Going Beyond Tikki Tikki Tembo

May marks the month we celebrate the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in America. May was designated Asian Pacific American Heritage Month because in May 1843 the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States (United States Census Bureau 2018). Additionally, May serves as the anniversary of the completion of the First American Transcontinental Railroad in May 1869. Chinese workers laid the tracks for the railroad (Chang and Fishkin n.d.). President Jimmy Carter signed a resolution into law designating the week of May 4th as Asian Pacific American Week. After ten years of advocacy President George H.W. Bush signed a resolution making May Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (Asian Pacific America Heritage Month n.d.). This official designation took place two years later in 1992 (Public Law 102-450).

Like many of the month celebrations I write about, it is important that we make the observance more than just the two Cs – cuisine and crafts. While there’s nothing wrong with featuring food and dishes from Asian cultures and having students participate in art projects, our focus should be to provide students with a broad range of experiences and increase their knowledge. I can remember listening to the story of Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel when I was a child. I did not realize until much later that the story and illustrations reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate inaccurate information. As school librarians we should strive to offer more accurate views of culture, people, and their contributions. As Ngozi Adichie describes the single story in her Ted talk we should be careful to supply students window and mirror experiences by providing a well-rounded collection of literature that highlights Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the school library.

Titles for Your Collection 
A quick way to add quality titles to your collection or find titles to feature in read-alouds is to look for award winners. This year’s Asian Pacific American Award Literature Winners appear below and available online at http://www.apalaweb.org/awards/literature-awards/. The award-winning titles are followed by a recommended reference book and online resources.

Young Adult Award Winner: Darius the Great Is Not Okay, written by Adib Khorram, and published by Dial Books

Young Adult Literature Honor Winner: The Astonishing Color of After, written by Emily X.R. Pan, and published by Little Brown and Company

Children’s Literature Winner: Front Desk, written by Kelly Yang, and published by Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)

Children’s Literature Honor Winner: The House that Lou Built, written by Mae Respicio, and published by Wendy Lamb Books

Picture Book Award Winner: Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat, and published by Disney Hyperion

Picture Book Honor Winner: Grandmother’s Visit, written by Betty Quan, illustrated by Carmen Mok, and published by Groundwood Books

Recommended Reference Book: Lee, J. H. 2018. Asian American History Day by Day: A Reference Guide to Events. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, an Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC

For additional titles see these curated lists:

Recommended Online Resources

The Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) website: https://apaics.org/events/asian-pacific-american-heritage-month/

Library of Congress Information on Asian/Pacific Heritage Month: https://www.loc.gov/law/help/commemorative-observations/asian.php

Curated list of titles reflecting cultural authenticity compiled by author Noreen Naseem Rodriquez: http://naseemrdz.com/latino-and-asian-tradebooks/

Smithsonian’s Museum without Walls featuring a digital exhibition and resources on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: https://smithsonianapa.org/

Shen’s Books published books emphasizing cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia [from the publisher’s website]: https://www.leeandlow.com/imprints/shen-s-books

Teaching Tolerance provides reads designed to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander identities: https://www.tolerance.org/the-moment/april-25-2019-honoring-asian-american-and-pacific-islander-identities

The Zinn Education Project’s goal is to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of United States history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula: https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/?cond%5b0%5d=themes_str:Asian+American

What are you doing to observe the month? Let us know by commenting below!


Author: Michelle Easley

Michelle Easley is the author of How to Increase Diversity in School Library Collections and Programs. Michelle is a national presenter, diversity and library advocate, consultant and speaker. Michelle spends her free time volunteering with homeless youth.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

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2 replies

  1. This is very interesting and enlightening info. I was very surprised to know that Asians were the people that laid down the railroad tracks in early US history. I also didn’t know that there was a national day to acknowledge Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. As an African-American I think that is very important and should be acknowledged like Afro-American history month is acknowledged by all US citizens.

  2. As a public school educator and former reading specialist, I appreciate the references and resources included in this article. I will definitely share these with other educators.Thank you for sharing this information and giving a fresh perspective on how to appropriately honor and celebrate the achievements of Asian Americans. Well done!

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