Today’s media often perpetuates many harmful stereotypes. For example, Asian Pacific American women are often sexualized as either submissive or “dragon ladies.” Moreover, Asian Pacific American men are often depicted as nerdy and emasculated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Asian Pacific Americans are regular people like everyone else. And showing only one, narrow perspective is dangerous.
This post focuses on the many stories about Asian Pacific American athletes found in children’s books. I hope to show two things. The first is that Asian Pacific American athletes have represented the United States on the highest podiums. The second is that there are not enough of these types of books.
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Powerful Stories from the World of Water
I’ll start with two male athletes who made names for themselves in swimming and diving. It’s quite possible you’ve never heard of them, so these books are an excellent way to learn about their stories.
Surfer of the Century by Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep
Among Duke Kahanamoku’s many accomplishments is his invention of the now-ubiquitous flutter kick used in freestyle (or Australian crawl) swimming. As a young, untrained swimmer, Duke set records that officials refused to acknowledge. He went on to win Olympic medals in Sweden, then Belgium, and then Paris. But, he is best known for his contribution to surfing. As the “father of modern surfing,” Duke introduced Hawaii’s sport of the ancient Kings to the world. Thus, he remains an eternal testament to the aloha spirit. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
Sixteen Years In Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Dom Lee
This book explores the inspirational true story of Sammy Lee. He was a Korean American who overcame discrimination to become an Olympic champion diver. Along the way, he realized he also needed to overcome his father’s desire for him to become a doctor. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
The Story of Olympic Diver Sammy Lee by Paula Yoo and Dom Lee
Paula Yoo and Dom Lee also offer a middle grade version of this story in their award-winning picture book. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Male Athletes in Other Sports
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee
This author’s first picture book is based on his true story. Sadly, Ken Mochizuki’s family was interned at Minidoka Internment camp in Idaho. However, they realized they could use baseball to cope. The little boy in the story is small for his age but perseveres to become an excellent player. Post-internment, things are not much better. Luckily, the boy’s baseball skills help bring everyone together. [picture book, ages 8-12]
A few male athletes have achieved international acclaim. In some cases, many books have been written about them.
Jeremey Lin is a professional basketball player. My Vietnamese-American friend’s son was inspired by Jeremy Lin and read all these books. He now plays basketball in college. It is great to see so many non-fiction biographies about Jeremy Lin. However, my library didn’t have any of these books on the shelves.
Michael Chang was the youngest man and the first Asian American to win the French Open. Janet Nomura Morey and Wendy Dunn include Michael Chang in their middle grade anthology, Famous Asian Americans.
Female Athletes in Changing the Game
My daughter told me there weren’t any Asian Pacific American female athletes. This was a real wake-up call for me. I set out to prove to her that there were role models she could look up to. Sadly, her perspective is not surprising since books like Women in Sports, published in 2017, erased Asian Pacific American athletes.
To help change that, I wrote Changing the Game: Asian Pacific American Female Athletes. This Kickstarter project was funded a month ago. So, I’m in the final leg of bringing this book to life. If you are interested, you can pre-order it here.
Changing the Game: Asian Pacific American Female Athletes by Mia Wenjen
In my book, I highlight 18 Asian Pacific American female Athletes from yesterday and today. Their incredible stories offer amazing examples of dedication and triumph. Hopefully, readers will rejoice when they read about these extraordinary women as they overcome obstacles to prevail in their sport. [picture book anthology, ages 8 and up]
Featured Olympic Athletes
- Chloe Kim (Korean American) is the youngest snowboarder to win Olympic Gold.
- Victoria Manalo Draves (Filipino & European American), a diver, is the first Asian-American to medal at the Olympic games. She’s the first Filipino to win a gold medal. And, she’s the first woman to win two gold medals in a single Olympics. Amazingly, those two gold medals were in two different events: springboard and platform diving.
- Evelyn Tokue Kawamoto-Konno (Japanese American) learned to swim competitively in a ditch through Soichi Sakamoto’s Three-Year Swim Club. She then went on to become the first Japanese-American female to win an Olympic medal.
- Julie Chu (Chinese & Puerto Rican American), a hockey player, competed on the U.S. Winter Olympics team. She is the first Asian-American female to do that in a sport other than figure skating. In her five Olympic appearances, she took home three silver medals and one bronze medal.
- Natasha “Tasha” Kai-Marks (Filipino, Hawaiian, Chinese & European American) is the first player from Hawaii to compete on the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team. In 2008, she helped the team earn an Olympic gold medal.
- Kristi Yamaguchi (Japanese American) is a two-time Olympic Gold Medal ice skating champion. She is also a two-time singles World Champion and a two-time pairs National Champion.
- Amy Chow (Chinese American) is the first Asian American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics.
- Liane Lissa Sato (Japanese American) took home Olympic bronze for the United States Women’s Volleyball Team in Barcelona.
- Catherine Mai-Lan Fox (Vietnamese & European American) is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner for swimming.
- Mohini Bhardwaj (Indian & Russian American) is the first Indian-American gymnast to medal at the Olympics.
Other Featured Athletes
- (Eun Jung) EJ Lee Smith (Korean American) is considered one of the greatest point guards ever to play women’s college basketball.
- Miki Gorman (Japanese American) is the only female marathon runner to win both the Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon, twice!
- Michelle Wie (Korean American) is the youngest female to compete on the PGA Tour. She’s also the youngest USGA champion in an adult event.
- Anona Naone Napoleon (Native Hawaiian) won the International Makaha Surfing Competition.
- Michelle Waterson (Thai & European American) is a Mixed Martial Arts champion.
- Megan Khang (Hmong American) is the first Hmong American to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour.
- Naomi Osaka (Japanese & Haitian) is the first female Asian player to hold the number one ranking by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).
Books Focusing on a Single Female Athlete
Several Asian Pacific American athletes have excelled at winter sports. They include a snowboarder and two figure skaters. Several books feature their stories.
Chloe Kim (Olympic Stars) by Derek Moon
The mostly ups and a few downs of Chloe Kim’s epic snowboarding career are chronicled in this nonfiction photo-illustrated book. [picture book biography, ages 8 and up]
Additional books about Chloe Kim include:
Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice by Karen Chen
Kristi Yamaguchi, Pure Gold by Jeff Savage
Kristi Yamaguchi won the gold medal in women’s figure skating at the 1992 Winter Olympics. But, her journey was not easy. This story shares how she overcame a club foot, fell in love with ice skating, performed a show at a shopping mall, and then finally competed at the highest level. [middle grade biography, ages 9 and up]
Additional books about Kristi Yamaguchi include:
Michelle Kwan is a fan favorite at my public library. So, I found eight books on her! This one is my favorite.
Michelle Kwan (Sports Heroes) by Rosemary Wallner
Michelle Kwan’s elegance and drama on ice elicits an emotional response. Born and raised in Torrance (just like Chloe Kim!), Michelle started skating at 5. Then, she competed at the Olympic level when she was 18. Despite not winning Olympic Gold, Michelle Kwan is one of American’s most popular figure skaters and also one of America’s most popular female athletes. [middle grade biography, ages 8 and up]
More books about Michelle Kwan include:
Mia blogs on parenting, children’s books, and education at PragmaticMom.com and is the co-creator of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, a non-profit celebrating diversity in children’s books. Her other books include:
The Elusive Full Ride Scholarship
Read Your World: A Guide to Multicultural Children’s Books
Best #OwnVoices Children’s Books: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids
You can connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
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