A Tuesday Ten: Asian Speculative Fiction
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
A few weeks ago I did a list of ten African-American Characters in Fantasy and SF. This week I decided to look at what middle grade speculative fiction features Asian characters as the main characters of the story. I did not find enough Asian-American titles to create a list, so I expanded this to encompass all Asian characters.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books, 2009)
Quite possibly one of the best known Asian fantasy stories of recent years, this Newbery Honor by Grace Lin weaves traditional Chinese mythology into an adventure tale for our young protagonist. Taking place in an ancient and mythical China, Lin’s story weaving is spellbinding, entertaining and great way to expose readers to a different part of the world. The author has written a second title set in the same world as the first : Starry River of the Sky.
Archer’s Quest by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, 2006)
My one Korean contribution for the list (does anyone know of any others?) This has both ancient Korean characters and a Korean-American protagonist. Kevin is just your typical kid, until he comes face to face with a bizarre man who at first he thinks is a burglar. Kevin quickly realizes Chu-Mong is no ordinary burglar . . . in fact he is an ancient Korean prince thrown forward in time. It’s up to Kevin to help Chu-Mong find a way back home to his own time.
Three Strong Women by Claus Stamm, illustrated by Mou-Sien Tseng, Jean Tseng and Sandra Tseng (Viking Juvenile, c1962)
I had to include this picture book tall-tale from Japan. It’s one of my favorite stories I read growing up and I’ve never read any others quite like it. Forever Mountain is a powerful sumo wrestler who’s a bit too full of himself. When he encounters a young girl on the path he’s taking, he decides to tease and tickle her. When the young girl turns the tables and takes hold of him with unimaginable strength in her grip, Forever Mountain is helpless to break away. The girl takes him back to her home where he meets her mother and grandmother, each of them amazingly strong. They train Forever Mountain to build him up for the sumo trials, with hilarious results. This is such a fun tale to read and share, I just wish it were still in print!
Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep (HarperCollins, c1982)
You’ve probably been wondering when this author’s name would be mentioned. Laurence Yep is one of the authors who has made and invaluable contribution to fiction featuring Asian and Asian-American characters. Among his titles are quite a few fantasy stories. This is the first book in the Dragon Quartet . Outlaw dragon princess, Shimmer and her human companion, Thorn are off on an exciting adventure with danger at every turn as they hunt down an evil enchantress.
The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander (Puffin, c1991)
The venerable Lloyd Alexander not only created European-style fantasy tales, but medieval fantasy adventures set in Asia. An adventurous prince is given six strange gifts to bring with him on his journey to find the mysterious court of T’ien-kuo. Only with the help of his companions and allies will Prince Jen discover his true destiny.
The Tiger’s Apprentice by Laurence Yep (HarperCollins, 2003)
Yes, I’ve included this author twice on the list. In part because titles are scarce, but more because I thought it worth mentioning this contemporary urban fantasy on it’s own. One of our rare books that has a Chinese-American protagonist. Tom Lee’s life changes drastically the day he meets a man who is really a tiger, and begins training in ancient magic. This is the first book in the Tiger’s Apprentice Trilogy.
The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (Scholastic, 2012)
There are still fairly few stories that feature India, or Indian characters as part of speculative fiction for middle graders. Hopefully that’s changing. This is the first book in a new contemporary urban fantasy series. When Ash and his family journey to India, Ash finds himself caught up in a battle of ancient good and evil with powerful artifacts and Hindu gods and goddesses. There are three books out so far in the Ash Mistry Chronicles.
Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung (Scholastic, 2012)
My only science fiction contribution to the list. Superheroes and giant robots are all daily occurrences in Vincent Wu’s world. Vincent is the master of trivia about the local superhero, Captain Stupendous, hardly much of a superpower. When Captain Stupendous is involved in an accident with a deadly robot, suddenly Vincent’s knowledge and help may be all that stands between his home city and utter destruction . . .
The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Aladdin, 2004)
This contemporary fantasy story set in India only recently came on my radar, though it’s been out for several years. Twelve-year-old Anand has been entrusted with a mystical conch shell that he must return to it’s rightful place. The journey is hundreds of miles long, and will lead to powerful discoveries and hard choices. This is the first book in the Brotherhood of the Conch trilogy.
My Neighbor Totoro Original story and art by Hayao Miyazaki, novel by Tsugiko Kubo (Viz Media, 2013)
I’ll wrap up with one last Japanese fantasy. This is a novelization of Hayao Miyazaki’s popular anime movie by the same title. What’s particularly appealing about it is that this is a fantasy of a quieter sort. Two sisters and their father move to a new house that’s populated by tiny spirits, and the wood nearby contains even more wonders. Part magical adventure part emotional family drama, this is an enjoyable read. Those who read it and enjoy it may wish to check out the movie.
So that’s my ten for the week. If you have other good Middle grade titles to suggest in the comments, please add them! Comments are welcome!
Oh! and a quick link. This is a few years out of date, but Jenny’s Wonderland of Books has a nicely thorough list of Middle Grade Historical Fiction set in Asia. Any other great links on the topic I should add?
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on February 5, 2014, in General Posts, Lists and tagged Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, Children's Movies, fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Historical Fiction, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Multicultural, Picture Books, Reading, reviews, Science Fiction, series, Superheroes, Urban Fantasy. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.