I was sitting around drinking tea and chatting with some mates last week, delightful discussion on the importance of diversity in literature, when I realized that I needed to take my own advice. I’m a very passionate reader and admirer of Asian literature, but so far, I’ve only ever focused on Japan, China, and India. Asia is so much larger than a mere three countries. Yes, these three countries have a rich depth to their history and cultures, but so do other nations.
As a Diverse Book Blogger, I strive to raise awareness and promote Asian cultures and people in literature. This doesn’t mean that I’m closed off to reading other sorts of diverse books. In fact, I’m more open to all sorts of diversity in my reading repertoire than I have ever been in my twenty-some-odd years of life, and it expands daily. However, I chose to specialize in Asian literature specifically for two reasons. First, it would help me gain a better understanding and appreciation of my own ethnic background, culture, and heritage (thus allowing me to educate my kids when the time comes). Secondly, I have always been inexplicably fascinated by Asian cultures and customs. While they can be so unique and different from one another, they share a lot of similarities that make me feel at home.
Yet, if all I focus on are Japan, China, and India then I am essentially failing at my job. There are numerous other countries out there making up the bulk of the Asian continent. Some of these include: Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, and Laos (just to name a few). I don’t want to be the person who preaches diversity but limits herself simply because she is uninformed. It’s more difficult to obtain literature from these countries, but it’s not impossible! Determined to bolster my specialization to all of Asia, I’m going to make a conscious and devoted effort to focus on as many nations as I can within Asia and the Pacific Islands. If I’m uninformed about something, then I will educate myself and work hard to find proper representation.
This post is the first of, what I hope, will be many more to come. Laos came to mind immediately when I settled on this literary expedition because I have family with children who are born here in the States, who wish to instil in their kiddos the history and heritage of their people. I think it’s absolutely vital that diversity begins with kids. Kids that grow up around an array of people will be far more accepting of themselves and others as they mature into adulthood. Questions such as: who are you, what are you, and who do you love should not be determinate factors of whether a person is worthy of friendship and respect. So, this mini-list of Laos books are books to share with your family—parents and kiddos alike. Sit back, grab a tea or coffee, and enjoy the diversity!
Lao Folktales Translated & Edited by Stephen Jay Epstein, Illustrated by Anoulom Souvandouane
- Epstein resided in Laos for seven years, engaging in the culture and customs to better understand the Laos people. Along the way, he collected folk-tales that were shared within the cluster of communities. Many of them contain Laos humour and have charm that “reflects a Buddhist culture within a Marxist state.”
- The illustrations are black and white sketches with cartoon style to them, perfect for interesting the kiddoes. They are simple with lovely details that encapsulate scenery from the stories.
- This slim volume of tales contains 23 folk-tales that were created to entertain and amuse, with a few that share life lessons and wisdom.
Love to Jaixai & Vonchai, From Laos by Dengnoi Reineke, Illustrated by Ruslan Skomorohov
- This is a simple story about a young girl and her family living in a traditional Laos village. The illustrations are beautiful, done in crayons and marker giving it a gorgeous and vibrant child-like quality. There’s detailed scenery of the village, clothing, and certain practices.
- Love to Jaixai & Vonchai, From Laos is the perfect book for parents and kids to read together as it focuses a lot on family togetherness and values.
- A small percentage of every purchase for this book goes towards GreenSoul Shoes, which is a shoe company that uses 100% recycled materials to make shoes for children.
Mali Under the Night Sky: A Laos Story of Home by Youme
- A true story about the Laos artist Malichansouk Kouanchao and how her family was forced to flee Laos due to a civil war. The story begins by depicting an idyllic life in a close-knit community that was once very safe and comforting for Mali. But then war arrived and her family was forced to leave their home, and everything they loved, to save their lives.
- While the contents of this story is far more serious than the other books, it’s presented in a very simple way, a child’s perspective, that’s easy for kids to understand without being disturbing or frightening. It does a wonderful job of showing love for one’s country and people, and how to have hope amid a tragedy.
- The watercolour illustrations are breath-taking and really bring the focus on the individual members surrounding Mali as they transition from a warm community to being refugees escaping a war-torn nation.
- The only flaw in this title is that it ends rather abruptly.
I hope this mini-list can help broaden some reading lists out there. Do you have any diverse children’s books that you loved to read, either for yourself or with your family? Are there any countries in Asia that you would like to see more representation for?
As always, thank you for the time to read this. Wishing you all a wonderful and biblio-filled holiday season!