“I don’t want to be Chinese.”
When Jerry Zhang heard these words from his preschool-age daughter, Madison, it broke his heart. He knew the reason why — his daughter was very interested in books that featured young White girls, such as “Madeline” and “Eloise”, and wished to be like them. Madeline and Eloise, after all, had interesting lives that were centered around concepts a young child could understand and aspire to.
Madison enjoyed these books, but constantly asked why the characters didn’t look like her — why they couldn’t be Chinese, why they couldn’t have darker hair. She was looking for a connection with her beloved characters but was failing to do so because she couldn’t see herself in them.
Jerry tried to get his daughter more books featuring Asian children, but they were always in stories that centered around something like Chinese New Year — in other words, they were entrenched in their otherness, and Madison had a hard time connecting with the characters. It was then that she told her dad that she didn’t want to be Chinese, and it was then that Jerry realized he had to do something about it.
“I started Little Ning Books and developed Pepper Zhang to write the books for my daughters that currently don’t exist; books that feature fun, smart and quirky Asian children as the lead character but are also not heavily focused on cultural themes. While it’s important for children to learn about different cultures, it’s equally important for Asian children to see themselves in books as interesting and smart individuals rather than just products of their culture, forever linked together.”
Currently, Jerry Zhang’s Kickstarter for the project has raised nearly double of its goal with less than a week to go, but that funding will be reduced due to fees and backer gifts. Donating $20 to the project ensures the backer receives a copy of the book in addition to a few other goodies from the creators.
Jerry hopes that, with representation of a fun, aspirational Asian character in children’s books, Madison and kids like her will develop a sense of self-love for not only their culture, but the features they were born with. They may not look like Madeline or Eloise, but it is Jerry’s hope that children will connect with Pepper Zhang and see themselves in her.
“My goal is to show them that being funny and interesting is not exclusive to only certain children. Asian children can be just as imaginative and unique as the long-standing iconic book characters that exist today.
“I didn’t have Pepper Zhang or anything similar when I was growing up, but I can try to make sure that my children and other children do.”
We’d like to nominate Jerry Zhang for the “Dad of the Year” award for going to such great lengths to ensure his daughters and children like her don’t struggle with identity issues, and we hope that “Pepper Zhang” comes to fruition — and libraries — very soon!