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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.

D is for Dragon Dance
Big Jimmy's
Ugly Vegetables
Gai See

Picture books

Ling and Ting
Katie Woo

Easy books

Year of the Book
Alvin Ho
Ruby Lu
Year of the Dog
Bobby vs Girls

Young Readers

Goblin Pearls
Where the Mountain Meets the moon
Great Wall of Lucy Wu
Millicent Min



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Have to put in a plug for "In

Have to put in a plug for "In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson" by Bette Bao Lord.

In The Year of The Boar and Jackie Robinson

A great book by Betty Bao Lord that I read along with my young son many years ago. We are not Chinese Americans or first generation, but we really learned so much of the experience of America as "Unaccustomed Earth" for so many people through Ms. Lord's wonderful autobiography about growing up a fanatic Dodger fan in Brooklyn.

I second "In the Year of the

I second "In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson." One of my favorites and a big hit with the 4th graders I am reading it to.

Laurence Yep's "Paintbrush"

I read at a local school, and Laurence Yep's "The Magic Paintbrush" was a delightful surprise for my reading buddy who lives in Chinatown. My buddy usually preferred solving "Encyclopedia Brown" mysteries and not magical realism, but this book was clever and captivating.

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