This article is part of Mochi’s Fall 2022 issue on politics. In the late ’60s, the slogan “The personal is political” came out of a second-wave feminist movement, presenting an alternative thought that politics is about one’s dignity and agency. As Asian Americans, we know this to be true, since even our identities are political. In this issue, we talk about what politics mean to us — from the politics of our identities to political dynamics in our relationships and communities. Check out the rest of our issue here! And if you like what you are reading, please support us by buying us a boba through Ko-fi.
In anticipation of the new school year, Mochi Mag has been reading books for kids and reminiscing about simpler days. If you have any avid young readers in your life, pass along some of these books with Asian American representation, and let us know what they think!
“Doubly Happy: ABCs for ABCs” by Anna Wong (Anna Wong: Feb. 15, 2022, ages 8+)
If you think ABC books are just for toddlers, think again. Graphic designer Anna Wong wrote and illustrated “Doubly Happy: ABCs for ABCs” to celebrate her identity as an American-born Chinese. Wong takes readers through the alphabet, pairing each letter with objects related to Chinese traditions, symbols, and inventions. Most objects — like boba, lanterns, and tea — will be familiar, while others may surprise you. (Did you know the Chinese invented kites, umbrellas, and wheelbarrows?)
Each page includes poetic and informative descriptions, and vibrant illustrations add visual whimsy to keep readers engaged. Poems with a playful cadence will end up being dinnertime chants, like the one for chopsticks: “Hold them right, don’t be rude. Not too tight to pick up food.” A few may be slightly more complex for young readers, like the description for the Five Elements Theory: “Yin Yang / The foundation of interactions complementary and opposite reactions.” Thankfully, the book includes a glossary with more context about each item.
Writing the book was a personal venture for Wong during the peak of anti-Asian hate crimes. As she selected objects, she drew on childhood memories, but also challenged herself to research unknown areas of her culture. In the same way, this book inspires ABCs to celebrate and explore their double heritage, and encourages all readers to discover where their culture has been and how to make it their own moving forward. — Melody Ip
“Hundred Years of Happiness” by Thanhhà Lai, illustrated by Nguyên Quang and Kim Liên (HarperCollins: April 5, 2022, ages 4-8)
As our loved ones age, we often extend bids to keep them in the present: “Who am I? What is this? Where are we right now?” In this book, however, an elderly man attempts to rekindle memories with his wife from years past. Ông is sharp and lucid, while his wife, Bà, drifts in and out of the present. Ông brings his granddaughter, An, into his plan of planting gấc seeds—a plant from Ông and Bà’s childhood that requires patience and intensive care, eventually producing a deep orange fruit often used for a sticky rice dessert.
Thanhhà Lai’s tender story is about the love between two life partners as much as it is about the connection between grandparents and grandchildren. An learns more about her grandparents while she works alongside Ông to nurture the gấc seeds into fruit. The book spans decades, as the gấc fruit transports Ông and Bà to earlier times — their childhood, courtship, Ông’s house in Vietnam, their wedding. Together with Nguyên Quang and Kim Liên’s stunning illustrations of winding vines and blooms, the book uses the life cycle of the gấc fruit to parallel our own life and death cycle — and the beauty of each stage that comes in between.
While young readers may not be entirely cognizant of the aging process depicted in the book, they may recognize the signs in their own relatives — the blankness, confusion, and passing breaths of clarity — and be more equipped to comprehend and embrace the realities of aging. The story shows children the humanity and dignity of our loved ones, and values the precious memories that can be passed down through generations. Lai’s book reminds us that perhaps aging is less about keeping our loved ones with us, and more about honoring and sending them off with beautiful and delicious memories. — M.I.
