Chinese Jewish connections go back a millennium, probably first during the Song dynasty when Persian Jewish traders traveled along the Silk Road and reached ancient Kaifeng, as Erica Lyons writes in her author’s note at the end of her new picture book, Zhen Yu and the Snake, illustrated by Reina Metallinou.
Writers responded to the triple disasters of 11 March 2011 with a new genre of Japanese literature: shinsai bungaku or “earthquake literature”. Almost 13 years later, it’s easy to forget just how terrible 11 March 2011 really was. The Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a tsunami that may have reached heights up to 40 meters. It rushed as far as 10 kilometers inland at the speed of a passenger jet at cruising altitude. It caused massive destruction along more than 400 kilometers of Japan’s eastern coast, wiping away coastal towns in minutes.
“Everybody has their own Hong Kong story,” begins the introduction to Don Mak’s Once Upon a Hong Kong. Over a series of 18 illustrations, Mak has the opportunity to tell his story. Mak takes readers on a journey through daily Hong Kong life—from Hong Kong Park to Temple Street to Lantau Island.
Over the last several years, young adult readers have been able to enjoy more books set in Asia, from K-Pop stories to Taiwan summer camp tales to novels about American teens who are sent to live with relatives for language and culture immersion. But the choices for younger readers, namely those not yet in high school, are still limited. Authors like Grace Lin and Lenore Look have written middle grade novels in which characters spend summers in Asia, but Christina Matula has created a series of novels for preteens set completely in Asia that does not center around American kids. Her first book in the series, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, introduces the eponymous character and her new life in Asia after her mother takes a job in Hong Kong. This book tackles the issues of being a new kid at school, adjusting to a new culture, and missing her Taiwanese grandma back in Canada.
When girls in the Philippines turn eighteen, it’s customary to have a debut, or coming out party at which eighteen male friends or family serve as “roses” and eighteen females as “candles”, thereby making up the debut’s entourage. Mae Coyiuto’s own debut—of a literary variety—is centered around the coming of age party of a Chinese Filipina named Chloe Liang. Chloe and the Kaishao Boys is more layered than the typical, often formulaic young adult novel and combines Chloe’s Chinese Filipino culture with more universal teen issues like pleasing parents and finding independence.
On first glance, one might see the title My Strange Shrinking Parents and the cover illustration of a child with blue school shorts, white knee-high socks and black polished shoes towering over his mother and father dressed in a blue-collared shirt and suspenders and think that Melbourne-based writer and artist Zeno Sworder is writing a fairytale (or a “tall tale” as the cover text describes).
A half-century and more ago, when I was growing up, there was a comic book series in the United States called “Classics Illustrated” which retold novels, myths and—my own favorites—history in a format normally reserved for Spiderman. These were probably not the most accurate introductions to Marco Polo or Caesar, but they stirred the imagination.