop’s The Five Chinese Brothers, but they did not reflect my life. My 4th grade teacher gave me The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (I was a good reader), but that was definitely not me. I don’t think I got past the first chapter at that point, but I did read it as an adult and enjoyed it. It wasn’t until I was in 7th grade, when Laurence Yep’s Child of the Owl was published in 1977, that I finally saw myself in a book.
Now, Chinese American kids don’t have to wait years until they can see themselves and their culture reflected in the books they find on the library shelves. The following is just a short list of authors and series that come to mind.
- Yin Yang Compestine - D is for Dragon Dance; Crouching Tiger
- Ted Lewin - Big Jimmy's Kum Kau Chinese Take Out
- Grace Lin - very prolific author, the following is just a few of her titles: The Ugly Vegetables, Dim Sum for Everyone, Fortune Cookie Fortunes
- Roseanne Thong - Gai See: what you see in Chinatown; Red is a Dragon; Round is a Mooncake;
- Belle Yang - Hannah is My Name
- Grace Lin - Ling and Ting series - a set of twins who look alike, but have very different personalities.
- Fran Manushkin - Katie Woo series - the everyday adventures of a little girl who just happens to be Chinese.
- Andrea Cheng - Year of the Book, Year of the Baby, Year of the Fortune Cookie - stories of Anna and her family and friends.
- Lenore Look - Alvin Ho series - Alvin is afraid of EVERYTHING; Ruby Lu series - confident Ruby is not afraid of anything.
- Grace Lin - Year of the Dog; Year of the Rat; Dumpling Days - the stories of Pacy, a young Taiwanese-American girl.
- Lisa Yee - Bobby vs Girls (Accidentally); Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) - Bobby Ellis-Chan is an average 4th grader with a former football player for a dad and a GIRL as a best friend.
- Grace Lin - Where the Mountain Meets the Moon; Starry River of the Sky - Lin takes Chinese folktales and weaves them together into something brand new.
- Wendy Wan-Long Shang - The Great Wall of Lucy Wu - Lucy thinks 6th grade is going to be perfect until she finds out that her great-aunt is coming from China and she'll have to share her room.
- Lisa Yee - Millicent Min, Girl Genius; Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time - Millicent hides her academic ability to make a friend while also trying to tutor Stanford the school's prize basketball player.
- Laurence Yep - a very prolific author, best known for the titles in his historical fiction series: Golden Mountain Chronicles, which includes Dragonwings & Dragon's Gate; he also wrote the Chinatown Mysteries series.