In this episode we discuss some great books for children and parents written by Asian-American writers.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids.
May is Asian-American month. And I wanted to share some really great picture books written by some amazing people who are ethnically Asian. I’ve shared some books with you over the past episodes, such as Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey, one of my favorite books, and Tina Cho’s book My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshiping God Around the World, and I love those books.
Today, I want to focus on ones I have not talked about before. The first one is by Tina Cho, and it’s called Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans. This is a book about a missions opportunity that some South Korean people did to help feed the people in North Korea by sending balloons over the border with rice because so many people are starving in North Korea, and this was a way they could minister. It is based on a true story, is written by Tina Cho and illustrated by Keum Jin Song.
I want to share two very special books with you. They are both written by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat. And I’ve talked about Dan Santat before. He wrote After the Fall, the Humpty Dumpty story. In this case, he’s the illustrator in both of these books. Minh Le is of Vietnamese heritage and Dan Santat is from Thai heritage. He has a grandmother who was Thai. I just love this book. I can’t say too much about it. It is so wonderful. It’s called Drawn Together, and it’s about a little boy and his grandpa. He speaks English, and his grandfather speaks Thai. But what is so cool about this book and this next one I’m going to talk to you about is both of these, most of the story, or a lot of the story, is told in the pictures. You actually read the story and have to interpret the pictures. There’s very few words in the story, but in this first story Drawn Together, the little boy can’t communicate with his grandpa, and his grandpa can’t communicate with him. And they’re kind of bored and frustrated until the little boy decides to start drawing. And as he’s drawing, his grandpa runs and gets his sketch pad, and they both begin drawing pictures, and drawing pictures together, and connect through their drawing and storytelling. It’s so cool how that works out. And I just love the story. It’s very sweet. In fact, I will put a link to the YouTube video where Minh Le is actually reading the book to us and sharing the story behind it with us, because it is so special. So I’ll share that with you in the show notes, but both he and Dan Santat could relate to this story because they both had trouble communicating with their grandparent who spoke very little English.
The second book that they wrote together is called Lift. And I love this book because it reflects our own experience in our family. But in this book, a little girl, her job every day is to push the button on the elevator. She loves that job. She loves pushing that button, and no one else is supposed to do it, but she has a little brother. And as he grows up, he starts to take turns pushing the elevator button. And she gets very upset. The elevator man replaces the button and they have the cover from the elevator button in the trash. She grabs that, tapes it to her wall in her bedroom, and has a pretend elevator button where she can go to places in her imagination. And again, this story is mostly told through the pictures, and eventually she accepts that her brother’s growing up, and she shows him how to take imaginary adventures by pushing the imaginary elevator button. I love it because when we were in Taiwan, our youngest had that job. That was his job to push the elevator button. And whenever someone else pushed it, he would get so upset. He was about two years old, and that was his job. And so he would just be heartbroken when someone else would push the elevator button. So I can relate to that story very much, but it’s really cute. And it’s so special. Both of these stories, the way they’re done, the way the family relationships are reflected in the story, but also in the drawings throughout the story, they both have created beautiful books together. And I highly recommend both of these.
In the past I’ve mentioned two author illustrators who are brothers: the Fan brothers, Terry Fan and Eric Fan. They’re both phenomenal illustrators. The Night Gardener shows this man who works on making topiaries at night in this one neighborhood. And then one night this little boy finds him. The gardener asks the little boy to come help him. Even though the fall comes and the leaves fall off the trees and the topiaries disappear, it says the neighborhood has forever been changed. And so had the little boy named William.
They illustrated one called The Darkest Dark, and it is written by Colonel Chris Hadfield, who was a Canadian astronaut. And this is his story based on his childhood, when he was inspired by the moon landings, and he actually was the commander of the space station for a while. And now he’s retired. The Fan brothers illustrated his book.
The Antlered Ship is one of their other books. This one is interesting probably for older elementary. And it’s about these animals who set sail on a boat and adventure and try to find answers to their questions. And there’s a lot you can talk about with this book about emotions, about relationships, about taking risks, and facing your fears. All of that is kind of woven into the story.
When Ocean Meets Sky, the illustrations are stunning, and it’s about a boy who honors his grandfather by going on this ocean voyage (of course it’s in his imagination), but it’s very cute. And he tries to find where the ocean meets the sky. I think it’s geared more toward older elementary. I don’t think a first grader is going to enjoy it– maybe not even a second grader as much as someone who’s in third or fourth grade.
And the same thing with The Barnabus Project. There is a lot of valuable analogy in The Barnabus Project. I think even it could be used when you’re talking about dystopian literature in high school. But I don’t think it would be appropriate for very young children because I think it might scare them a little bit. It has a message to it about freedom and limiting oneself. It also has this dystopian kind of feel to it. So, like I said, I think it would be great with a little bit older child.
