May 2, 2018

Find it in NoveList: Resources for Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month

May is a commemorative month here in the U.S., dedicated to honoring the contributions, experiences, and heritage of generations of people who’ve emigrated from diverse regions across Asia and the Pacific, or been among those Pacific Islanders whose homes were annexed as United States territories. 

An ideal time to double down on your library’s #weneeddiversebooks and #ownvoices campaigns, Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month means readers’ advisory lists and displays as well as programming and exhibits. NoveList is here to help with resources for building your best book displays, title recommendations, and search strategies for finding more relevant titles.


When seeking out APA literature your readers will love, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature given annually by the Asian/Pacific American Library Association has everything -- from adult fiction to picture books. Find it on the APALA website, or search the winners in NoveList -- it’s one of the over one thousand awards we track.

Find more recommended APA titles with the Asian American Kids’ Lives (find this quickly in NoveList by copy-pasting UI 439920 into the search bar) and Asian Teens’ Lives (UI 439848) Recommended Reads lists and Author Read-alike articles (under Quick Links) for Amy Tan and Tess Gerritson.

Titles and searches

2017 gave us two moving novels about Chinese mothers and their American children, separated through international adoption. The Leavers by Lisa Ko exposes the hidden costs for families of immigrants facing deportation in the United States, while Lisa See’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane blends traditional Yunnan Province tea culture with a mother and daughter’s respective distances from that ancestral home.

I loved both these books, and am not alone in that -- The Leavers won APALA’s adult fiction Award (oh, and it was a finalist for the National Book Award), and Lisa See is a popular bestseller. So, if you need a strategy to pull together some equally profound but less profoundly obvious titles for your patrons, try this.

Start from a great book you know meets your readers’ advisory needs (like, maybe the ones just mentioned!). In NoveList, a book’s handwritten read-alikes are your sure bets for thematically and tonally similar stories, so make note of them as great choices to build your list or display before getting into searching. Sidebar: though The Leavers and Tea Girl share a theme, they have very different tones, so aren’t recommended for each other as read-alikes.

After you’ve checked these bespoke recommendations, maybe saving them in a folder to export into LibraryAware, scroll down to use the “search for more” feature.  

Selecting fewer descriptive headings yields more results, so in this example search I selected a subject heading describing one of the Asian or Asian American characters, in keeping with the month, and a genre, Literary fiction, to find more books featuring complex characters and lyrical prose.

Example search using The Leavers:

= GX "Literary fiction" AND DE "Immigrants, Chinese" AND ND "Book"

Happy Family by Wendy Lee looks like a good literary read-alike from the immediate search results. Make note of good read-alikes found this way to continue building your recommendations list (or save them in a folder!).

“Search for more” produces results and a pre-formatted text string, shown above; I recommend modifying this string to keep searching. Using a Boolean “OR,” you can add related but differently worded subject headings that were not applied to The Leavers. Adding subjects with OR will increase your search results, though clicking fewer boxes at the beginning did the same.

GX "Literary fiction" AND DE ("Immigrants, Chinese" OR “Chinese Americans”) AND ND "Book"

Subject headings you might use in expanded searches: Asian Americans, Immigration and emigration, Chinese in the United States, and cultural variants of these headings to account for more of Asia’s immense variety of different countries and ethnic groups.

GX "Literary fiction" AND DE ("Immigrants, East Indian" OR “East Indian Americans”) AND ND "Book"

With three different culturally-related subject headings (Immigrants, [Asian], [Asian] Americans, and [Asian people] in the United States), and 48 different countries in Asia (47, discounting Russia), that’s enough combinations to keep searching past the end of the month, but you can search smarter -- not harder -- by focusing on finding books about the largest Asian cultural groups in the U.S.

Putting the PI back in APIAHM

That population-size recommendation raises the question of who gets celebrated in a month meant to commemorate so many. Unfortunately, apart from mentioning the APALA Awards, this post has not addressed Pacific Islander American literature. Pasifika lit is a unique art form which, thanks to the damaging legacy of colonialism alluded to at the beginning of this post and, more generally, to Pacific Islander American authors being far fewer in number than Asian American authors, can get sidelined during Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month. It was easier for me to google how many countries there are in Asia than lists of PIA writers that weren’t really lists for APIAHM heavily weighted towards Asian American writers.

To locate authentic Pasifika voices in your library for giving special attention, follow these recommendations for searching by island and these recommendations for finding books by native authors

If your collection doesn’t support a PIA or Pacific Islander author display, give readers nonfiction about Pacific history and America’s presence there. Here are some titles to consider basing a subject search (as above) on:

  • The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA by Doug Mack (2017)
  • Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure by Julia Flynn Siler (2011)

Looking for more strategies on searching NoveList to tackle all varieties of reader questions and library scenarios? Take a look at our collection of downloadable search strategies

Lauren Kage is a Metadata Librarian II at NoveList. 

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