In defiance of continuing anti-Asian violence, Asian American and Pacific Islander authors are publishing new works of vivid fantasy and imagination; nonfiction works ranging across varied AAPI communities; titles on the immigrant experience and intergenerational relations; and books examining the languages, complexity, and diversity of the global AAPI diaspora.
PW reached out to a variety of publishers to discuss their approach to finding and publishing books by and about AAPI communities. Publishers sharing details about their latest AAPI-focused titles include Helen Atsma, v-p, publisher at Ecco; Ruoxi Chen, an editor at Tordotcom; Tricia Lin, an editor at Random House Books for Young Readers; Abigail McAden, an associate publisher at Scholastic; Monique Patterson, v-p, editorial director, acquisition outreach at St. Martin’s; Andrew Smith, senior v-p, publisher at Abrams Children’s Books; Kristine Swartz, senior editor at Berkley; Andrea Tompa, executive editor at Candlewick; and Hilary Van Dusen, senior executive editor at Candlewick.
What are some of your most successful recent AAPI titles, and your most anticipated forthcoming AAPI titles? How do these books reflect your acquisitions strategy in this category?
Smith: Our mission is to be inclusive in our publishing and bring vibrant stories to children. We remain steadfast in our aim to publish books where our creators from any and all identities can share their authentic stories freely, and readers from any and all identities can see themselves reflected in their full humanity. To that end, we are grateful to the tireless work of librarians like all those involved at the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, educators like Sarah Park Dahlen, and organizations like We Need Diverse Books, who continually push the publishing industry to think critically about the kinds of art and stories we publish that center—not just feature—AAPI characters. We know that the best stories, the ones that are told with love and will resonate most, come from within one’s own community.
Some of our most successful recent titles include Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq, in which a traumatic event forces a young Bangladeshi American to study her religion more closely, and Where Three Oceans Meet by Rajani LaRocca, a celebration of multigenerational love. Our most anticipated forthcoming titles include Little Red Riding Hood and the Dragon by Ying Chang Compenstine, illustrated by Joy Ang; My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding by Sajni Patel; Karthik Delivers by Sheela Chari; Goodbye to All of You by Alex Lu, illustrated by Thom Kurtzhals; and Super Boba Café by Nidhi Chanani.
Swartz: At Berkley, we’ve seen great success with several recent AAPI titles across genres—from Mia P. Manan-
sala’s mystery Arsenic and Adobo to Jackie Lau’s rom-com Donut Fall in Love to the ingeniously genre-bending Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto. Berkley has so many great novels coming that feature AAPI characters: Set on You, Amy Lea’s debut rom-com featuring a biracial heroine; doctor and author Madi Sinha’s second novel, At Least You Have Your Health; Death by Bubble Tea, the first installment in a new mystery series by Jennifer J. Chow set in Los Angeles’s night market scene; and Roselle Lim’s third novel, Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club. Berkley editors are always looking for stories that reflect the world readers live in—novels that highlight many different life experiences so all readers can see themselves on the page.
Tompa: It’s been such a joy to see the Newbery committee recognizing AAPI creators in recent years, and of course, we were particularly thrilled to see Thai American author Christina Soontornvat honored with Two Newbery Honors in 2021, for two very different but equally incredible projects: the Thai-inspired fantasy A Wish in the Dark and All Thirteen, a nonfiction account of the 2018 Thai cave rescue. This spring, we are overjoyed to have titles from two recent AAPI Newbery Honorees on our list: The Last Mapmaker, another brilliant middle grade fantasy by Soontornvat, and I’ll Go and Come Back, a heartwarming picture book by Rajani LaRocca about the relationship between a girl who lives in the United States and her grandmother who lives in India. This season we are also proud to have published Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, detailing the story of how her grandparents met at Minidoka, a Japanese American incarceration camp.
Atsma: Ecco is committed to continuing to publish books in the AAPI category with an eye for strong literary and upmarket voices. Our most recent successes in this category include Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So and Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim. We’re so excited to be publishing Nishant Batsha’s debut novel Mother Ocean Father Nation and Daniel Nieh’s new novel Take No Names this coming summer. As with a title like Afterparties—a major literary publication by a Cambodian American writer—we strive to publish voices and perspectives that illuminate a full range of experience.
Lin: At Random House Books for Young Readers, we’re thrilled to have published books including kids’ book veteran Lisa Yee’s most personal novel yet, Maizy Chen’s Last Chance, and the 2021 Newbery Medal winner When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. As for upcoming titles on our list. In April we’re publishing Keller’s Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone, her first new novel after her Newbery win, a gripping and emotional story about shifting friendships, right and wrong, and the power we all hold to influence and change one another. I’ve been working with author Katie Zhao on Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend, an epic fantasy series opener inspired by Chinese mythology—and Chinese food!
Above all, we look to acquire books that are accessible and universal—stories that resonate widely and deeply, and that young readers will love. Our aim is to publish stories that make kids feel seen and celebrated—both for those within AAPI communities, and those who live alongside it. When I first read Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend on submission, I teared up—not because the read was sad, but because before that moment I had never seen my own childhood reflected so precisely in a book. Ultimately, it’s moments like these that drive us to publish the books we do.
