After her son was born eight years ago, Joanna Ho, a former educator, said she had trouble finding children's books featuring Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander characters. This drove Ho to become an author herself.
"It was really hard to find books that were inclusive, that had Asian stories, that had stories about so many other kids of historically marginalized backgrounds," the mother of two told "Good Morning America." "I had this moment that was like, 'Whoa,' like, you should try writing picture books."
Ho, a former high school vice principal, is now a full-time children’s book author and part-time high school librarian.
- 3May 13, 2021
The "Eyes That Kiss in the Corners" author said she’s noticed there are more authors like her today who identify as Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, but said there’s a need for more inclusive stories and encourages the AANHPI community to make space "so that all of our stories are told and valued."
"We have shared histories [within the AANHPI community] that run actually very parallel," Ho said. "For us to recognize the power in understanding these shared histories ... we can access I think, that fount of power that exists within all of us."
To mark Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, "Good Morning America" is shining a spotlight on the push for more AANHPI children's books and why experts say more diverse stories are needed for young readers.
Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada is the current president of the American Library Association, the world's largest library association representing nearly 50,000 members. Pelayo-Lozada started as a children's librarian and remains active in the children's space as a board member of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature and a member of the ALA's Association for Library Service to Children.
She said she's seen a boost in the publication and availability of AANHPI children's books since she started her career in 2009 but she agreed there's always "room for more stories and histories," especially ones from Pacific Islander voices.
"We have seen over the last 15 years or so, a definite increase in the number of books about Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians, although the rate for Asian American stories has grown much larger than the stories for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders," Pelayo-Lozada told "GMA."
"When we're talking about equity, diversity and inclusion, it looks like sharing of stories, it looks like collaborations, it looks like having characters of many different backgrounds in our books … but also, I think that the stories that we need to have are still out there and still need to be tapped," Pelayo-Lozada added.
The benefit for children of inclusive stories is boundless, Pelayo-Lozada said.
"For kids who aren't feeling seen, but instead are looking through a window or a sliding glass door, to be able to see what another person experiences -- that builds empathy ... an understanding that there are so many different ways to live a life in our culture," she said.
"It can help children understand why someone's family may have emigrated, or why their family is a refugee, or why their religion looks different. And so it's really important for us to allow children to be able to process the different emotions, the different things that they're seeing in the world and to process them through books," Pelayo-Lozada explained. "Parents don't always have the answers and so books can allow them to start that conversation together."
As Ho added, it's not just children who benefit from an assortment of stories that one may or may not relate to.
"For folks who are not part of the AANHPI community, [diverse stories can help with] just recognizing the invisibility with which your understanding of AANHPI stories and histories, how deep that really runs, and how completely erased we have been, and to do the work to try to educate and learn all of these things so that you can also make connections to understand why these things are important," Ho said.
Top picks for AANHPI children's books of 2023
Below are Pelayo-Lozada and Ho's top picks for AANHPI children's books of 2023.
Picture books (Ages 4 to 8)
"My Night in the Planetarium" by Innosanto Nagara
"From the Tops of the Trees" by Kao Kalia Yang
"Love in the Library" by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
"Let's Do Everything and Nothing" by Julia Kuo
"Hundred Years of Happiness" by Thanhhà Lai
"Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country" by Kelly Yang
"Luli and the Language of Tea" by Andrea Wang
"Punky Aloha" by Shar Tuiasoa
"Kapaemahu" by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson
Middle grade books (Ages 9 to 11)
"Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies" by Stacey Lee
"A First Time for Everything" by Dan Santat
"Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind" by Misa Sugiura
"You Are Here: Connecting Flights," an anthology edited by Ellen Oh
"Maizy Chen's Last Chance" by Lisa Yee
Young adult books (Ages 12 to 18)
"All My Rage" by Sabaa Tahir