Three Books Featuring Asian Kids

Juna’s Jar
Written by Jane Bahk • Illustrated by Felicia Hoshino

Juna and her best friend, Hector love to collect things to put in Juna’s empty kimchi jar. When Hector moves unexpectedly and is unable to say goodbye, Juna’s big brother tries to lift her spirits by filling the jar with different gifts. With the help of her special jar, Juna embarks on imaginative adventures as she searches for Hector. Juna realizes that new friends and adventures can be found in the most unexpected places!

Reasons I love it:

  1. The story weaves elements of fantasy into a real and relatable story about losing a best friend. Juna’s imaginative adventures give a magical feeling to a story about overcoming loss and finding friendship.
  2. Though the story provides authentic hints at Juna’s race and ethnicity – kimchi jars, names, Korean familial terms – the story is not about race or ethnicity; it centers on relationships and universal emotions and experiences. It is extremely challenging to find books featuring Asian children that aren’t culture-specific; though the intention may be to educate, one consequence is that it others Asian children. I love that this book ties in culture but focuses on universal childhood experiences.
  3. The watercolor illustrations add a dreamy, whimsical feeling to this imaginative story. I particularly appreciate that Juna’s eyes are drawn as real eyes and not slits (like too many other Asian characters! See my mini-rant in my review for One Family); she is adorable.
  4. Hector is from a Spanish-speaking family. Kudos for interracial friendships!

One Wish: I get the sense that the story contains layers of symbolism that I haven’t unpacked yet. I wish someone would tell me what it means when each item in the jar grows so quickly overnight!

Maxwell’s Mountain
Written by Shari Becker • Illustrated by Nicole Wong

When Maxwell spies the big mountain behind the park, he is determined to climb it. He must prove to his parents that he is prepared and he sets out to become a true outdoorsman. When he’s ready, he sets out to climb the mountain with his gear and trusty sidekick, a toy soldier named Harry, at his side. But, how will Maxwell get to the top when he loses his way on the hill?

Reasons I love it:

  1. Maxwell is a biracial boy who loves the outdoors and goes looking for big challenges. He sets goals and trains hard to become an expert outdoorsman: he reads books, works out, draws maps, packs gear and brings friends. He is overcomes his challenges with perseverance and determination.
  2. I got hooked on the first page with the sentences: “He looked to the left and saw a swing set – typical. To the right he saw a sandbox – predictable. Directly ahead, a seesaw – common.” Maxwell is always looking for adventure.
  3. Fine-lined, softly watercolored illustrations add inviting layers of detail with sweeping vistas. They make readers feel as if we are on the adventure with Maxwell.

One Wish: The voice on the first page that hooked me seemed to shift so something a little more generic and teachy through the rest of the story. Would have loved to see that initial lively voice with a little snark throughout the whole book.


The Ugly Vegetables
Written and illustrated by Grace Lin

In the spring, a young Chinese girl helps her mom start a garden and realizes their neighbors are planting gardens too. As their plants grow, she realizes that different sized shovels and signs with funny pictures aren’t the only things that make her mom’s garden different. While the neighbors grow gardens filled with beautiful flowers, her mother’s garden is filled with ugly Chinese vegetables. But, when it’s time to harvest and cook the vegetables, beautiful changes transform the neighborhood…and the little girl.

Reasons I love it:

  1. It speaks to my heart as someone who grew up self-conscious about my different-looking, different-smelling food. For some, this book may be a way to introduce and appreciate differences. For me, this book is an affirmation of my food and culture. The arc of embarrassment to appreciation to pride is a familiar one.
  2. The trusting relationship between the mother and daughter is heartwarming. The mother is unafraid to be different, yet allows her daughter the space to learn on her own.
  3. Sharing cultures, bonding communities, accepting differences are just some ideas shared in the story. It is a great book to use in classrooms to introduce these universal themes, or to discuss plants and gardening!
  4. There is a recipe for ugly vegetable soup included at the end!

One Wish: The ending in which (spoiler alert!) every family in the neighborhood loves the soup and ends up planting ugly vegetable gardens of their own is lovely, though not super realistic. In my experience, many people are afraid to try new, different-looking foods, no matter how delicious it smells. Nevertheless, I wish the world really worked the way the story does!

Let me know what you think if you pick up one of these books! Happy reading!

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