McAden: One recent standout success is Kelly Yang and her Front Desk books, titles that are personal and speak to readers with remarkable clarity about the immigrant experience. Another book that has really resonated is Maleeha Siddiqui’s Barakah Beats, which features a very relatable girl finding her own voice. As for upcoming books, we’ve received a fabulous reception for Sayantani DasGupta’s YA debut Debating Darcy. She’s the author of the middle grade fantasy Kiranmala series, but Debating Darcy is placed firmly in the real world of high school debate competitions and also happens to be a reimagining of Pride and Prejudice. As usual, Sayantani turns colonialism on its head even as she’s delivering an homage to the great Jane Austen.
I think the breadth of our AAPI publishing really speaks to our acquisition strategy, which is, quite simply, to try to publish as much of it in as many categories as possible. This intention is apparent in the many ways we publish books by AAPI creators, whether it’s Sabina Khan’s Meet Me in Mumbai in YA, Debbi Michiko Florence’s Sweet & Sour and Wendy Wan-Long Shang’s The Secret Battle of Evan Pao in middle grade, or Amy Kim Kibuishi’s The Rema Chronicles in graphic novels.
Patterson: The St. Martin’s Publishing Group is dedicated to uplifting voices that have been underrepresented in publishing, including AAPI authors across a variety of genres. A recent standout success is Wednesday Books’ bestselling 2021 debut YA novel You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao, a Vietnamese American writer living in New York City. This heartfelt novel is about love and loss and features a diverse cast, including AAPI characters. It continues to top bestseller lists.
Among our most anticipated forthcoming titles on the Minotaur Books list are Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier, a Canadian writer of Filipino descent who focuses on the experience of Filipino characters who are part of the diaspora. Peril at the Exposition is by Nev March, a Parsee Zoroastrian whose books deal with issues of identity, race, and moral boundaries. The protagonists in Peril are Jim Agnihotri, an Anglo-Indian veteran, and his wife Diana Framji, who, like March, is a Parsee woman born in Bombay. Peril is the follow-up to March’s award-winning, Edgar finalist debut novel, Murder in Old Bombay.
In Radical Radiance: 12 Weeks of Self-Love Rituals to Manifest Abundance, Beauty, and Joy, author Angela Jia Kim draws upon her Korean beauty heritage to present a guide to skin care as a self-care ritual. And on the YA list, at our Wednesday Books imprint, we’re excited about The Charmed List by Julie Abe, a Japanese American author who features characters of Japanese descent in the novel.
As far as acquisition strategy, all the imprints at SMPG recognize the need for diversifying our list and publishing more works by authors from historically marginalized groups, including AAPI authors. To that end, our editorial teams have been expanding their outreach to a wider net of literary agents who represent authors from a variety of backgrounds.
Chen: What I love about our upcoming 2022 slate is the breadth of genres and subgenres these books contain, how they each push speculative fiction forward while effortlessly floating between genres and influences. In May, readers will discover Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen, a queer, magical historical fantasy inspired by the real life career of groundbreaking, early 20th-century Chinese American actor Anna May Wong. Vo draws on the very real history of nonwhite actors in the early days of Hollywood and infuses the story with fear, beauty, and magic.
R.R. Virdi’s debut novel, The First Binding, is a gorgeous love letter to epic fantasy, full of the taverns, singers, and old gods that will feel familiar to many English-language readers of core fantasy. Also coming in August is Sunyi Dean’s contemporary fantasy debut, The Book Eaters, a sprawling family saga in which the family in question happens to be able to consume books to acquire their knowledge. It’s a story of motherhood, sacrifice, and hope—of queer identity and learning to accept who you are. These titles reflect that there is no particular AAPI narrative we’re looking for; we recognize that our community is global and diasporic, and we want stories that resonate, whether they’re in our own worlds or in kingdoms and galaxies far, far away.
What are some new topics emerging in North American AAPI communities that you plan to reflect in your publishing program?
Van Dusen: Two emerging topics we’ve noted are an increased interest in language learning and a growing desire to read works in translation. This summer, MITeen Press is publishing The Hanmoji Handbook: Your Guide to the Chinese Language Through Emoji. The use of emoji has become ubiquitous in people’s messaging and online communication, and Chinese language instruction is available in many schools across the country. This guide cleverly explores the parallel between Chinese Han characters and emoji, inviting readers to learn basic Chinese along the way.
In June we are publishing Dragonfly Eyes, the second novel by Hans Christian Andersen Award–winning Chinese author Cao Wenxuan. Translated from Chinese by Helen Wang, this middle grade novel is set in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. Wang’s translation offers invaluable insights into both Cao’s distinctive, expansive prose style and aspects of 20th-century Chinese life; through it, 21st-century readers get an unwavering view of how one family is affected by prejudice and the governmental policies of China during the late 20th century.
