ST PAUL, Minn. — Two St. Paul schools received a special delivery of diverse books with stories students can see themselves in.
The Very Asian Foundation, in partnership with We Need Diverse Books, donated more than 70 books by Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) authors.
Books were delivered Tuesday to Jie Ming Mandarin Immersion Academy and Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet. Both schools are participating in this partnership through The May Book Project. The project works to help schools and libraries build Asian American youth literature for readers and to provide funding to donate books for libraries in need.
Former KARE 11 Anchor Gia Vang and Michelle Li, a St. Louis-based anchor at NBC affiliate KSDK, are co-founders of The Very Asian Foundation. Both journalists delivered the books, along with The Very Asian Foundation's executive director Soogi Hong.
"For us growing up, it wasn't something that was easily accessible to have these sorts of books that reflected us," Vang said.
Julia Fung, coach and curriculum coordinator at Jie Ming, said about 42% of students at the school are Asian American.
"So I think it's very fitting for the students to have this event, to see these books, read these books that they can identify with," Fung said.
“I have 15 nieces and nephews and I am also now a great aunt and I realize that libraries are an important gathering space for schools,” Vang said. “I want my family to grow up knowing that they can not only see their stories reflected in these books but begin to imagine a brighter future because of it."
The May Book Project is inspired by high school students in St. Louis. Back in May 2021, during AANHPI Heritage Month, they asked their schools for more Asian American literature but were ignored.
“Students told us it would greatly impact their mental health to be seen in the places where it matters most. We are proud to help young people see themselves and learn about others while giving libraries free resources to choose what works for them,” Li said. “We want to solve problems as journalists, women, moms, and aunties, and be a part of meaningful change for a kinder future.”
The May Book Project has 250 books on its list.
"It's vetted, high-quality. We also have a rubric and we have a toolkit. So the rubric is just an academic approach into building a diverse library," Li explained.
Tuesday morning at Jie Ming, Vang read to third graders the book "Eyes That Kiss in the Corners" by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho.
After hearing the book, third grader Rigzin Paldon said, "My favorite part about it is how they talk about it's okay to be yourself and it's okay to like yourself. You should love yourself."
Arbeiter Brewing Company in Minneapolis is holding a Very Asian Foundation mixer on March 7 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. A dollar from every pint sold at the event will go to The May Book Project.
Find more information on the project and The Very Asian Foundation here.
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