Celebrate Asian American Heritage Month at your library this May. A book display can be assembled using the Asian/Pacifica American Awards for Literature. You can do crafts and activities that celebrate the culture, and you can incorporate books with Asian characters into your storytimes. Of course, this isn’t the only time you should spotlight Asian characters in your collection. Diverse books should be integrated year round so that children can see themselves reflected in books and become accepting of other cultures. The ALSC has a more articulate paper on this.

May celebrates Asian-Pacific American heritage. This includes cultures originating from the 48 states in  Asia, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia, New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island.

A congressional bill started in 1977 resolved that May would be Asian-Pacific Heritage Week, which President Carter changed to the whole month of May in 1978. May was chosen to “commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.” (Library of Congress)

10 Picture Books to Celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

Cora Cooks PancitCora Cooks Pancit by Dorina Lazlo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant. Shen’s Books, 2009.

Cora’s older siblings always get to help cook the pancit, a traditional Filipino dish. But everyone said Cora was still too young to help and gave her the easy helping jobs that really just kept her busy and weren’t that helpful. Cora wanted to be a real cook. When her older siblings go out shopping, she finally convinces her mother to let her cook pancit with her. Everyone in the family sits down to eat and remarks about how good Cora’s pancit is. She gets to wear her grandpa Lolo’s apron and her mother tells her stories of Lolo as they cook.

Fly FreeFly Free by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Enjin Kim Neilan. Boyds Mills Press, 2010. The Buddhist idea of samsara where past deeds come full circle is illustrated in this book. Mai wants to free the caged sparrows but doesn’t have enough money. She sings to them, ending with, “When you do a good deed, it will come back to you.” She gives a girl seeds to feed the birds. That girl passes on the good deed and it is paid forward throughout the whole village until a monk who has been helped by her chain of kindness pays to free the sparrows.

Good Fortune in a Wrapping ClothGood Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth by Joan Schoettler, illustrated by Jessica Lanan. Shen’s Books, 2011.

When Ji-su’s mother is summoned to leave to sew bojagi, traditional wrapping quilts, Ji-su has her aunt Gomo teach her how to sew bojagi so she can live at the king’s palace too and reunite with her mother. Tradition is threaded into the story and pictures and Korean family life is shown in the setting.

Yasmins HammerYasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Doug Ghayka. Lee & Low, 2010.

After a cyclone destroys Yasmin’s house and rice paddy in her rural village, Yasmin and her family move to the city in Bangladesh to try to earn enough money to build a new house. Her father drives a rickshaw, her mother works as a maid, and Yasmin and her sister have to hammer bricks into pieces. All Yasmin wants is to go to school so she can learn to read. This book shows the unity of a family trying to break out of poverty and child labor so they can get an education.

Hot Hot RotiHot Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min. Lee & Low, 2011.

Aneel likes when his grandparents stay over because his grandmother makes roti and his grandfather tells stories. The stories Dada-ji tells are tall tales of his childhood when his mother would make roti and people would come from all over to taste it. After Grandfather had a huge stack, he would get super human power and impress the villages by fighting water buffalos and tying cobras in knots. Aneel takes it upon himself, after no one will help, to make roti for his grandfather. This is a fun and playful story of love, appreciation and storytelling through the generations.

Monsoon  AfternoonMonsoon Afternoon by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi. Peachtree, 2008.

A boy notices the animals take cover and goes around his house asking various family members to come play with him outside in the monsoon. They all say no except for hi grandfather, Dadaji. They make origami boats and race them in a washtub, they swing from the banyon trees and dance in the rain. The little boy asks Dadaji if he did these things when he was a boy and imagines their shared traditions. This is a calm, lyrical and heart-warming story of the monsoons of India and the children who play in them every generation.

The Empty PotThe Empy Pot by Demi. Henry Holt, 1990.

The emperor decides to retire and recruit a replacement for himself based on his love of flowers. He gives each child a seed and tells them to look after it. However has the best plant in a year will take the throne. Ping has a green thumb but is upset when his loyalty and tenderness do not sprout a thing. However, he is honest and brings his empty pot back to the emperor. All the other children have elaborate and huge plants. Ping is rewarded for his honesty when the emperor reveals that he boiled all the seeds he handed out so they would not grow. This is a great book for teaching honesty, trying your best, and integrity.

Tan to TamarindTan to Tamarind by Malathi Michelle Iyengar, illustrated by Jamel Akib. Children’s Book Press, 2009.

This is a collection of beautiful poems celebrating cultures with brown skin. Each poem describes a different shade of brown. Fond family memories with descriptive sensory writing paint a picture almost better than the gorgeous paintings. This book will make kids proud of their heritage.

Wabi SabiWabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young. Little, Brown & Co., 2008.

A cat named Wabi Sabi tries to find out what his name means, but everyone says it’s too difficult to understand, while trying to explain it as an afterthought. Wabi Sabi journeys to the wise monkey who finally explains that Wabi Sabi is a Zen way of looking at simple and natural things as beautiful. It’s almost like mindfulness. Wabi Sabi returns home happy and highly aware of his beautiful but simple surroundings. The collage art is simple and natural and haikus written by the great Japanese haiku masters decorate the pages. Translations and explanations in the back of the book make it even more magical.

The Firekeepers SonThe Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Julie Downing. Clarion Books, 2004.

Sang-hee’s family lives in the furthest village from the king. They are right on the ocean and have to warn the others of any invaders. Each night, Sang-hee’s father lights a bonfire at the top of the mountain, the person on the next mountain lights his fire, and so on until the king knows the kingdom is safe. Sang-hee dreams of seeing the excitement of real soldiers.  One night, Sang-hee’s father gets hurt and Sang-hee has to be in charge of the fire. He feels the great responsibility, wrestles with the idea of not doing it so he can see real soldiers, and then enjoys being the man in charge.