Maia and Alex Shibutani, affectionately known as the Shib Sibs, have become household names as two-time Olympic Bronze medalists in figure skating.
Earlier this year, their journey reached new heights when they were inducted into the prestigious U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, a testament to their amazing achievements on the ice.
Now, the dynamic duo is venturing beyond the rink to take on a different kind of challenge: writing for children.
Their new children’s book, “Amazing: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Who Inspire Us All,” aims to uplift young readers by highlighting the stories of 36 extraordinary Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals who have overcome obstacles to achieve greatness.
The Shibutanis recently sat down with NextShark to discuss their book, several remarkable people in history and the significance of mental health.
“Amazing” presented a fresh challenge to the siblings, who previously wrote the fictional mystery series “The Kudo Kids,” as their first foray into nonfiction. Their new children’s book, which took over two years to create, was born out of their passion for storytelling and their commitment to enhancing Asian representation in media, particularly amid the rise of hate crimes and anti-Asian racism.
“We didn’t often see ourselves represented in the media we consumed,” Alex shares. “As athletes, we’ve had incredible opportunities to represent not only our country, but also the Asian American community and Asians worldwide in the discipline of figure skating ice dance, where, apart from us, there have never been any Olympic medalists.”
“Representation and visibility have always been at the forefront of our minds,” he adds. “We aspired to create books that could contribute to the tapestry of representation, much like what we were accomplishing in figure skating. We sought ways to contribute to the available resources for young children and families, both at home and in schools, addressing a noticeable gap where we couldn’t recall reading or encountering a book that showcased the achievements of AAPIs.”
“Amazing” features vibrant illustrations by Sri Lankan American artist Aaliya Jaleel and concise paragraphs dedicated to each of the book’s featured individuals. These include U.S.-born Wong Kim Ark, who played a pivotal role in establishing birthright citizenship in the U.S., as well as Michelin star chef David Chang, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, singer-songwriter H.E.R. and senator Tammy Duckworth.
Working alongside journalist Dane Liu, the Shibutanis meticulously researched and curated their new book, ultimately narrowing down a much larger selection to the final 36 profiles.
“When deciding whom to include, it was really important to both of us to spotlight a diverse range of possibilities across various industries,” Maia shares. “Striking a balance between historical and contemporary figures was crucial in our mission to counter the erasure of our community from cultural narratives. We aimed to pay tribute to the past and share those inspiring stories while also featuring present-day individuals, providing readers with a roster of people to follow, cheer on and draw inspiration from.”
“There’s a lot of gaps that this book has to fill,” Alex adds. “In being mindful and intentional about inclusion and historically not feeling included or represented, that is a multi-generational experience. People older than us didn’t grow up with this type of book or have this information readily available to them. It was a really unique opportunity to gather this information that could be shared within multiple generations of a family so that we could kind of patch everyone up as much as we possibly could.”
When asked if there were any particular figures they enjoyed researching, Maia and Alex point to those of their fellow athletes.
“We were super excited to include Chuck Aoki, who’s a three-time Paralympic medalist with the U.S. wheelchair rugby team,” Alex says. “From our experiences being Team USA, the Olympics and the Paralympics are connected.”
“But the Paralympics, in our opinion, simply does not receive as much attention from our community, the AAPI community and then just broader communities in general,” he continues. “And so to be able to introduce people to Chuck and all of the things that he does, both in his sport and off the court was important to us.”
Maia and Alex reveal that prior to starting the book, they were unaware of the stories of Victoria Manalo Draves and Dr. Sammy Lee, the first Asian American woman and man, respectively, to win Olympic gold medals for the U.S.
Lee, a Korean American born in 1920, lived in California at a time when racial segregation was still rampant. While training as an athlete, he was only permitted to use a “whites-only” public pool in Pasadena once a week. Lee managed to practice more often by diving into a pit filled with sand in his coach’s backyard.
“This was in the 1940s,” Alex shares. “It was mind-blowing that we did not know who they were. We’re huge sports fans. We’ve been in this Olympic environment for a long time. It just speaks to a lack of representation and education that we were never told their stories, that their stories have not received the same treatment as other athletes.”
“We were kind of angry in a way, if we had known about other Asian Americans who overcame challenges, there is a sense of community and solidarity that I think we would have felt,” he adds. “It would have made difficult times for us a little bit less isolating and lonely.”
With May also marking Mental Health Awareness Month, the three-time World medalists share how they take care of their mental health.
“I think one of the things that we don’t try to shy away from with each of the stories of these true individuals is that they had to overcome challenges,” Maia says. “I think that that’s something that Alex and I are working on being better about sharing. I think that when you see situations from afar, you can think that it’s easy.”
“Coming from a sport like figure skating and being on a team working with another person, even though we have to be so in sync and in tune with each other, it’s rare where both people are feeling the exact same way about something,” Alex shares. “Being sensitive to that has informed a lot of the work that we do. The challenge of always putting on a show, the show must go on, even if you’re not feeling good, you need to act like you’re feeling great. Learning that we don’t have to be like that all the time is an unlearning process for us.”
“The other thing that I think is important to note is that with the figures in the book, it was really important to us that the title be ‘Amazing’ because having such a positive word associated with these different faces that represent our community is important representation,” he continues. “But also, you can be amazing and not feel amazing all the time. It is not a uniform sort of state of being.”
Through “Amazing,” Maia and Alex aspire to foster greater empathy among individuals, nurturing a society where education and positivity serve as the foundational building blocks for progress. By embracing these values and amplifying understanding, they hope to create a brighter future for the next generation.
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