“One Hundred Percent Me” by Renee Macalino Rutledge, illustrated by Anita Prades (Bloom Books for Young Readers: May 3, 2022, ages 4-8)
Throughout the book, readers follow a young girl of Puerto Rican and Filipina ancestry throughout her city, encountering people who comment on her facial features. She hears statements that many of us — as people of color, and especially those who are multiracial — have heard all our lives: “Where are you from?” “What are you?” “You look like [insert other person of color’s name here].” Each time, she learns to explain her heritage while also embracing that she is 100% herself, regardless of her ethnic makeup or which parent she resembles.
The author incorporates the language and culture of the girl’s heritage, using family names like tia and tio, lola and lolo, which readers may delight in recognizing. Toward the end of the book, the girl’s parents explain DNA testing and the results that reveal her even more expansive ancestry, widening her understanding that while we are all unique, we’re also connected.
As a parent who grew up with predominantly white book characters, the growing number of diverse children’s books are for us — the reader and the author — as much as they are for our kids. They fill gaps that we didn’t realize existed, reflecting experiences from our own childhood. Yet in doing so, the actual story may miss the mark on captivating the attention of the intended audience, as I felt this book did. However, the author’s goal for the book was to give young children words to explain their multiracial heritage and to claim their belonging in a world that constantly seeks to define them — and she does this successfully. This book will leave readers of all ages celebrating their multiracial beauty and uniqueness. — M.I.
“Astrid & Apollo” by V.T. Bidania, illustrated by Dara Lashia Lee (Capstone: ages 6-8; Aug. 1, 2022)
V.T. Bidania, a Twin Cities-based author, created this series about Hmong American twins in 2020 and recently released four new books. Now in its twelfth book, the series tells slice-of-life stories in bite-sized chapters: Astrid and Apollo go camping with their dad and get scared about bugs and the dark; they celebrate Hmong New Year and get separated from their family; they try to figure out what snack their little sister, Eliana, is asking for when she cries at the soccer tournament.
These stories are reminiscent of series like Mary Pope Osborne’s “Magic Tree House” and Lyla Lee’s “Minky Kim.” The kid-protagonist energy is strong — and doubly so! And what makes “Astrid & Apollo” special is that Bidania drew on the Hmong community’s experiences living in Minnesota to write these stories. The stories aren’t explicitly about being Hmong, but it comes through so naturally in their everyday experiences, whether it’s through a flight to Laos for a wedding getting canceled, or a cousin persuading the twins to audition for her Hmong dance school. “Astrid & Apollo” is a great choice for young readers who are beginning to read on their own, since the twins speak the language of kids, but getting to learn about Hmong culture is a bonus! — Yvonne Su
“Buddha and the Rose” by Mallika Chopra, illustrated by Neha Rawat (Running Press Kids: ages 4-7; Sept. 6, 2022)
Buddhism rarely appears in children’s literature, especially picture books. Chopra’s text and Rawat’s illustrations do a wonderful job of distilling meditation, a Buddhist practice, into something kids can picture. The book isn’t a story in the sense of having a protagonist and a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, it follows a narrator as she pays attention to the breathing of those around her. She sees a rose and uses her five senses to experience it fully.
The rose leads her to feeling connected to the universe. She feels “the warmth of the sun on the dirt, […] the insects feeding the soil.” The book is an invitation to open one’s eyes (metaphorically) and truly see the universe. “Buddha and the Rose” is perfect as an introduction to mindfulness and activating the senses by closing one’s eyes and truly absorbing the surroundings as they are, taking in the full measure of the moment. Parents may like this book for teaching kids how to process and sit with strong emotions and stay grounded. — Y.S.
“Adrift” by Tanya Guerrero (Farrar Straus Giroux: ages 8-12, Sept. 6, 2022)
Cousins Coral and Isa are best friends, growing up on a tiny island in New York. Accustomed to being together nearly every day, the girls are heartbroken to be apart for several months as Coral and her parents embark on a sea voyage. When a storm capsizes the boat, we witness Coral’s fight for survival alone on a stranded island — and Isa’s resolve to bring Coral home.
