Off the top of your head, what percentage of characters with an Asian background would you say are represented in US children’s fiction?
According to Sarah Park Dahlen’s research, while 50% of characters are white and 27% are animals, only 7% of characters in children’s literature have an Asian background. Some may argue that this somewhat reflects demographics in the United States. So let me ask another question. How many Asian book characters can you name?
How come we, despite living in Hong Kong, get stuck when we try to name Asian book characters? Might it be because we grew up reading US-centered books?
Books are not pale imitations of the world in which they are created. Books give children a way to discern what is right and what is wrong. They teach us empathy. They spark creativity. They erase boundaries. Books shape the world.
The stories we read and hear as children stay with us forever. This is how we celebrated Stories from Asia at THS during this year’s Booktober.
There is nothing more energising than a challenge to start the week. Every Monday, THS students took on a Booktober challenge: building the tallest book tower, naming as many books as they could in 60 seconds, and coming up with titles of books that were better than the movie adaptations.
Our first guest speaker was Bailey Cherry, a full-time student and social entrepreneur who founded Rebooked, a non-profit organisation offering used children’s books at very reasonable prices. Author Maureen Tai delivered a fantastic workshop to our High School students inspiring them to use their phone as a tool to make art.
Author Yoanne Ho had us roaring with laughter with her interactive workshop, “There is more than meets the eye”, in which some lucky children ended up adorned with various accessories. Finally, illustrator Kris Tsang had us rethink the old boring pumpkin traditionally associated with Halloween, and replace it with a cactus.
Spooky characters roamed around the Garden in a live “Murder Mystery” game entirely designed and conducted by three high school students. Our high school students also redesigned the covers of their favourite childhood books. Some of them are rather creative and intriguing!
Other memorable moments include the Book Fair with Seeds Bookstore, which was a huge success. We would like to thank the PTA for their generous support of the library: they sponsored no less than 55 books within 15 hours of the list being posted!
Whether it be virtually from the comfort of their homes, outside on bean bags on a sunny day, or huddled up indoors hours before a typhoon, teachers and parents offered their time to read to the children. Our principal, Christine Greenberg, read the wonderful Drawn Together by Minh Lê. This picture book tells the story of a grandfather and his grandson who do not speak the same language, and soon connect over their love of art and storytelling, exploring the idea that “A picture tells a thousand words”.
That is one of the themes Ms Jensen, our other Teacher Librarian, chose to explore with her classes: after decorating the library with kimonos, elephants, and koi fish, as well as designing their own posters to promote all our Booktober events, the students had a try at “creating a thousand words” by using Chinese ink on paper.
My personal favourite was definitely watching the creative and quirky contributions of the Extreme Reader Contest roll in by some of our THS bookworms!
The three winning photos from the Extreme Reader Contest: Brooklyn and Alan for CGI, and Maxton for “I o my own stunt”
Of course, Booktober wouldn’t be complete without THS’s annual Parade. It was a joy to watch everyone come together in their costumes, intriguing and amusing Ap Lei Chau residents along the way.
This year’s Booktober at The Harbour School was a month-long celebration of the rich, complex and fascinating characters that come from Pakistan, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Japan, China, Korea, Nepal, the Philippines, and beyond. It was an invitation to share the stories of Hazel Ying Lee (the first female Asian American military pilot in the US), the intrepid Pinmei from Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver, the duo Pong and Nok from A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat, the brave Lalani from Erin Entrada Kelly’s magical novel Lalani of the Distant Sea, and so many, many more.
Next time you choose a book to read together, break the boundaries we have set for ourselves. Choose a story from Asia.