Another very special book is A Different Pond by bow fee and illustrated by bib. We. It’s about a father and son and the differences between the cultures, the old culture and the new culture. Before the father goes to work, they go to fish for food. And as they’re fishing, the father shares the story of the past of when he lived in Vietnam and he fished in a different pond. And it’s just a very beautiful book. I love the father sharing the stories with the son. The son shares his experience with the reader. And so it’s a really beautiful book.
One of my favorites of all the books I found as I was researching Asian-American writers is Ruby’s Wish. And this is a beautiful book about a little Chinese girl. It’s from the old China, when girls were not allowed to go to college. It’s written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. In the story the little girl shares with her grandfather how she’s unhappy because the boys get to go to school and she won’t be allowed to go to university. So then he surprises her with a red envelope at New Year’s, and it’s got money, and she’s allowed to go to university. And she’s one of the first girls to graduate from college. And this is the author’s grandmother’s true story.
Another book that is very poignant and sweet. I Dream of Popo, and it’s by Livia Blackburne and illustrated by Julia Kuo. And this tells the story of a little girl who misses her grandma, who is overseas, and they’re separated. I love this story too, because it’s based in Taiwan. And it’s a story of a little girl who was born in Taiwan, but then her family moves to America, and she leaves behind her grandmother and misses her every day. It’s such a beautiful story of a love between a grandmother and a granddaughter. There’s so many special things about this book. The fact that it’s from Taiwan, of course, and that it’s about a grandmother and granddaughter. It would be a wonderful gift to share between a grandmother and a granddaughter. And then of course you have the Asian culture woven in throughout the story.
Another really pretty story is called Hush! A Thai Lullaby. It is written by mean Fung hoe and illustrated by Holly Meade. And this is the lyrics to basically a lullaby from Thailand, and the author mean Fung was born in Burma, in Rangoon and raised in Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand, and her parents are Chinese. So they spoke fluent Chinese in her home, Thai in the marketplace in Bangkok, and English in school. She was educated in Thailand and Taiwan, and then she moved to the United States. So it’s very interesting–her whole history and her experience with language and culture. This book is very sweet and it’s a little song. The mom is singing because the baby’s sleeping, and she’s telling everyone to be quiet so that they don’t wake up the baby. There’s a little mosquito. And the mosquito says, “We, we, a small mosquito mosquito, mosquito don’t come weeping. Can’t you see the baby sleeping. Mosquito, mosquito, don’t you cry? My baby’s sleeping right nearby.” And then she says, “Hush, who’s that peeping from the ceiling?” And then it has the sound “to quad, to a long tailed lizard, lizard lizard don’t come peeping. Can’t you see that baby’s sleeping lizard lizard, don’t you cry? My baby’s sleeping right nearby.” And you can imagine as you go through the story, it’s very cute. And it has a lot of onomatopoeia with the way that the writer imagines the different sounds the animals make.
There are a number of really cute books that I’ve shared when I shared the passport files and how you can do the passport with your young kids and read some books with them. I put several picture books, ABC books counting books and cultural books on that list as well that you can refer to for even more books about Asian culture in the different countries. And then there are some great activities you can do with your kids. I will post some links on the show notes for some different activities. If you have any questions, always feel free to post those in the blog comments and I will respond.
And there’s one more book I want to share for the parents. This was originally published by overseas missionary fellowship. OMF it’s by Jennifer Su and it is called Dead Women Walking. [It is also republished under the title Unbound]. This is the story of three women from Taiwan, and it’s a very hard book to read that shows these women, as they find hope in God and find new life. It is an excellent book. I bought several copies of it and shared it with people when we were in Taiwan, when we were in Taiwan, so that they could understand the culture where we were living in ministering. It is a gripping story, a very good read. And Jennifer Su is the one who also wrote the story I’ve shared with you about Taiwan in the missionary in Taiwan. That’s Ping Ping and The Very Hairy, Slightly Scary Man that I love so much. And she writes for OMF, but this book is very much well worth the read. There’s just a lot of very adult situations in the story that are heartbreaking. And so I probably would not recommend it for a child. It definitely needs to be read by an adult, but it reveals so much about the darkness that Satan brings into cultures when they do not know God.
One last book I want to share with you that is for parents and especially for parents of children with special needs. This book is written by Diane Dokko Kim, and it’s called Unbroken Faith: Spiritual Recovery for the Special Needs Parent. This is a devotional book she wrote for parents. It’s just such a blessing. If you’ve ever met her or seen her speak or read her blogs, she has a heart for people. And especially for children with special needs. She’s honest. It’s hard being the mom of a child with special needs, and she acknowledges that and wrestling with the purpose behind it, why this happened and what it means in our lives. This is where she comes from–from a very honest place. And I love that.
