Much to my dismay, I found that there weren't very many good pieces of children's literature that had Asian American heroes. I brought this up to my professor who was actually the chair of the program and she herself was surprised. Nobody had ever brought this issue to her attention.
Although the world of children's literature has great books that represent "diversity", Asian Americans are often left out. The issues & experiences of different minority groups greatly differ from one to the next.
The books I did find were often not written by Asian authors. They often resembled bulky textbooks and were not very attractive to children or even for adults. The ones that were attractive often took place in some distant place that the average Asian American child would not be able to relate to. For example, I found one book that took place in a Japanese internment camp in the U.S. and another that took place in China where the characters were all wearing traditional attire.
In my graduate career, I was not only one of the youngest graduates in my class, but I was also one of the few Asians in the field. My Professor told me that it was my duty to create a children's book. I casually laughed it off and said, "I can't draw.". Professor Z. told me that shouldn't stop me. Guess what... It didn't.
Growing up, my favorite picture book was about a boy in China that played with his panda bear. I can't remember the name of the book or what it was exactly about, but it was my favorite because the boy resembled what I looked like. I had never been to China, and neither had my parents.
My father was also instrumental in getting me moving on this project. Even years after graduation, he would cut out articles or pictures of other successful children's books. He would say things like, "Look at this. This book is about this stupid little mouse and it sold 10 million copies. The mouse isn't even cute!"
In the end, Saturdays in Chinatown was finished. It's a story about a boy from the suburbs who makes his weekly trip to Chinatown. He goes to Chinese school to learn Chinese, plays in the park with his friends and runs errands with his family.
He wears jeans and sneakers. The "Chinatown Kid" , you will find to be the typical "American kid". We are after all American. I wanted to break down the stereotypes that are often associated with Asian Americans. I thought what better way than at a child's age?
The book is finally for sale. Available in the CICF shop and will be on our website shortly.
Other locations that are carrying our book or will be carrying our book:
Queens Dance Project
East Meets West