Smith: One emerging topic that we aim to reflect in our program is confronting issues of race, color, and class within one’s community and culture. It’s something that should be talked about with greater nuance. We have two upcoming titles that address some of these topics. Sajini Patel’s My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding challenges the infatuation with light skin and straight hair in Southeast Asian society. It also presents a nuanced perspective on arranged marriage, particularly since it’s not a topic that’s often seen in YA. In Sheela Chari’s Karthik Delivers, the main character’s crush thinks she does not like Indian boys, even though she herself is Indian American.
Another topic is intergenerational relationships and what it is to feel like you’re straddling two different worlds, especially for those with immigrant parents with complicated histories to unpack. We also see differences in values between generations and being an immigrant vs. U.S.-born. In Maisie Chan’s recent novel Danny Chung Sums It Up, Danny thinks he has nothing in common with his own grandmother because she only speaks Chinese and he only speaks English. Hyewon Yum’s Grandpa Across the Ocean also explores intergenerational relationships across cultural and language barriers in a very engaging way for young children.
Lin: There has been a call for books that feature diverse representation in ways that uplift and normalize the experiences of those in traditionally marginalized communities. We’ve been hearing this rallying cry in AAPI communities as well, especially with the recent increase in anti-AAPI actions. We want to challenge long-standing clichés that so many kids within AAPI communities continue to experience today—including the dread that still accompanies bringing homemade lunches to school, or feeling as if you aren’t beautiful because your physical features don’t adhere to traditional Western standards. We want to tackle these norms head-on and publish books that overturn them. And we hope that our books will foster understanding and compassion—that readers of all communities will connect with, be entertained by, and grow from reading these stories.
McAden: We’re keenly aware there are as many stories as there are individual readers out there, and our goal is to try and reflect as many different readers’ experiences as possible and to keep intersectionality—how race, class, gender, and other personal aspects overlap—at the forefront. In Saadia Faruqi’s new series Must Love Pets, the main character’s identity is not a plot point, nor is it invisible to readers. Ensuring AAPI characters are the focus of all the kinds of stories we publish is paramount.
Chen: AAPI literature has never been a monolith, but I do think there’s been less pressure on authors to write certain types of narratives that have traditionally appealed to white reading audiences. As part of the community, I feel a double responsibility as an editor to provide a safe home for authors coming to us with their stories. Handing your book over to a publisher is an incredibly vulnerable act, especially when you’re from a marginalized community with the burden of both creative expression and representation on your shoulders. I’ve seen AAPI writers respond brilliantly and intimately to the anti-Asian violence that’s been sweeping North America in the last few years, and I’ve also seen writers feel no pressure to address it directly. That freedom to choose is incalculably important. It’s been very exciting to see our publishing program launch AAPI authors who come from a vast spectrum of experiences that reflect how rich and varied the community is.
What are your plans for future books on AAPI peoples and communities?
Smith: We are excited to have recently launched Surely Books!, a graphic novel line dedicated to elevating queer creators, headed up by Mariko Tamaki. The forthcoming title Homecoming by Kaitlin Chan is a graphic novel memoir that explores the author’s coming-out experience through stories of the queer community in Taiwan.
Swartz: Berkley will continue to publish great books that allow authors and readers to explore their identities. Anytime a reader is searching for a book that reflects themselves, I want a bookseller or librarian to have a book they can hand over and say, “This is the book you’re looking for.”
Tompa: In addition to the titles mentioned above, we are honored to be publishing A Life of Service: The Story of Senator Tammy Duckworth this fall. This picture book biography of an influential Thai American hero is the work of two Thai American creators: author Christina Soontornvat and illustrator Dow Phumiruk. We have more to come from Rajani LaRocca, as well, beginning with the picture book Masala Chai, Fast and Slow, illustrated by Neha Rawat Battish, due out in 2023.
McAden: At Scholastic, we serve readers at every level and with every kind of interest, so we’ve spent a lot of time drawing back and looking at the list to see what—and really, who—isn’t present. We are always looking to include AAPI creators and are eager to tell more kinds of AAPI stories.
Chen: The history of science fiction and fantasy as genres is rich with Asian and AAPI influences, but it’s only been more recently that Asian and AAPI writers have been platformed more extensively. I’m always on the lookout for stories that find fascinating ways of weaving speculative worldbuilding and elements into Asian American narratives and history—particularly written by voices from communities that have been historically underrepresented in AAPI literature—and it’s always our priority to give those authors and books our full support.
Lin: At Random House, we plan to publish books that center the stories of those who have lived in the margins. For readers in AAPI communities, we want each of them to know that they can be the main character of their own story, and that they can be proud of their heritage. And through our books, we aim to encourage this in ways that feel authentic and meaningful, by amplifying the voices of creators within AAPI communities.
On a personal level, as an editor who loves fantasy, I also plan to continue looking for books that take fantastical inspiration from mythology and folklore based in AAPI cultures, and spotlight protagonists from AAPI communities. As a lifelong fantasy reader, I’ve always dreamed of being a hero with magic powers or superhuman abilities—and I’d love to be able to show that this is within reach for young readers in AAPI communities everywhere.