Sam Bloom: I Read Asian and Pacific Islander American Books

Librarian Sam Bloom celebrates Asian Pacific Island American Month by highlighting several books for tweens before spotlighting A Map Into the World. To fully appreciate Sam’s expertise, we have to realize not only the vast diversity of his selections, but the fact that each of these books are all currently in his home. Sam, through his work as well as through his home collection, exhibits the fact that one cannot be anti-racist without reading books by people who don’t look like themself. To be anti-racist, we have to do the work to financially, intellectually, physically and spiritually support people from other races.

Author Kao Kalia Yang in talking to Mr. Schu reflected on when she saw the illustrations for her first picture book. “The Hmong have been in America for nearly fifty years, and finally I was looking upon the images of a picture book that included our place in the world. I was tremendously moved.” There were things she saw not only in the faces of the people, but throughout the illustrations that brought her a sense of belonging here in the U.S..

Images can be as nuanced as text in ways they can be coded to include or exclude. A friend on Twitter recently pointed out an essay from a “reputable source” suggesting that one simply throw in a last name ‘Wong’, a limp or a pockmarked face to quickly and easily “be diverse”. It’s so much more complex than that! The real life expressions of race and culture have to be enveloped into the story in ways that are meaningful without weighing down the writing. As an example, Mae Respicio explains that “If I’m writing from a Filipino character’s POV, she wouldn’t be over-explaining something in her head. Those cultural signifiers are engrained in her and a part of her everyday life, so when I’m writing in first person, I try to explain them how the character might see them.” #Ownvoices, my friends!

Asian and Pacific Island American authors, like any author, can use writing as a way to make sense of this world, or to escape it. “Fantasy also allows us to step out of our own world—and that lets us challenge our own biases, the status quo, the way we are used to thinking about the world. In a secondary world, we’re safe. We can play with serious questions and then step back into the real world without feeling like we’ve done anything too crazy… but we take what we’ve read with us. Books stick with us, which is what makes fantasy awesomely subversive and powerful” explains author Intisar Khanani.

Yet, Jasmine Warga, Karina Yan Glaser and Grace Lin write not to explicitly subvert imperialism, but because they are gifted and talented storytellers. Sayantani Dasgupta uses her writing to express her passions.  “I loved delving into those long-ago stories and remembering how it would feel when my cousins and I would gather under the whirring fan and floating mosquito net to hear my grandmother tell us those tales. I loved sharing both the folktales and the novel with my own parents, spouse and children. I also loved sneaking in things like string theory and sun cycles into the plot.”

An interviewer at Publisher’s Weekly asked Aisha Saeed why Amal Unbound was getting so much pre-release buzz and Saeed explained that “(t)his book is about resistance and about not giving up. That’s a message that a lot of people are connecting to as well.” Each of these books has received attention because they have something to which we can all relate. Reading them or any book is a political act, and can be fun, too!

Sam’s list is a true treasure!

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A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, Seo Kim (Carolrhoda Books, 2019)

“A distinctive story that weaves together threads of family life, community and culture, the natural world, and the power of stories.” Publishers Weekly, starred

“Using digital graphite, pastels, watercolor, and scanned handmade textures, Kim brings detailed dimension to the green house and the world around it. Alternating perspectives capture the expansiveness of the outside as well as the intimacy of Paj Ntaub’s observations.” Kirkus, starred

from the publisher:
As the seasons change, so too does a young Hmong girl’s world. She moves into a new home with her family and encounters both birth and death. As this curious girl explores life inside her house and beyond, she collects bits of the natural world. But who are her treasures for? A moving picture book debut from acclaimed Hmong American author Kao Kalia Yang.

Star of the North Picture Book Award Nominee, Nominated, 2021
Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, Commended, 2020
ALA Notable Children’s Books, Winner, 2020
Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2020
Minnesota Book Award: Children’s Literature, Winner, 2020
MIBA Midwest Connections Pick, Winner, 2019
Kirkus Best Children’s Books, Winner, 2019

KaoKalia_4048-scaled-1366x2048Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong-American writer. She holds degrees from Carleton College and Columbia University. Yang is the author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Awards in Creative Nonfiction/Memoir and Readers’ Choice, a finalist for the PEN USA Award in Creative Nonfiction, and the Asian Literary Award in Nonfiction. A Map Into the World was Yang’s debut picture book. In 2020, Yang will publish her second children’s book The Shared Room, a collective memoir about refugee lives, Somewhere in the Unknown World, and another book for children, The Most Beautiful Thing. Kao Kalia Yang is also a teacher and a public speaker.

Sam Bloom is a Tween Librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and a member of the Reading While White blog team. Sam’s hobbies include reading (especially graphic novels), listening to music and telling dad jokes.

One thought on “Sam Bloom: I Read Asian and Pacific Islander American Books

  1. Sam,
    Just read and watched! Thanks for the reviews. Don’t you just LOVE children’s lit! Seeing your response to A Map into the World challenges me to break the rules that agents and editors seem to always set–that picture books these days must be no more than 700 words. I’ve done 2 of those, and they can be fun to produce, but I WANT to use more words, so that my beautiful prose can come through. Thanks for sharing.
    Brenda McSorley Havens, friend and HS classmate of your mom’s

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