In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month, it is time to share a few of my favorite books by Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander authors. Representation matters and I hope people will include some of these authors in their ebook queues and overflowing stacks of paper or eyeball-reading books.
As a note, I get very annoyed with book lists and other lists during AANHPI month that are not inclusive of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. I am listing the ethnicities of the writers as I know them to highlight and encourage people to read diverse AANHPI works and to especially call out the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander books on this list.
Lei Aloha: Celebrating the Vibrant Flowers and Lei of Hawai’i by Meleana Estes (Native Hawaiian) is eye candy. The book has full-color pictures printed on nice paper and with interesting history and narratives about leis this book is a joy to browse through. It looks like a fancy cookbook in weight, design and feel, but unlike a cookbook, it isn’t a how-to book. You won’t find detailed instructions on how to make leis, but you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of lei making in Hawai’i.
I’ve probably shared Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy (Indian American) on other lists on Fakequity, but it is now out in paperback. I appreciated Murthy’s focusing on human connections and weaving science with real life examples of why connecting with others is important for health and community wellbeing. I still think back to parts of the book and have carried some of the lessons I’ve learned from this book into my daily work.
I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m really excited about Lee Cataluna’s latest book of plays Flowers of Hawai’i and Other Plays. Cataluna is a writer in Hawai’i who captures the essence and people of Hawai’i well. If you enjoy traveling to Hawai’i please take time to read works by contemporary writers from Hawai’i, this is a good place to start.
What My Bones Know by Stephanie Foo (Chinese) is deep. Foo delves into her history as she works to heal from complex PTSD. This book isn’t for everyone, but if you get into it there is a lot to learn and unpack about mental illness, family dynamics, Asian American and immigrant stories, and healing.
Habitat Threshold by Craig Santos Perez (Chamorro, from the Island of Guåhan, Guam) is a book of environmental poetry. It is stark and maybe will shake many of us out of our complacency and complicity around climate change.
I am in love with 8-year-old Jasmine Toguchi and her adventures. I’m so glad author Debbi Michiko Florence added to the Jasmine Toguchi series. In the newest books Jasmine Toguchi Brave Explorer and Jasmine Toguchi Peace-Maker, Jasmine and her family travel to Japan where she learns more about being a supportive sister and friend.
The Yasmin book series is another favorite. Yasmin is an elementary school age girl who many beginning chapter book readers can relate to. I’m including the Yasmin books on this list to highlight the many Muslim Asians and a Pakistani writer.
Wishes by Muon Thi Van (Vietnamese) is told with very few words. The sparse text is meaningful and guides readers to understand more about the Vietnamese immigrant experience. The pictures are gorgeous and add to the poetic nature of the book.
I recently donated a copy of Gibberish by Young Vo to my friend who is an elementary school counselor. When I caught up with Counselor Elizabeth she told me about how she read it to a third grade class. She noticed a few of the boys who would normally be on the side listening but fidgeting slowly crept over and were hovering over the book as she read it. They related to the story of the young boy who has trouble making himself understood because of language and disability. (Unknown ethnicity of author.)
What Asian and Pacific Islander authors are you reading? I’m always on the hunt for new books. Send me your recommendations. This list is very incomplete, but it is a snapshot of some good books I’ve enjoyed or hope to enjoy over the next few weeks and months.
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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawai’i; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.