I want to share one of the devotionals with you. This one is called, “What More Could I Have Done: When Children Don’t Turn Out as Expected.” Isaiah 5:4-5 says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it. When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad in the final months.” Leading up to the birth of our first child, my husband and I delighted in a common rite of passage for expectant parents–the baby registry. Armed with a digital scanner we scampered about the baby section of Target. We tagged items, paying no regard to price or quantity, giddy with possibility. We ventured into aisles with items we wouldn’t need for years: dictionaries science kits, bicycles, and musical instruments–anything, and everything felt like ours for the taking. Back at home, we washed organic cotton onesies on the delicate setting and gingerly tucked away, baby shower gifts. The freezer was stocked. Checklists checked and double-checked. Suitcases packed and repacked for good measure. The only thing pending was the baby’s arrival. Life was beautiful, promising and good. So very good. Then an unexpected diagnosis, the sudden abort of dreams, the emotional whiplash from a jubilant, “It’s a boy!” to a hushed, “I’m so sorry” was swift and staggering. We expected parenting to be challenging; sleepless nights we signed up for, but no book or website could have prepared us for this. Disability barged into our home uninvited with no forewarning or instructions. What more could we have done? We had done everything right to prepare perfection for our child. Why did we get disability instead?
It was very good.
In the opening chapters of Genesis. The first parent in history prepared lavishly for the arrival of his first born. He outfitted the universe with unparalleled artistry and enthusiasm. The God who made the heavens and the earth and everything in it–He spared, no expense. He saw all that he had made, and it was good. But nothing compared to the glory of his ultimate creation–his children. Only then was the creation very good, (Genesis 1:31). He prepared perfection. Then a mere two chapters into the infancy of humanity, sin snuck in. Doubt, distrust and disorder broke out like a disease run rampant. The chaotic descent from joyous birth to shock and dismay was steep, devolving into a downward spiral of wounding and being wounded. These perfect children–God became in his spirit that he had made them at all. And his heart was filled with pain, (Genesis 6:6). He prepared perfection. The glory of creation was now irreparably marred. Defective. Ebullient hope and promise had sunk on its maiden voyage. How could a breach happen so soon? The loving Father had ensconced His beloved in the middle of paradise. He provided His utmost to guarantee their fruitfulness, blessing and joy. Why did they turn? Why did they yield disappointment and sorrow instead? What more could He have done?
What more could I have done for my child? After all I’ve done to secure their health and happiness, why did we get this? When I planned for perfection, why did it yield heartbreak instead? Our heavenly Father understands our outrage and grief. He, too, intended perfection for us, His children: plans to prosper and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). The perfect Parent did everything possible to ensure His children’s joy and fulfillment. It was not for lack of intention, wisdom, or preparation. There was nothing more he could have done.
We grieve the loss of what could have been. Our Father understands and grieves with us. Yet for every parent who mourns, the ultimate Abba is also at work to exchange beauty for ashes, the oil joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). God understands our heartache, but He does far more than that. He redeems it.
Despite his profound loss and heartache, the heavenly father there immediately launches a disaster recovery plan from the garden of Eden to the cross at Calvary and over every crushing disappointment today, our God is still a Redeemer. It’s the only kind of God He knows how to be.
After the Fall, no parent could ensure their child would be born blemish- free. When the enemy injected doubt into paradise, dissension and discord ensued. Our physical, spiritual, and emotional hardwiring–once perfect–followed suit.
Take comfort in God’s original design for His children. Despite the Wiles of a broken and capricious planet, His character remains the same. He is still the God of good, good, and very good.
The Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He remains committed to our sanctification, wholeness, and perfection. We may be in the genesis stages of our journey as a special-needs family, but He is already at work. God will prevail over what we could not prevent. Just as He knew the Genesis story would resolve in Revelation and beyond, He also already knows how our glory story will unfold. It will be immeasurably more than we can imagine.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28).
“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (Jeremiah 8:22).
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).
And then a prayer: “Lord, you prepared your utmost for your children. You had high and lofty expectations for us. But we didn’t turn out according to your original plans. I take comfort in knowing you understand and share in our heartbreak. You grieve with me and over me. Help us to trust in your original plans for very good. You are still a very good God.”
And then she ends each devotional with questions:
- In what significant or unique ways did you prepare for your child’s arrival?
- How have you had to adjust your expectations and plans for your child and family?
- How is God shaping your character or challenging your ideals about parenting?”
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books spark many wonderful conversations with the children in your life. I try to provide materials that will help you as you teach and disciple your children. I will have links in the show notes to websites and files that you can use. If you want to explore Asian culture even more during this month. Most of the materials are free on my website. Some are only available to those on my mailing list. So if you’d like to sign up for my mailing list, you can do that on my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.