I Am Golden (Eva Chen)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I Am Golden, written by Eva Chen and illustrated by Sophie Diao, a moving exploration of the Asian American experience and cultural pride.

Told from the perspective of a Chinese-American immigrant couple addressing their daughter, Mei, the narrative begins by noting that the heritage of both China and America are written in Mei’s features and name. Mei’s parents are honest with her about the difficulties of being a child of Chinese-American immigrants; the racism, the othering, the pressure to culturally assimilate, the fact that her parents will often rely on her for translation and navigation through American culture. But they want Mei to know that no matter what challenges she faces, she carries an immeasurable strength within her, one that has the power of her history, her culture, her ancestors, her family, and most of all, herself. Finally, they teach their daughter the word mìng; “It means destiny, Mei. Our destiny was YOU.”

Stunning. Chen’s powerful words and Diao’s exquisite art weave a beautiful narrative that is heartbreakingly honest, deeply empowering, and truly heartwarming. Cuttingly accurate statements on xenophobia – “people will call you different in one breath and then say that we all look the same with the next” – do not shy away from the reality of stereotypes and othering that members of the AAPI community face while also fearlessly pointing out their absurdity. Even the core concept of Mei’s “golden”-ness ties into a description of her skintone; “brushed with gold,” in comparison to demeaning descriptions of AAPI skintones. Diao’s digital illustrations are striking, colorful and fluid, and filled with energy; a top-down tablescape of traditional Chinese foods makes the mouth water, and a depiction of Ming glowing from the center of a blooming lotus is joyful and serene at once. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I both loved this one. This one is a rare and beautiful look into the Chinese-American and AAPI experience, and is a must-read. Emphatically Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks (Bonnie Tsui)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks, written by Bonnie Tsui and illustrated by Sophie Diao, an exhilarating look at the life of big wave surfer Sarah Gerhardt.

Two thousand miles and one week apart, a wave and a surfer both begin to move toward each other on a path of destiny. For the surfer – simply called Sarah – it feels like the wave she’s waited for all her life, ever since she was a very young girl learning to surf in California and Hawaii. Honing her skills, perfecting her timing, and learning how to handle her falls and hold her breath, Sarah finds that she has a passion for surfing “big waves” – swells that often crest at heights of fifty feet or more, and the most dangerous ones to surf. In addition to the challenges these big waves present, Sarah also has to fight the usual battles of a woman participating in a sport largely dominated by men: being forced to use ill-fitted equipment, dealing with prejudice, and being ostracized. Still, Sarah refuses to be held back, by man or by nature – after all, she was always destined to conquer the big waves.

Wonderful. This atmospheric and exciting tale sweeps readers along at a brisk pace, giving just enough backstory and context to leave readers feeling informed but never bogged-down. The tone is a perfect balance – relaxed at times, pulse-pounding at others – making the reader feel as though they are right out on the ocean with Sarah as she navigates the real and metaphoric waves of her sport. The artwork is sublime, creating beautiful sunlit seascapes and expressive characters, and even a few visual gimmicks that work surprisingly well, such as a size comparison between a big wave and an apartment building, or a fold-out page to illustrate the scale of Gerhardht conquering a wave at the famed Mavericks. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ adored the illustrations. This is a wonderfully inspiring story sure to excite young bookworms, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)