Filipino Spanish author Tanya Guerrero alternates between writing from each girls’ point of view, completely nailing the chatter of teenage girls, but the two voices are mostly indistinguishable. We gain a sense of Coral’s personality — and even those of secondary characters — but primarily know Isa in relation to her response to the tragedy. Still, the book held me captive with Coral’s attempts at outdoor survival skills and the suspense of how the story would end.
At a deeper level, Guerrero dives into grief and its complex expressions in different people, reminding us that all responses require space and empathy. These themes entertain and engage readers and, as a bonus, teach us about the strength of family bonds and how to love one another well. — M.I.
“Making Happy” by Sheetal Sheth, illustrated by Khoa Le (Barefoot Books: Sept. 20, 2022, ages 4-7)
From the moment we meet young Leila in “Making Happy,” she is inwardly struggling to comprehend changes in her household after her mom’s cancer diagnosis. The picture book depicts the illness through a child’s eyes: the wig and scarves that now cover her mom’s head, the lingering stares of strangers, her mom’s absences. Leila bargains with a higher power for her mom’s recovery by committing to eat her vegetables and do chores.
When Leila’s emotions erupt over an overturned glass of water, Leila’s parents validate her feelings and then invite her to “make happy.” For Leila’s family, this means dancing, tossing pillows, and making a mess. These moments of “making happy” are a turning point in the book as Leila begins to connect with her parents and classmates, welcoming them into her sorrow and transforming it into uplifting actions.
The concept of “making happy” was, in fact, the catalyst for this book, written at a time when author Sheetal Sheth was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Through this story, Sheth normalizes big feelings like sadness and anger, while also teaching courage, resilience, and joy. Conversations between characters are honest, simple, and sweet, giving kids permission to express their deepest feelings, even in the face of uncertainty. Readers also will be charmed by illustrator Khoa Le’s jewel-toned floral motif, woven into fabrics and splashed across backgrounds, reflecting the story’s duality of sadness and joy. This is a refreshing and visually striking read for anyone seeking a perspective that addresses the rawness of hardship, while also emphasizing the power of “making happy” during trials. — M.I.
“Brown is Beautiful” by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Noor Sofi (Farrar Straus Giroux: ages 4-8; Oct. 4, 2022)
A young Indian American girl and her grandparents set off on a day hike, marveling at wild animals, trees, and natural formations, in all shades of brown. Warm, earth-tone scenes transport readers into the outdoors, getting down to eye level with marching ants, sitting on a gnarled tree branch to witness a majestic storm, watching a family of bears from afar, and sailing sticks down a river into a cave. The book ends with the pages of a scrapbook showing photos, drawings, and leaves from the excursion — for the girl, but also for her newborn baby brother.
The book is more than just an ode to nature. Kelkar connects characteristics of nature’s wonders to the color brown: beauty, strength, courage, kindness, wisdom. She takes an important message of self-love and gently affirms it through soothing, uplifting rhymes. Brown no longer becomes just a neutral color that is often overlooked or deemed ugly — it becomes something to celebrate, to take pride in.
Growing up in the Midwest, Kelkar remembers comments and even laughter about her skin color. Brown skin wasn’t celebrated in American books and Hindi movies she watched as a child, and skin lightening creams sold among the South Asian diaspora promoted colorist ideals. The message she received was that brown wasn’t beautiful. But with this book, Kelkar promotes a new message — that brown is beautiful, around you and also within you. — M.I.
- Melody Ip
Melody Ip is the managing editor for Mochi magazine and a freelance copy editor/writer when she's not singing along to movie soundtracks with her three kids. She loves the trees and rain of the Pacific Northwest, still sends handwritten letters, and always has at least five books on her nightstand.
- Yvonne Su
Yvonne Su is a writer and Arts and Culture editor for Mochi Magazine. She is a copywriter and teacher. In her free time, she assembles meals with 714 Mutual Aid, makes zines with Bayanihan Kollective, and writes book reviews for LibroMobile. She also manages the Instagram account @babesagainstthevirus and is part of the local Sister District group.
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Last modified: December 9, 2022