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The Conscious Kid launches read-aloud program, ‘AAPI Storytime,’ for YouTube Kids

6 questions with educators and researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens.

To celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, The Conscious Kid has launched its read-aloud program, “AAPI Storytime,” for YouTube Kids. Founded by educators and researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens, The Conscious Kid is dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth. This month’s special program will feature a new title every week in May: “Grandpa Grumps” by Katrina Moore (May 4), “Always Anjali” by Sheetal Sheth (May 10), “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners” by Joanna Ho (May 17), and “The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi (May 25). 

We recently spoke with Katie and Ramón to learn more about their work and the launch of the  new read-aloud series, in partnership with Harry Shum Jr. and Wong Fu Productions.

1. What was the impetus for creating The Conscious Kid?

“The Conscious Kid began out of our own needs as parents when looking for empowering representation in books for our Black and Asian kids. The limited amount of representation we were able to find across all forms of media often reinforced stereotypes, contained problematic narratives, and were written by authors from outside of our communities. We had friends and parents of color that were running into the same problem. Critical representation was important to us not only because it helps to maintain the accuracy and authenticity of the story, but it also helps to push back against inequity within the publishing industry that limits access to authors of color.

As educators and researchers, we had already been teaching and conducting research about the impact of children’s books on racial identity. We started building a library with these titles that we were lending to friends and family. It just grew from there.”

asian american storytime

2. Part of The Conscious Kid’s mission is not only countering racism in children, but also “...promoting healthy racial identity development in youth.” How would you say this challenge has evolved over the last decade?

“When speaking of the last ten years, one indicator of the challenges for racial progress is hate crimes. When looking at the data for just the last two years, we see an increase in racially or ethnically-motivated hate crimes, particularly against the Black, Asian, Jewish and Latinx communities. 2019 had the highest number of hate crimes in over a decade and the highest number of hate-related killings since these numbers started being tracked in the early ‘90s. There have also been over 3,795 reports of hate and violence against the AAPI community since March of 2020. The challenge is immense and urgent, but we also need to remember that racism, including anti-Asian racism is not ‘new.’ There is a centuries-long history of it and an indefinite amount of work that needs to be done.”

A long history of research shows that text accompanied with imagery, such as books with pictures, shapes children’s racial attitudes.”

3. What role can books play in ensuring a healthy racial identity?

“Research shows that children’s books provide impressions and messages that can last a lifetime and shape how children see and understand themselves, their homes, communities, and the world at-large. A long history of research shows that text accompanied with imagery, such as books with pictures, shapes children’s racial attitudes. For many folks, books or television may be their first introduction to various racial communities outside of their own. When children are exposed consistently to deficient or stereotypical narratives about a community or about themselves, it can distort their views of themselves or the world. Researchers have further uncovered that to reduce racial bias, you need literature that specifically names and addresses issues of race and racism. This is why it’s important for children of all communities to have access to racially diverse and empowering stories. These stories can provide models and examples of communities and people throughout history who have navigated the complexities of oppression, while still using their voice to take action against racial injustice.

Moreover, children’s books help provide an entry point for larger conversations about race and racism and our role within these systems. These conversations can help lead to long-term personal reflection and future action -- outside of the story -- that is needed to disrupt internalized bias, foster an identity that is in solidarity with marginalized communities, and support a lifelong commitment to anti-racism.”

harry shum

Behind-the-scenes with Harry Shum Jr. and Wong Fu

4. What was the inspiration for bringing the Read-Aloud series to life for AAPI Heritage  Month? 

“We actually started putting this project in motion in the summer of 2020 and had planned to release it months ago. When we were ready to start production, the COVID numbers were really high here in Los Angeles and it just wasn’t safe to have the team coming into a studio to film. We put it on pause until we were sure it could be done safely and not put anyone at risk.

AAPI Heritage Month is a really important time and opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions to the U.S., which continue to be overlooked and invisible in our society. Releasing the videos this month is timely to that end, but our real hope and goal is for our stories and voices to be lifted up and shared year-round. We have always been a part of the U.S., and our erasure from that story is also a form of racism. To challenge and change that, we have to be intentional about supporting the visibility of our history, experiences, and stories this month and all year. We very much hope and plan for this series to be ongoing, with new stories and videos being continually added.”

... AAPI are not invisible, nor a monolith. They are not a set of stereotypes, or the 'model minority.' Our stories are worthy of being told, shared, and celebrated.”

5. What universal lessons can all readers take away from the four books in the read-aloud series?

“We hope these titles communicate that our heritage, our features, our families, our names, and our history are sources of pride -- that AAPI are not invisible, nor a monolith. They are not a set of stereotypes, or the 'model minority.' Our stories are worthy of being told, shared, and celebrated. 

In addition to affirming identity, these titles also highlight moments of resistance. This is important because it challenges stereotypes of AAPI being passive or a model minority. There is a long and powerful history of resistance and activism within the AAPI community that often remains invisible. These titles highlight some of these examples and moments where characters resist microaggressions and create their own resilience.”

We hope this series pushes back against this, supports AAPI kids in feeling seen, and serves as an entry point for countering anti-Asian racism.”

6. Together with your producing partner Wong Fu Productions, you’ve pulled together quite a group of celebrity readers. What was it like working with this amazing group of partners? What are your hopes for this series changing our children and us?

“It meant so much to us to be able to collaborate with a team of brilliant Asian talent and creators including Harry Shum Jr., Padma Lakshmi, Randall Park, Ming-Na Wen, and Wong Fu Productions. They are leaders and groundbreakers in making our community and our stories visible, and have been paving a path on screen and behind the cameras to give our community a place to look to and look up to. We have been taken aback by their commitment to bring this project to life and make sure kids can see themselves in not only the stories but also the storytellers. 

As far as hopes for this series for our children and us, I remember growing up as a third-generation Japanese kid and never seeing myself in books, curriculum or media. The first ‘Japanese’ representation I remember seeing on screen was Mr. Yunioshi from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ which is actually a caricature played by the white actor Mickey Rooney. When you never see yourself, or only see yourself depicted in stereotypes, it’s really easy to internalize the idea that our stories, voices or experiences are not as important. Kids are especially vulnerable to this because they don’t necessarily have a context for why this is happening -- it’s just sort of normalized as the way things are. We hope this series pushes back against this, supports AAPI kids in feeling seen, and serves as an entry point for countering anti-Asian racism.”