AsAmNews National Correspondent
Finding good books for his daughter Natalie has become a mission for Joe Lieman.
He describes himself as a 1.5 generation parent of a 2nd gen Asian American.
“I don’t want my daughter to turn into a self-hating White worship girl one day, this is my worst nightmare,” said Lieman who is from Los Angeles. “Finding Asian American books is not easy. We tried the public library but they don’t have books specifically for AA kids.”
An ongoing survey by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that over the last 20 years, 1-3 percent of children’s books have been by or about Asian Americans. Asian Americans now make up close to 6 percent of the U.S. population.
“If Asian American characters aren’t in the pages, what kind of world are the parents sharing with their child?,” asked Oliver Chin, Publisher of Immedium. Founded in 2005, Immedium is an independent publisher of Asian American children’s picture books. “Does that mean Asians are invisible, don’t belong, or unimportant in the real world? Does that mean Asians’ experiences, attitudes, or cultures are not worth reading or learning about? Parents need to externally validate their children, and want to share books that help them do so.”
It’s latest book is The Year of the Rooster, the finale of a picture book series on each of the animals from the Chinese zodiac.
The Year of the Rooster tells the story of how a young animal grows up, enters society, confronts stereotypes and ultimately walks his own path to discover his true character.
“It is probably the longest Asian American children’s book series ever, especially accounting for consecutive years, said Chin. “It is gender balanced, introducing 6 female and 6 male protagonists. As a parable, it is ethnically inclusive, as all the animals interact with each other, and in the same world with people.Everyone has to learn how to get along.”
The Year of the Rooster is in Chinese and English and is attempt to fill the void of bilingual books as more and more public and private schools launch Chinese language programs. Immedium says it looks to publish more bilingual books in the future especially for titles which are culturally specific.
The series is quite different from more well known, but less culturally accurate portrayal of Asian Americans in children’s literature. Five Chinese Brothers originally published in 1938, remains a strong seller even today.
“However, the brothers are drawn with fluorescent yellow skin and slanted eyes that never open,” said Chin. “Of course, they all look alike so no one can tell them apart.”
A fairy tale ending for Immedium would be to see a proliferation of Asian American children’s literature with accurate and positive portrayals, but unfortunately that ending won’t be easy to achieve. Chin says Publishers don’t see themselves selling more books because there might be Asian American characters in them. The Asian American population, while growing, remains relatively small. If you are looking for a reason to be optimistic, on the adult side, authors such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan have proven there’s an appetite for good books about Asian Americans.
“Access to Asian media and books is important for my daughter so she can have role models that look like her,” said Lieman, the Asian American parent introduced at the start of this story. “It is my duty to help her to reach her full potential.”
You can check out the full catalogue of Immedium books at Immedium.com.
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